December 14, 2007 10:42 AM PST

Does GM now mean 'green motors'?

Does GM now mean 'green motors'?
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LOS ANGELES--General Motors is already developing a slew of cars that will run on alternative fuels such as electricity, hydrogen, or green liquids like ethanol. But don't count on an all-electric car anytime soon from the auto giant.

It's the one green transportation idea that the company isn't dedicating a lot of time to, Dave Barthmuss, GM's group general manager for environment and energy communications, said during a break at the Hollywood Goes Green conference that took place here this week. GM brought a prototype of its Chevy Volt and the Equinox, a hydrogen-powered SUV, to the conference.

Why not go all the way, with a fully electric vehicle? In a word, batteries. Batteries cost a lot, weigh quite a bit, and can't take a car nearly as far as a combination of gas and electric power, or even a full tank of gas. Battery capacity and endurance are improving, but at an incremental pace. Even bringing down the price and boosting the performance of batteries to manufacture plug-in hybrids and other gas-electric combo cars remains problematic.

"It is the biggest challenge we have with this car. We're working at the cell level, the pack level," said Andrew Farah, vehicle chief engineer of E-flex Systems, the GM group developing the Volt.

The Volt runs on batteries, but it contains a gas motor that recharges the battery after 40 miles. With the gas recharger and a full tank of gas, the car has a range of 640 miles. The batteries also can get recharged by plugging the car into the wall at night. Mileage should be in the triple digit range, or about 100 miles per gallon. People who don't drive more than 40 miles a day will barely consume gas. Thus, the Volt will outdo many plug-in hybrids on mileage, Farah said.

The goal is to get the car to commercial production by 2010, he said. Ideally, the price will be in the $30,000 range. By contrast, all-electric cars coming to market will have a range of 120 to 250 miles and most will cost between $50,000 and $100,000.


Currently, GM is testing batteries from A123 Systems, a start-up in Massachusetts, and Compact Power, part of the LG conglomerate. Some recent prototypes just arrived at GM, Farah said.

All-electric and partly electric cars are tough to design as well, he said.

"Everyone thinks the battery is an electrochemical problem. Wrong," he said. "The whole idea is to integrate it (into the design). You don't want to have a battery with some wheels."

In the case of the Volt, one of the design tweaks revolves around putting the battery pack in the floor of the car. It runs between the two front seats and, therefore, doesn't take up luggage room.

Many others have echoed Farah's points about the pace of battery science. For instance, Mike Taylor, vice president of finance at Tesla Motors, pointed out last week that the energy density for lithium-ion batteries doubles about every 10 years while the price drops by more than 70 percent. (He tracked it from 1990 to 2000 and from 1995 to 2005 and found the same thing.) Thus, the technology improves, but it's not on a torrid Moore's Law-like pace.

Although the Volt will likely look a lot different when it hits the market, the prototype is kind of cool looking. It's fairly roomy. The only complaint at the conference came from TV star Larry Hagman, who didn't like the transparent plastic roof. "You will fry in California," Hagman said.

GM will work on ways to tint it, Farah told him.

Test-driving the Equinox
GM wouldn't let me drive the Volt. The prototype, which costs a few million dollars, is only driven to and from the delivery truck that brings it to event. The company, however, did let me take out the Equinox, the hydrogen SUV.

Like other hydrogen cars and electric cars, the pickup on the Equinox is fairly impressive. I managed to pop it from zero to over 40 in a few seconds. (We drove on crowded Hollywood Boulevard so I never got it up to freeway speeds.) The silence is great, too. The engine does not make much noise, other than a low-grade whooshing sound. A video screen between the front and passenger seats provides an explanation of how hydrogen gets converted into electricity by the fuel cell.

GM recently kicked off a program called Project Driveway under which 100 consumers will get Equinoxes to drive. The tests, which will take place in California, Washington, Washington D.C., and New York, will largely seek to find how hydrogen cars mix with the average's person's driving.

See more CNET content tagged:
Chevy Volt, General Motors, prototype, car, battery


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The big yellow signs that say "E85" aren't enough to let people that E85 is available there?
Posted by aka_tripleB (2211 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Stations are few and far between
In the Seattle area, the closest station that sells ethanol is in Fort Lewis, 40 miles away and it's on military only property. You have to go another 30 miles south to get to the first closest public station. At 70 miles away from your home or work area, that simply isn't workable.

Oil companies prohibit the selling of Ethanol fuels at stations that their own product is sold at. This means you'll never see E85 from any of the big names including Arco/Shell/Chevron/Texaco/etc. And without that level of support, it's doomed by those very same oil companies who are actively working to prevent any alternatives to oil.

It's not a good thing, but it is business. It will take someone like Walmart to come into the fuel market with their own line to really shake up the Big Oil monopolies.
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Link Flag
GM's all about greenbacks, not green-motors..!!
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

And GM has the gall to call to say "it?s one of the many ways GM
is working to reduce our dependence on petroleum" with a gas guzzling SUV..?!?

