GM and the Electric Car: Impressions from NAIAS
I've been lucky at this year's North American International Auto Show to have access to some very interesting folks in the automobile industry. I've been able to use that access to get a good feel for the auto industry's perceptions of electric cars.
First, General Motors executives honestly believe that the EV1 was a failed concept, and would never have become a widely used car. They site America's lack of interest in two-seat cars and the EV1's limited range.
For whatever reason, GM saw this failure as a good reason to abandon the idea of electric cars completely in favor of fuel cells. Bob Lutz, GM’s VP, told me that battery technology was abandoned because they could never store enough energy per pound to push the cars around for very long. However, he says that the advancements just in the last two years have made electric cars significantly more feasible.
It's these advances in inexpensive, non-toxic, and more power-dense lithium ion batteries that seem to have honestly changed GM's ideas about electric cars.
Every GM employee I talked to still touted the hydrogen fuel cell as the ultimate future of cars. I asked the lead engineer on the Volt Electric Car project, Nick Zielinski, about the wisdom of focusing on fuel cells. While he was very proud of the work GM has done with fuel cells, I think a lot of people at GM are regretting not going after battery technology more aggressively.
In the end, I believe that a giant corporation made a bad decision. I think they've realized it, and now that battery technology has advanced, they're moving forward with startling speed. Even Chris Paine, the director of Who Killed the Electric Car, was here to witness the unveiling of the Volt and admits that the car is an impressive achievement.
But the true test of whether General Motors is committed to the idea of the E-Flex system and the Volt is whether we'll be able to buy one in the next 5 or 10 years. Unfortunately, we’ll just have to wait and see.
This week, Hank Green is reporting for Plenty from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. His trip was underwritten by the General Motors Company, but he is under no obligation to write about GM or any of their products or portray them in any particular light.
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