Thursday, 26 November 2009

Audi and Chevrolet

Electric cars have not moved on a lot since this motoring column in The Sunday Times of 14 January 1990. Hybrids may be a production reality and they are smaller, but not much lighter, than the prototype Audi, which had 181kg (400lb, 3.6cwt) of battery. Pure electric cars are still bedeviled by the difficulties Camille Jenatzy faced in 1899. As I put it 91 years later, electric vehicles can go a long way slowly or a short way quickly, but not both. A hundred and ten years further on there is a lot of talk about municipal charging stations, but California's demand for 1.7million electric cars by the year 2000, and seven out of ten on the Sunshine State roads by now remains unattainable. Government targets...

As in 1990 so also now, GM talks airily about the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid, which sounds neither one thing nor the other. CEO Fritz Henderson echoes Roger Smith 20 years ago when he claims the project is, "all-important for us." A spokesman promised the Volt was, "absolutely on target and that will not change. It is as high a priority as we have in this company." Motor industry public relations statements are high in vacuity. Output of pre-production Volts is planned at ten a week, with 80 on the road as press cars and test vehicles. It is a modest aim. One suspects GM's heart is not in it beyond an ambition to appease politicians. The Volt only does 40 miles on one three-hour charge of its lithium-ion batteries, which at 170kg (375lb, 3.34cwt) are not much of an improvement over the 1990 Audi. Volts might only cover 30 miles if there are hills or if you are in a hurry to get to the office. And at an on-the-road price of $40,000 you have to take a low-carbon footproint very seriously.

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