Just wait America, if the dollar continues its spiraling decent
you'll soon see pump prices equalling those here in Europe.
Maybe then you'll be wishing you hadn't bought that 20mpg
"green" SUV and bought a 45mpg Volkswagen instead.
Posted by imacpwr (456 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It uses only half the amount of fuel to go the same distance for city driving (20 vs 10-12), I would call the at least a little green. Wouldn't you. Americans love SUV's, so that is what car manufacturers are going to make if they want sales in the states.
Posted by Ushiikun (30 comments )
Link Flag
You're 1/2 right, 1/2 an idiot
First of all, I agree wholeheartedly about the price of gasoline in Europe; however, gasoline in the EU is taxed, taxed, and taxed even more while here in the states it's not taxed as heavily. Plus, the US is probably one of the largest "commuting" nations on the planet, so naturally w/ so many cars on the road the idea of raising gas taxes is political suicide.

Anyone remember when Gov. Davis in California tried tripling the auto registration fees? He got NAILED on it, and it was one of the nails in his political coffin.

Second, the Europeans love to hate the US, least of being for our vehicle sizes and gas efficiency. While most "Americans" themselves hate this as well and wish we would move to a more fuel efficient society, it will not happen any time soon (and certainly not under this Administration). Therefore, instead of Europeans thumbing their nose at the US about our choices in vehicles, think about how much gas costs here....10 years ago it was $0.96/gal, now it is $2.96/gal, and steadily rising....therefore, your avg idiot consumer is going to buy what he "wants" rather than what he "needs". I say "He" because men predominately buy the mammoth SUVs and Trucks, at least here in Los Angeles.

Perhaps under our next Administration (Pres. Clinton?), fuel efficiency and green energy will be a higher concern; for now it'll take back seat to flag burning, stem cells, and Iraq.
Posted by close5828 (230 comments )
Link Flag
The Volt has me 'energized'
I can't afford a new car. I really can't, but by the time the Volt is ready in 2010, I will be able to look seriously at my first new car purchase ever. At $30K, this is soemthing I would be very much interested in. Since my daily commute is 35 miles, the electric motor would cut my fuel bills in half right there alone. Even with my fuel sipping compact pickup, the price of gas currently would mean I could drop my weekly fuel costs to $15-20 a week.

The company I work for has a large campus and already is offering plug in recharge stations for the Prius as an employee perk. Since the Volt takes a standard 120 VAC plug, there is no special charging stations needed. Already that company is talking about providing similar parking spaces for those vehicles. That would reduce my commuting costs to... zero.

Zero. That's NO money going to Big Oil at all. Now I have to be realistic and know that I will still fill the tank and it will run on gas now and then, but instead of filling up once a week, it will be more likely I'll fill up once every month or two.

Figure $30 per tank. Five tanks a month. Take that away and it's $150 month the oil company doesn't get from me. At year's end, that's $1800 that they don't get from my income. That money will go a long ways towards the price of the car itself.

Plus you have to admit, the thing is undeniably cool looking. A hybrid or electric car doesn't have to look ugly (like the Prius), they only build them that way. The Volt could be a mass produced car that really makes a difference in our oil consumption habits.
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Only plug-ins make sense
Battery-only electric cars at this point are, well, pointless. They are no advance over the EV-1, which was no advance over the Detroit Electric, circa 1907. The VOLT represents the first truly practical (at "nicely under $30K)
electrically propelled automobile and one that is neither inconvenient nor impotent, as all of the battery only electrics are. It takes advantage, brilliantly, on the fact that most cars don't travel more than 20 miles from home
much of the time, nor travel more than 40 miles a day (14,600 miles per year). Obviously Larry Hagmen doesn't understand the concept of tinted windows - here in Florida they are everywhere, and
immensely useful.
Posted by theBike45 (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
GM should stand for 'green-washing motors'
GM works hard to create the (false) impression they actually care about the environment. It's articles like this that **** me off. GM is not a company that is on the side of ?green? cars. It has spent millions lobbying against tougher corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards and it KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR, while continuing to push the not-in-our-lifetime hydrogen car instead.
Posted by digital.proteus (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Look sir, if you'd know anything about CAFE and the society you live in, you'd be against it as well.

America is hungry for large vehicles, vehicles that typically get poor mileage ratings, CAFE won't change the way Americans think, the only way automakers can lower their Corporate Average Fuel Economy is by by virtually eliminating full-size vehicles, namely sport utes. The only reason we have people rolling in them in the first place is because of the previous increase, if you remember. :)

Hybrid powertrains should hopefully become standard equipment on cars 10 years from now.
Posted by decomrade (3 comments )
Link Flag
Gas guzzling SUV
It makes a lot more sense to put a hybrid powertrain (re: the Tahoe doesn't lose any power unlike comparable Toyota and regular last-gen GM hybrids... Hell, even Hondas) in a vehicle that gets under 20MPG with its regular powertrain than putting one in a vehicle that gets over 30, don't you think?

