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General Motors Reports Progress Toward New All-Electric Car

  • John Bichard

In January of 2007, General Motors (GM) unveiled a concept car powered solely by electricity. The Chevrolet Volt is a big step beyond today's hybrid, that uses both a gasoline engine and electric motor. VOA's John Birchard reports on the progress GM is making toward turning the Volt from an attractive idea into a production vehicle.

As vice president of research and development and strategic planning for General Motors, Larry Burns is responsible for the company's efforts to reinvent the automobile, so to speak - to move beyond conventional gasoline-powered vehicles to environmentally sound "green" cars of tomorrow.

The seemingly routine news of GM's recent award of two contracts to suppliers who will conduct advanced battery development for the Chevrolet Volt is, according to Burns, really a milestone for the company. Because the battery that powers the Volt is the key to its existence.

"Specifically, what you can do is plug your car into a regular 110-volt outlet at night and, over a four to six-hour period, recharge the battery so that the next day you can drive this car 40 miles [64 kilometers] on pure electric drive with no emissions."

At the suggestion that forty miles, 64 kilometers, doesn't sound like a long distance, Larry Burns cited research that indicates the projected range of the Volt would meet most Americans' requirements.

"Because 70 percent of the people in the U.S. travel less than 40 miles a day. For a lot of people this kind of vehicle could meet most all of their travel needs on pure battery electric driving," he said.

Americans are accustomed to hearing automakers talk about the car of tomorrow... about hydrogen power and fuel cells being the wave of the future. But it always seems to be the next decade, or beyond, before these marvelous pollution-free vehicles will arrive. So, we asked the GM executive when will the all-electric Chevrolet Volt be in a dealer's showroom, ready for sale to the public? His answer?

"Since we started our production engineering in January of this year and, typically, the lead times in the auto industry are three to four years, that would suggest we ought to have it out in that time frame. But we haven't formally announced that date, just because there's still a lot of work to be done on the battery and we want to make sure we get that work done properly," he said.

Storage of electricity has long been a vexing problem for automakers. The battery that is big enough to store sufficient power to not only move the car, but operate all the electrical devices that modern cars require is currently too big to carry in the car and still have room for people and cargo. So, the contracts General Motors awarded to those suppliers recently amount to a crucial component for GM's non-polluting future fleet.

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