Friday, January 18, 2008

GM's Chevy Volt, The Electric Car You'll Want

The time of electric car is fast approaching. With the demand for oil increasing faster than supply, high oil prices appear to be here to stay. Yes we could pump more oil but the worlds appetite appears insatiable. This is the type of demand that can change industries.

Let's look at the biggest user of them all. The United States uses 146 billion gallons of gasoline per year and that amount grows by about 1 percent per year. That increase may not seem like allot but that's a 11 percent increase per decade, compounded of course. So why don't don't we just drive smaller cars?

Driving fuel efficient cars will help a lot but it won't stop the growth. It takes 12 years to replace most of the cars on our roads and cars are lasting longer all the time. With an increasing population by the time we've replaced the cars we're driving now the total number of cars on our roads will have increased enough that national fuel consumption will still have increased. We need something more.

Tax gas to death, that will make people drive less. This is not likely to work. Compared to most countries America has very responsive political system. Try and raise taxes in America and people respond by voting their politicians out. The same thing happens when you try to force - encourage - people to use public transportation.

Market forces are the only things Americans seem to respond to and they respond to them in a different way than people with environmentally driven political agendas would like them to. Buy stubbornly inventing new ways to do precisely what they please.

So far the search for a solution to our oil needs has been the search for a silver bullet. An examination of any single proposal accurately discovers that it will prove inadequate. A combination of solutions however may do the trick. Here's the plan.

Use more biofuels. We're working on it. The U.S. Government recently passed a law requiring the use of 36 billion gallons of biofuels per year by 2022.

Increase fuel mileage. On the way. The same legislation mandates an increase in fuel mileage standards to 35 miles per gallon. The current standards are 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for SUVs and trucks.

Produce pluggable hybrid cars. Coming in 2010. Pluggable hybrid cars are different than current hybrids in that they are meant to be driven primarily on battery power. Current hybrids use a gasoline engine to recharge their batteries. You can't plug them in to an electrical outlet – the mains – to recharge their batteries so they are still gasoline powered cars even if they are more fuel efficient.

The real solution is to plug them in at home or at work to recharge their batteries. No gasoline is needed. Toyota has recently demonstrated a pluggable version of the Prius. It can travel 7 miles on its batteries. This will have to improve because GM is about enter the market in big way.

GM says they will produce 60,000 Chevy Volts in 2010. The Chevy Volt is a pluggable hybrid car that can travel 40 miles on a full battery charge. The vehicles batteries can be charged in 6 hours. Which is best done at night when electricity costs are lower. This level of performance would be acceptable to most people because most cars are driven less than 30 miles per day. If the car's battery does run dry then the car switches to ordinary gasoline.

This plan looks like it just might work. With typical driving patterns, drivers of the Volt would run on battery power 80 percent of the time and fill up the fuel tank when they needed to ravel long distances. Literally, the best of both worlds. They would use dramatically less fuel without giving up the convenience of owning a vehicle. Once again it would appear predictions of the demise of the private automobile are greatly exaggerated.