Editor's note: This article appears today on Yale Environment360, where the full story is available.
The recent high-profile unveiling of the Chevrolet Volt, the hybrid electric car that General Motors hopes will roll into dealer showrooms in late 2010 and rescue the automaker from near-bankruptcy, felt like the opening credits of a movie weve seen before.
After all, theres nothing new about electric cars, hybrid or otherwise 100 years ago, there were more electric cars on the road than gas-powered ones. Henry Ford even bought an electric car for his wife, Clara.
But the story of the 20th century (or one chapter of it, anyway) is the story of the triumph of the internal combustion engine. Periodic attempts to revive the plug-in cars have met with failure, or have been willfully squashed (check out Chris Paines excellent 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?).
Shortly after the Volt was introduced, GM executive Bob Lutz nearly killed GMs born-again mojo when he admitted in a TV interview that when it comes to global warming, I dont believe in the CO2 theory. So much for enlightened corporate leadership. But does that mean the Volt is just a repeat of the same old movie?
No. For one thing, GM which lost $15 billion in a single quarter this year isnt the only company betting its future on electric cars. Virtually every carmaker in the world, from Chrysler to Nissan to Chery, the upstart Chinese automaker, has announced plans to shift away from internal combustion engines toward electric drives.
Todays hybrids follow the model of the Toyota Prius, which uses batteries and an electric motor to assist the gas engine. Tomorrows plug-in hybrids starting with the Volt will flip this around, using the electric motor as the primary drive, with the gas engine on board simply as a range-extending generator to charge up the battery. If you drive less than about 40 miles a day, youll never need the engine the gas station will be replaced by the outlet in your garage. ...
Read the rest of the story in Yale Environment360.
- Jeff Goodell
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