The battery that will power the Chevrolet Volt weighs approximately 400 pounds and, stood on end, reaches a height of six feet. The $10,000-plus, T-shaped monolith contains 300 individual three-volt lithium-ion cells, bundled together in groups of three, then wired in series and kept from overheating by an elaborate liquid cooling mechanism. A computerized monitoring system inside the battery pack conducts this little electrical orchestra, coordinating the actions of the individual cells, balancing voltage, watching, above all, for any indication that a cell might be failing, shorting out, or otherwise threatening the stability of the system. This battery, one of the most advanced pieces of electrical storage equipment ever engineered, can propel the 3,520-pound Volt 40 miles before it runs out of energy.
And so can a gallon of gas.
Jon Lauckner would very much like for you to understand this. Lauckner is vice president for global program management at General Motors, a man with a self-professed strong bias toward the electrification of the automobile, and yet he wants you to realize exactly what electric cars are up against -- to recognize that in the harsh, unsentimental view of an engineer, batteries, no matter how advanced they may seem, make gasoline look like a bargain.
"You," in this scenario, are the members of a small group of journalists who have mingled their way through a GM cocktail reception in suburban Detroit in April to gather around Lauckner; tomorrow the group will tour the Warren, Michigan, facilities where the Volt is being developed, for a demonstration designed to prove that the plug-in hybrid's long march to legitimacy is actively under way. It's all very convivial, but Lauckner seems to be anticipating an ambush, nursing the certainty that someone will soon bring up the EV1, the electric car that GM launched in 1996 and, a few years later, infamously hauled en masse to the Arizona desert to be demolished. These days, as GM attempts to convince a skeptical world that its Volt is not, in fact, vaporware, the EV1 is a bit of a sore subject.
So before anyone can say a thing, Lauckner launches a preemptive strike, placing the blame for the EV1's death squarely on the battery's inability to compete with the internal combustion engine. "To anyone who thinks there was a conspiracy between GM and the oil companies to kill off the EV1," he announces, gesturing toward open air, as if a life-size model of the Volt's all-important battery pack stands beside him, "I say, this 400-pound battery" -- at least 600 pounds lighter than the beast that powered the EV1 -- "is still the equivalent of only a gallon of gasoline."
Make no mistake, you will be able to buy some form of electrified car soon. It's inevitable. Rising oil prices, melting polar ice caps, petroleum-fueled geopolitical insecurity -- all send a pretty unambiguous message about fossil fuels: We need to stop using them. Americans burn 390 million gallons of gasoline every day, each of which pumps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. And right now, the alternative fuel with the best chance of rapidly shrinking that number is electricity. A hydrogen economy still might as well be science fiction. Corn-based ethanol may be driving up food prices worldwide, and it does nothing to lower carbon emissions. Electricity, on the other hand, is piped into every home in the country. It's cheap compared with gasoline. It can come from almost any source -- natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, wind. And a car fueled by even coal-derived electricity (the source of nearly half of America's power) will generate only 0.7 pound of CO2 per mile for every pound of CO2 emitted by a conventional gasoline-powered car.
Today's hybrid cars, like the Prius, are a small step toward the electrification of the automobile, but the emphasis is on small. Hybrids are, fundamentally, gas-powered cars that run on batteries for extremely short periods. Plug-in hybrids, however, or as GM calls the Volt, "extended-range electric vehicles" -- cars with large batteries that charge straight from the grid and run the majority of the time on electricity, rather than gasoline -- pass a critical threshold beyond which electricity, not oil, is the primary transportation fuel.
Consider the potential benefits. According to the Department of Transportation, 78 percent of Americans drive fewer than 40 miles a day, so most Volt drivers, for instance, would never use the car's gas-powered backup engine on a normal driving day. Improve the battery technology enough to squeeze out an extra 10 miles per charge, and the numbers get even more impressive; a plug-in hybrid sedan with an all-electric range of 50 miles should average 150 mpg overall.
A study by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that even in a relatively pessimistic scenario, in which over the next four decades electricity continues to come mainly from coal, and plug-in hybrids make modest gains in market share, at least 3.4 billion metric tons of carbon emissions could be cut by 2050. To put that in perspective, the average midsize 30mpg car produces a little less than four tons of CO2 every year.
It will take a lot of cars to make that happen, but most automakers have begun at least making gestures at an electrified future. Nissan, Toyota, Mazda, Mini, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Hyundai and Volkswagen have all announced that they will release some sort of plug-in or electric car in the next two to three years, if only in limited batches. The boutique automaker Tesla has already begun delivering its pricey pure-electric sports cars, and other small operations, such as Fisker Coachbuild, have started taking orders for their own electrified automobiles.
