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GM to unveil Volt electric concept car

The company that supposedly killed the electric car will unveil a sleek new electric vehicle that someday could ease America’s addiction to gasoline at the Detroit auto show.
2007 Chevrolet Volt Concept
The 2007 Chevrolet Volt concept car  General Motors via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The company that supposedly killed the electric car will unveil a sleek new electric vehicle that someday could ease America’s addiction to gasoline at the Detroit auto show.

General Motors Corp., accused in the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” of conspiring to cancel its 1990s EV1 model, was to unveil the Chevrolet Volt sedan concept at the North American International Auto Show on Sunday.

The Volt has a battery-powered electric motor that can run the car for up to 40 city miles on a single charge. Beyond that, a gasoline-powered, one-liter, three-cylinder engine can generate electricity to power the car and replenish the battery, with a range of up to 640 miles, GM said.

The car can be fully recharged by plugging it in to a 110-volt outlet for about six hours, and the gasoline engine can get about 50 miles per gallon when producing electricity to run the car, GM said. The turbocharged engine also can run on E85 ethanol.

A driver who averaged about 40 miles per day during a year would travel nearly 15,000 miles. The company estimated using the electric power could save a consumer about $900 a year based on gas prices of about $2.40 per gallon.

But the Volt is limited by battery technology and GM has no date for it to be available to the public. Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner was expected to announce Sunday that the company is committed to getting the Volt to market as quickly as possible.

GM officials stressed that development of the battery pack is critical to the concept vehicle reaching showrooms, and the technology likely won’t be available until 2010 or 2012.

GM did not release cost estimates but said they recognize the Volt’s price will have to be competitive.

Room for 5
Company Vice Chairman Robert Lutz said in a statement that more than half of Americans live less than 20 miles from their workplace and could go to work and back on a single charge. “In that case, you might never burn a drop of gas in the life of the car,” he said.

The EV1, introduced in 1996, had limited range, limited interior space and had trouble climbing hills and running the air conditioning, GM said. It also had no power source if the battery ran low.

But the Volt can carry up to five passengers and is adept at climbing hills or running a cooling system, GM said.

GM announced this week it would team with two automotive and battery manufacturers to develop a lithium-ion battery that would let sport utility vehicles get 70 miles per gallon.

GM already produces the Saturn Vue Green Line, a hybrid SUV that gets 27 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. The SUV’s next generation, a so-called plug-in model, is expected to replace the current nickel-metal hydride battery with a lithium-ion battery, which would allow the vehicle to rely more heavily on electric power than on gasoline-based energy.

The battery technology also could be used in the Volt, GM officials said.

GM has been working on the Volt since shortly after the 2006 Detroit auto show. Company officials have said it represents an ambitious effort to change the paradigm in the auto industry.

“This is not a publicity stunt. This is not a science fair project,” said Jon Lauckner, GM’s vice president of global program management. “We’ve been working very quietly and methodically on the concept and all the details associated with it.”

Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research, an automotive research firm in Oregon, said that if the battery technology can be developed, a fully electric car makes more sense than the more complex gas-electric hybrids now on the market.

Hybrids obsolete?
“If they can pull it off, every hybrid on the road right now becomes obsolete,” said Spinella.

GM officials estimated a top speed for the Volt of 100-120 mph. They said the electric-only mode would be beneficial for many drivers, citing research which found that 78 percent of daily work commuters travel 40 miles or less. About half of U.S. households travel under 30 miles per day.

“We can cover a lot of people with the range we reference,” said Tony Posawatz, GM’s vehicle line director.

In “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, GM and many others were blamed for the EV1’s demise. The 2006 movie blamed auto companies whose huge stake in repair parts could be undermined by low-maintenance electric cars; oil companies whose profits hinge on fossil fuel; the California Air Resources Board; governments pushing other unproved technology such as hydrogen fuel cells; even consumers in love with gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles.

GM said at the time that demand for the EV1 was insufficient.