I Tivo'd the Colbert Report last night so I could watch it at 2am while I was eating dinner, and I was surprised to hear that Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman of GM was going to be on the show talking about their new electric car, the Chevy Volt. Two nights ago, Colbert had a guy on who was sending mosquito nets to Africa to help fight malaria so it seemed fitting to have another guy on who is trying to help the world.
Mr. Lutz doesn't give a shit about the world
The Chevy Volt is not an electric car. It is a "plug-in hybrid" meaning that it will run off a battery directly for 40 miles then switch over to a small gas-electric hybrid system similar to the Prius. Some people think that these plug-in hybrid cars will be the gateway vehicle to fully electric vehicles. This may be the case, but judging from the interview, I'm guessing GM won't be the ones moving to electric very quickly.
Now, I might be judging Lutz a little too much from the interview. It was the Colbert Report so anything he said could have been meant as a joke, but there were a few underlying sentiments that made me lose faith in the Volt's future.
Firstly, Lutz made apparent his complete disconcern for the environment by never once mentioning the environmental benefits of the car. He stated that carbon emissions aren't the cause for global warming, which may be true, but he didn't bother to mention the issues with, say, smog which is making it hard to breathe in some areas. He also mocked environmentalist women. Either he is a terrible salesperson or he really wants to see this car fail because I'm sure that a large majority of the Volt's market consists of environmentalists who want to get rid of their dependence on fossil fuels.
Even when asked about making solar powered cars, he said that with photo-voltaic cells you could "Leave your volt in a sunny parking lot for two weeks and you'll get a charge." The car will come with an optional photo-voltaic roof panel that will extend the range of the car by taking some of the air-conditioning and accesory load off of the battery. Rather than focusing on the positives however, he decided to point out how ineffective the panel is at charging the car. I was gonna buy one and use less gasoline, but now...meh.
He goes on to further kill any buzz you might have had by describing the car's acceleration as "adequate" and that if you are driving an electric car instead of a gasoline car, you should be ready to make sacrifices. Obviously, everyone knows that it defies the laws of physics and the scope of human intellect and engineering to get the best of both worlds.
This isn't the first time they've done this. Any of you who have watched Who Killed the Electric Car know that GM has already destroyed a very successful line of fully electric cars, the EV-1. The problem with the EV-1 was that it's lack of gasoline engine made it a profit sink when it comes to doing repairs. Electric engines are just too damn simple and too damn reliable. The Volt however is still dependent on that gasoline engine so it hasn't really changed the game at all.
Don't get too excited about the Chevy Volt. GM isn't making any sacrifices to help the environment, they are just trying to design a car to make more money. I'm not saying that they shouldn't make money, I just don't think people should be parading GM around as the solvers of the environment problem when they aren't. The car is going to fail and GM is already ready to kill it. It is not a gateway vehicle to fully electric cars. It's just a PR stunt for people who want to save some money on gas. They gave us this car, and they will quickly take it away.