The Chevrolet Volt, a trendy new green hybrid car scheduled for US release next month, has some innovations and changes for the automobile industry. If you live in a major US city, you could be one of the first to plug this car into your own outlet at home. But, is the price something you will be able to swing? And furthermore, how is the Volt and the hybrid trend doing on the worldwide scale? What are the moral and socio-economic implications of making the purchase? In Part 1 of this article we looked at it from a more surface point of view, and perhaps even optimistically. In this Part, we examine these questions you may be asking yourself when considering if getting into this car is right for you.
How does the hybrid car work? It runs primarily on its electric charge, but once it reaches a certain point where the power level remaining is far decreased, the gasoline power kicks in to keep the car running. When the battery only has about 25-30% electric capacity left, the engine switches over to continue providing the same amount of power to the car. GM says that compared with the average car, the Volt saves an estimated 4.4 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year. Even though the car is plugged in and electricity itself has a carbon footprint, the University of California-Davis did research which indicates that a hybrid will still create considerably fewer emissions than a car running solely on gasoline. Car and Driver reviewed the Volt as being able to take on 80 mph and highway driving conditions. Green Car Driving, however, recommended normal driving and no highways with the car. Peak capacity for an electric-powered vehicle is at 30 KW, which is what is needed to do 65 mph slightly uphill, but the Volt at maximum charge and capacity (which would be less than the usual conditions, as the battery is always gradually losing charge) is only at 16 KW. The first Chevrolet Volts are expected to hit Washington D.C., New York City and the surrounding areas, Austin, and the entire state of California.
The price– $41,000– announced this past July, concerned The Washington Post because it limited its availability to only higher income consumers. The average new car a couple of years ago (back when the Volt was announced) cost around $28,000, and even with a $7,500 federal car tax credit (the max available for plug-in electric cars), that barely makes a dent in the price enough for average consumers to consider the buy. The Post concluded that the people most likely to purchase are those who are just trying green out as an experiment which they happen to be able to afford, being higher income and already owning gas-powered vehicles which they probably primarily use. The price was even criticized by The New York Times (written by Edward Niedermeyer, who edits the site The Truth About Cars), since the Volt received all kinds of funding and backing in production from the government. He went on to talk about the inconvenience not matching the price, saying that it only seats four and has less head and leg room than the less expensive gas-powered version of the car, the $17,000 Chevy Cruze. General Motors Classifies it as a mid-sized car, FYI. GM CEO Edward Whitaker, Jr. says that it’s the only vehicle which can go coast to coast on a single electric charge, stating that no one else comes close, as if that justified the cost– however, when Green Car Reports did 160 miles for their review, 73 of those miles ran on electric charge while the other 87 ran on gasoline. Just last year The New York Times reported how GM claimed that the city mileage for the Volt was in the triple digits. An official with the US Treasury Department said that they are not going to tell Chevrolet what to charge for its cars.
Internationally, the Volt is being endorsed by the province of Ontario, Canada, and Premier Dalton McGuinty aspires to 5% of all vehicles in Ontario being electric-powered by 2020. Canadians seem to feel that ultimately, this will boost their auto sector. All European Volts are expected to be made in a Chevy plant in the UK, across from the Jaguar plant in Liverpool. More and more in Europe we are seeing incentives and credits for the purchase and use of electric vehicles. Other related concept cars on the international level include the Cadillac Converj– a plug-in hybrid concept car– which was unveiled last year at the North American International Auto Show. More recently and of note was the 2010 Auto China Show in which GM featured the Chevy Volt MPV5.
While there are some impressive facts about the Chevrolet Volt, there are also plenty of contradictions and obstacles. So where is the incentive to buy? The government’s attempts to foster greener driving and greener living are falling flat with their lack of control of certain regulations on the industry, even after they’ve handed over break after break (or moneybag after moneybag) to automakers. With this set-up, even hybrids are destined to flop in a way similar to the electric car. When only the elite, who couldn’t care less about being green other than trying on a new trend as a mere novelty, can make the purchase– how much good are you really accomplishing? The truth is, the electric car is not just accessible and possible now, but it has been for many, many, many decades– before even some of our own lifetimes. It was just better business for the rich to stay on the same track as ever, so hybrids and electrics are actually made hard to obtain purposefully. It may sound counter-productive, but they are actually trying to simultaneously respond to public outcry and demand for greener cars (as a token gesture, to satisfy the want without any true noble intent) while also maintaining the relationship they have to oil. In short, it’s designed to be specialty, designed to not be mainstream– designed to fail. To learn more about the business practices, relations, theories, and tie-ins that keep us enslaved to oil and stop us from realizing the green dream of all-electric vehicles hitting our mainstream, please be sure to check out Who Killed the Electric Car?— it makes a lot of things clear about the automotive industry and its lagging to progress, and is a sobering eye opener.
Chevrolet Volt, Wikipedia
Elizabeth Eng, Hot Trend in the International Automotive Industry: Green Decisions & The Chevy Volt (part 1), Associated Content
Low Voltage, The Washington Post
Edward Niedermeyer, The Volt- G.M.’s Electric Lemon, The New York Times
The Truth About Cars
Who Killed the Electric Car?