Amid the hubbub of its centennial celebration on Tuesday, General Motors unveiled the first production model of its much anticipated plug-in electric hybrid car, the Chevrolet Volt. When charged overnight, the Volt can run for 40 miles--about a
day’s worth of city driving--without burning an
ounce of gas, according to company specs. If production goes according to plan, it would be good news for the 94 percent of American consumers trying to cut back on gas costs--not to mention enviros looking to shrink their carbon footprints.
But don’t throw out the gas card just yet. The Volt isn't scheduled to hit dealerships until November 2010, and it wouldn't be the first electric car to hit unexpected delays along the way. There’s no word on production numbers or pricing, either, so you've got at least two years to figure out how to run an extension cord out of your house and around the block to where your car is parked.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, commonly referred to as PHEVs, are cars that can run
entirely on batteries
charged from a standard 120-volt socket. When the
batteries run out, the car runs off an on-board power source, such as a
gasoline engine. While questions remain about how green the Volt reallyis, PHEVs could save consumers lots of money: GM expects the Volt to cost 2
cents a mile, compared with 12-15 cents a mile for a standard combustion engine. Assuming the grid can keep up with demand, PHEV technology represents a step in the green direction because grid power--even from coal-fired power plants--is generally cleaner and more efficient than gas-chugging, pollution-belching cars. What's more, if wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources begin to make up a larger portion of the electric grid (with no small amount of investment ), the carbon footprint of a PHEV could shrink.
GM and other car manufacturers have responded to rising gas prices and increasing demand for cleaner,
more fuel efficient vehicles by developing new PHEV models in recent years. GM introduced the
Volt concept car in January 2007 at the North American
International Auto Show.
But is it enough to make a dent in gas consumption and emissions? “It now looks like most car
makers will have small numbers of plug-in cars in the next five years."
Says Felix Kramer, Founder of Cal Cars, a Palo
Alto-based non-profit that promotes PHEVs. "But
for consumers and the planet, ‘soon’ is not a good enough response. Because of
climate change and energy security, we need plug-in cars that run on cheaper,
cleaner, domestic electricity”