Still, we're far from having a battery that's cheap, safe and energy-dense enough for electricity to displace gasoline completely. The Volt's monstrous battery is a primitive ancestor of what automakers ultimately have in mind. Yet GM, the company whose reputation was all but ruined by the EV1 debacle, the overextended corporation that lost more than $15 billion in the second quarter of this year and could simply run out of cash by 2010, is essentially staking its continued existence on the Volt. It's betting that the 400-pound battery it's developing right now will eventually lead to the ubiquitous electric car of tomorrow.
the volt car is going to improve the economical aspect of the world and help the enviroment. However its unsettling to know that this tested battery can not run for long periods of time. 79% of Americans may drive less than 40 miles, but theres 22% unaccounted for. Also, what of the truck drivers who drive the furthest? will techonogly be able to cope with this without running the battery done. trucks are our biggest gasoline user, as are busses. So what about them? It sounds like a great idea, and it might work out in the future, but I dont know how that will effect the traffic and flow of the economy if its not everyone in use. what would happen if there was a power out and therefor no way to charge the cars?
Something new that I learned is that Lithium-Ion batteries are lighter and more energy dense than the last few generations od batteries used in the indusrty. The team's goal is to have the Volt on the market in November of 2010. I don't tink the team will be able to reach it. I think this because of all the kinks that still remain in the plan.
I have learned that there is some people who are trying to make a big difference in the world, by making some electrical cars that can be charged just like cellphones.
The team's goal is to create some electrical cars, that will decrease the carbone dioxide on the air (pollution), but they need some powerful electrical battery that can power up the cars, make it faster, more durable (hours/days) and most of all more safe (protection from overheat).
i think that they can reach there goal if they don't give up; and it will help the population a lot if they achieve it, by saving money and by decreasing the pollution
i learned that the battery may one day be better than the gasoline powewred cars that we have today. there goal is to have the same density and power of gasoline cars but in a battery
I learned that in 1996 Gm made an electric car (EV1) that failed and cost them nearly 1 billion dollars. Lithium batteries are light and energy dense but when overheated, have a bad thermal reaction that can lead to "thermal runaway". To test batteries they place them in a thermal chamber to see how well they'll work in about 10 years. They hope to reLEAse the new car by November of 2010. In my opinion i think it's a great idea that thier conducting all these expeirments to better our economy.
One thing that I have taken from this is that there actually is a fighting chance of electric power replacing gas and oil. This teams goal is to build a cheap, safe, powerful battery that will power the car. I can say yes I think the team will create a battery that will power the Volt. But for how long will it power it for, and how far the battery can take the car?
One thing that I have learned from this article about the new car that GM is supposed to come out with, which is the volt is that the battery will run almost 40 miles before running out of the juice to power this battery or car. I think that the teams goal is to find a way to power a car for a cheaper amount than cars are being powered today. I think that the team will not be able to do this because people will not buy this car because of what happened with the Hybird. This is all of my opions of this article.
Even with the battery in the car they still have to use gasoline for the Volt..but it is good and helps the environment more.
I think they will make their goal but it wont happen fo awhile. Maybe 10 years or 5 years
After reading this article i learned that we as Americans burn around 390 million gallons of gas everyday, which is 20 pounds of CO2 into the air!
my opinion of this article is that it is very informative and interesting.
in the above article i have learned that scientists go through a lot to make the world more efficient. They are going through great struggles to make electical cars and are taking many many years to assure that it will be a good, well working car.
The goal of the team is to make an electric car with the same energy density as gasoline or diesel fuel.
i think that with enough research, and hard work they will reach their goal easily.
I learned that americans burn 390 million gallsons of gas each day. That pumps carbon dioxide in to the air.
I think the teams goal is to make a hybrid car that the mostly on electricty and not gasoline.
I learned that these people are striving to help the economy by building an electric powered car. I believe the teams goal is to actually acomplish the electirc car to help the American people save money on gas. They also want to make this car affordable for the people who simply can't afford an expensive car.
I learned that a high percentage of americans drive less than 40 miles a day, making it unlikley to use the gas back-up on the hybrid cars.
The goal is to find a way to make a battery that is affordable and light weight.
The goal is to eventually rid out all gas powered vehicles by using electric- solar powered vehicles.
I believe that one day this will happen. The world is so deep in economic struggle and in such a hectic mess with global warming becoming such an issue, that this HAS to work. Technology has increased in so many ways the past years and i believe that this goal will, one day, be reached. We've already come so far.
i learned that it takes alot of effort to create a new car.
GM's goal is to make a more energy profcient vehicle by 2010. i think they will suceed because it seems like they have put a lot of thought into this car and are putting a lot of effort into making it and making it right.
i learned that americans burn 390 million gallons of gasoline every day each of which pumps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. I think that this car would be a good thing because it would make the air less polluted and would make it cheaper for everyone to drive. We also have to think about how much this car would cost because what if most people cant afford it than no one will buy it Also think about how much its going to cost to make it. Overall though i think that it is a great idea.
I still don't get it. What will the Chevy Volt have that many hybrids and all-electric vehicles don't already? And why is it taking GM so much time and money when there are already small companies converting hybrids to run on batteries alone and other companies like Tesla producing performance sports cars that can go 200 miles on a charge. If you ask me, GM is still suffering from the only-if-it-was-invented-here mentality and it is crazy to sell a car in California that can withstand a Michigan winter. Just like our power will eventually come from many different renewable and non-renewable sources, depending on where we live, cars should do the same. Millions of cars in the southern states have never seen a snowflake or sub-freezing temperatures and never will. Those market differences should be recognized in establishing design criteria if battery and hybrid vehicles are ever going to gain widespread consumer acceptance.
