WASHINGTON--Amid an uncertain future for the U.S. auto giants, one of the most exciting products is the Chevy Volt, one of dozens of electric cars under development.
General Motors showed off the 2011 Volt at the Electric Drive Transportation Association's Conference & Exposition this week. Several other vehicles--some still under development, some already commercial--were on display as well.
Britta Gross, General Motors' manager of Hydrogen and Electrical Infrastructure Development, walked through the highlights of the Volt with me on Wednesday at the conference. (See grainy YouTube video below.)
To say that GM has a lot riding on the success of the Volt is a bit of an understatement. As its CEO Rick Wagoner requests federal assistance, he can point to the Volt and other fuel-efficient vehicles as the centerpiece of GM's restructured product strategy.
Indeed, GM executives say that the project is still on track and getting all available resources despite the financial straits the company is in. The extended-range electric car, which uses batteries and a gas motor to supplement driving distance, is expected to serve as a platform for a whole line of cars.
GM, of course, is not alone in transitioning to an electric powertrain.
In its plan presented to Congress, Ford Motor this week said that it will accelerate the introduction of a line of all-electric and hybrid electric cars to 2011. Chrysler earlier this year detailed is plans.
Town cars or highway cars?
While the Volt and Fisker Karma have a gasoline engine that will let a driver go for hundreds of miles, the first iteration of all-electric town cars will be limited to about 100 miles. But for daily commuting or for a second car, the range limit isn't a serious barrier, say executives.
Nissan is highly committed to electric cars and plans to roll out all-electric cars for testing in the fall of 2010. "Mass market sales" are scheduled for 2012. The cars will have a range of 100 miles and can be recharged in four hours, according to a company representative.
Mitsubishi is already testing an electric subcompact, the iMiev, which will go over 80 miles per hour and have a 100-mile range. The company will start producing them next summer for introduction in Japan. Then it intends to offer them in the U.S. and Europe.
Think of Norway will introduce the Think City in Norway at the beginning of next year with a new lithium-ion battery. It's a small car with room for two adults in front and two children or storage in the back. The range will be about 100 miles and top out at about 65 miles per hour.
California-based Miles Electric intends to test an all-electric sedan called the Miles XS500 in California in 2010. The chassis, which resembles a Camry, will be manufactured in China along with the lithium ion batteries. The top speed will be over 80 miles per hour and have a range of 120 miles.
Meanwhile, at the very high end, there is already the $109,000 Tesla Roadster. The Fisker Karma, a luxury plug-in electric sedan, is still on track for delivery at the end of next year.
Certainly less glamorous are several electric utility vehicles and neighborhood, low-speed cars already available, such as the carts available from Global Electric Motorcars.