Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Chevy Volt: automotive revolution or flavor of the month?

I was delighted to read an article about General Motors' emphasis on green technology in today's Wall Street Journal (link - $$). GM has announced that the Chevy Volt, a mostly electric car with a small gas engine to recharge the battery en route, will be the linchpin of its effort to "change the DNA of the automobile." But hidden in the article were a few clues proving that GM's commitment to green technology is paper-thin:

GM executives acknowledge it is unclear whether these advanced-technology vehicles will ever come to market, much less generate a profit. The auto maker, as with companies in other industries, has concluded it can no longer wait and see how the public debate on global warming and the world economy's increasing thirst for oil plays out. A big consideration in this change: GM fears it will sell fewer cars if consumers associate it with gas guzzlers.

"We have to have people think we are part of the solution, not part of the problem," said Lawrence Burns, GM's vice president for research and development and global planning. The rush to produce its electric vehicle, known as the Chevrolet Volt, is in large part an effort to show consumers that "we get it" on climate change, Mr. Burns said. "It's not just words. It's deeds."

In other words, it's a PR stunt. If gas prices plunged tomorrow, the Volt would disappear faster than day-old bread.

It's only been two years since GM's last attempt to reinvent the automobile. Contrast this to Toyota's consistent focus on green technology for more than a decade (here's information on an environmental award the company received in 1998 for the first-generation Prius).

I'm a fan of electric cars (see a previous post on electric power as an essential component of green energy). In fact, I'm hoping to hold onto my eleven-year-old Izusu Trooper until I can replace it with a car that uses mostly electricity.

Will that be the Volt? Time will tell.

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(Photo: our 1996 Trooper)