I learnd that 78% of people in the U.S drive less than 40 miles a day.
The teams goal is to make traveling easier and cheaper.
I think they will succeed at it once they sort out all of the problems that are/will happen/ing
I learned alot about cars in general, because it was never a strong suit of mine.
I believe the article should not be used for educational purposes because if you didn't understand the concept before the article would just confuse you insted of educating you...And if the article WAS used for the purpose of education it should be an advanced article insted of a beginner article.
I dont think they are going to suceed in the making of this car because if people were really wanting an electric car there would be lots of them running around out on the streets. Yes people were complaining about gas prices bein so high but now they are down. I would never drive an electric, I love my car and the power it has, no electric car will ever keep up with my honda! Im planning on sticking with my honda for a long time!
NO THANKS I WILL STICK WITH MY HONDA!!!!
I learned that electric is a good way to go but will make it hard if you have to charge every 50 miles.
I think that the ideal of electric cars is a good ideal but the vehicles themselve are just to inefficient. the ideal of hydro powered cars is a good ideal but havent got it engineered right. the way to solve the fuel problem rate now is to use bio-diesel it is efficient and you can refine used vegetable oil in your own garage so you never have to go to a gas station. Also the new study using ecoli to make bio-diesel will make the food prices cheaper because less bio diesel will be made with corn or soybeans.
one thing i learned was that 20 tons of carbonamishion is amited each year.my openyun on this artical is that it will be good for the invironment and will save from fuel costs
I learned that electric cars are so hard to make, but will be a great advance and use of technology once achieved.
I think that their goal is a great idea, and also a great way to get off of foreign oil dependencies and to gain a reliance on America instead of other countries. It will great American jobs and will help America be independent once again.
My one concern would be that electricity prices, whether using nuclear energy, coal, etc., that those prices would rise.
Electric cars will have to advance the length it can run on a charge, or else it definately will not do good with traveling families.
I still this the Prius is great, low gas costs, and still great gas milage of 44 mpg. I do not care for GMs dependency length.
Battery powered cars seem ideal but impossible to make. Its hard to produce such a large battery with not even much energy and people don't want such an expensive inconvenience to deal with.
I think one day they can make it more effective, maybe in some years.
I learned that The battery for the chevy volt weighs in at 400 lbs
I think that the goal of this article is to inform people about an energy crisis and also to tell about the movement to make a bette electric powerd car wich helps the enviornment by not using gas wich emits carbon monoxide wich in turn hurts the enviornment.
their goal is to have most cars to change from gas to electric, soon cars will have cheap batterey, that is also safe to replace the price of gasoline.
What about Air Conditioning, Heating, CD/DVD, GPS, and all the other stuff that gets plugged in for power in the car?
I don't know about everywhere, but here, we are stop and go, top speed 7 mpg in gridlock, in 90-degree weather for at least an hour each way.
This means 40 miles means diddly.
How long will this car run like this keeping the interior of the car about 75-degrees, charging my cell phone while I talk and listen to car stereo music and the GPS tells me to turn right up ahead? Will it make a 10-mile commute that takes an hour in this weather?
The articles NEVER mention this.
I can tell you, people will NOT buy a car without Air Conditioning down here in New Orleans Metro Area.
This artical said that "Americans burn 390 million gallons of gasoline every day, each of which pumps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air," which is very harmful to the environment.
I think the electric powered car is somewhat good idea. Only somewhat, because there are always those few problems that may arise in the making of this hybrid car. Yes, the gas prices are high, well not now because of the election, but when people do start using the hybrid wouldn't that make our electric bill go up?
Morethanlikely the prices of electicity won't rise to the amount it takes to fill the tank but eventually it may...
You never know! But yes overall this is a great idea.
I feel that this article informed me greatly on the advancements in alternative fuel. Although the electric car is a more exspensive alternative, I feel it is well worth it. A couple extra dollars to help save our enviroment and keep it clean, is a great investment.
I learned that electric cars need more work and that it would just be better to stick with gas powered cars. It would be better to stick with gas powered cars because having to recharge your car every 50 miles would get annoying unless you drive less then 50 miles a day. i would rather just be able to drive as far as i want without having to worry about how far i can make it before my car runs out of charge. Then have to worry about where im gonna recharge it if it does run out before i get to where im going.
I learned that if you have an electric car you have to charge it every 50 miles. i also learned that a lot of people dont drive more then 50 miles in a day so for the people that drive less then 50 miles having an electric car probably wouldnt be so bad. though for me i think that sticking with my gas powered car would be better because i was homeschooled for a while and have friends all over ohio so i would probably drive more then 50 miles in one day and that would be a pain trying to figure out where i would recharge my car.