It takes so long to get the money you invest in a Prius back that it's not even worth it, while the money you'd invest in a hybridized Tahoe comes back rather quickly! And it's well-equipped, too.
Posted by decomrade (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We dont need Moore's Law.
On your own figures in 10 years time a battery car will go 500 miles on a charge and cost 70% less. Who needs Moores Law. By the time the volt is out in 2010 (even without the inevitable delays) batteries should be doing 333 miles and cost 20% less. When you factor in no gas, no maintenance and continuing battery improvements at an incremental level who needs Moores Law type improvements?
Posted by ronpierre (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better bring more coal plants online!
With everybody plugging in there cars we will need them.

Why would we want to have all cars plug intot he grid like the Chevy Volt when the majority of powere provided to the grid is supplied by the dirtiest sources there is to the earth (coal)

Plugging your car in does not make it magical and zero impact free, the electricity is made and then supplied to your house

we need to look more to self hydrogen systems like purdue unvirsity is working on or the guy with the salt water for energy

we need to close the loop for energy of cars, not add it to a much bigger costly, dirty loop known as the grid
Posted by mcepat (118 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There are a number of states (mostly coastal) where the offset benefits; the power generation at the infrastructure/utility level is less polluting than producing it with the engine in your car. However, the same cannot be said with many of the flyovers.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Link Flag
No! New Developments Will Get Most Everyone OFF the Grid...
and that is more important to life on the planet!
Posted by Possibill (6 comments )
Link Flag
We could have purely electric cars
The excuse that batteries are the reason we can't have electric cars
is wrong. Interested parties should watch "Who Killed the Electric
Car?" or read the Wiki page at:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

Posted by crazeduser (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
But what generates
the power for the electric cars? And how is the electicity generated? Yeh, we could have done that several years ago but opted not to, the trade off, I don't know.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
Link Flag
Error in story.
... or green liquids like ethanol. ...

Ethanol is only green on saint Patrick's day. All other days it is clear.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Reply Link Flag
GM green motors
GM should try to work more in the present than in the future. if they did, they probably would sell more cars!
Posted by mtoc (58 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This isn't new.
Anyone who's followed GM will tell you that this is their standard M.O. In a very public and flashy way, embrace the future. As long as it remains a future technology, just out of reach technologically and cost-wise, it makes great press. But because GM never innovates, they just play with it until a new pipe-dream comes along and then they very publicly embrace that, abandoning the old next best thing is old news and a technology that would have never worked.

So with GM, it's a "we'll believe it when we see it," knowing full well, there's probably no chance we'll ever see it. Without a dramatic sea change in leadership and philosophy.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Link Flag
1995 was viable 2007 more viable
I like people who tell us black is white.
Groucho said it well "Who do you believe, me
or your own eyes?". We all saw the EV1 or at
least a video. Or shouldn't I believe me eyes?
Posted by BrianOh2 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Air Powered Car?
That seems more interesting that all these mentions.
Posted by Sparky650 (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
More needs to be done
I was one of the guinea pigs test-driving another vehicle from GM, back in 1997. It was a modified Geo Metro. The acceleration was fantastic as was the simplicity - 2 switches - one for forward/reverse, the other for wet/dry braking (normal/regenerative).

What sucked was the battery capacity - less than 100 miles on a charge.

I had thought about the small gas motor idea to recharge the battery back then but never got around to patenting/publishing on it and now that idea is taken. They call it a "serial hybrid" technology now, unlike the Prius' "parallel hybrid".

What most people don't realize is that even if it is made plug-in, where is the electricity going to come from? If its the same non-renewable source like coal, we have just shifted the problem around, not solved it.

In my opinion we need to solve problems systematically

1) Use renewable sources - solar, wind, hydel
2) Use more efficient technologies as applicable. e.g. fuel cells have a higher efficiency.
3) Use a combination of techniques and fitting the problem keeping in mind that there is no "one size fits all" solution.
4) Encourage, plan and implement effective mass transportation. This is woefully lacking in most of the US.

That this if we really intend to solve/mitigate the problems.
Posted by tech_crazy (564 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Tell Tesla Motors that electric cars are not an alternative..
We Americans are ridiculous..if it wont go 500 miles on a charge, we dont want it. We better be waking up soon, the Amero is coming ( <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> ) and times are-a-changing. We must stop believing everything CNN, Fox and MSNBC tell us as gospel and find out for ourselves.
Remember folks, no-where is it set in stone that The United States will prevail forever, its up to us.
People should not fear its Government, Governments should fear its PEOPLE!!
Posted by BigDumbRedneck (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I ordered mine Volt. <a class="jive-link-external" href=";itemType=PRODUCT&#38;RS=1&#38;keyword=volt" target="_newWindow">;itemType=PRODUCT&#38;RS=1&#38;keyword=volt</a> Buy it now before they pull the model off the market. I do not think they will ever built the full sized version.
Posted by willdryden (271 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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