Thursday, October 9, 2008

Electric Car Killed, Comes Back To Life

From CBS news

by Craig Clough, Staff writer

The 2006 documentary film "Who Killed The Electric Car?" chronicled the rise and fall of GM's first electric car, the EV1, which premiered in 1996 and was pulled from the market in 2003.

The film depicted the events surrounding GM's removal of the EV1 from the market in a very conspiratorial light, pointing the finger at the oil industry, the Bush administration, the auto companies and proponents of hydrogen fuel cells.

Two years after the film's premier, the shadowy man on the grassy knoll taking aim at the electric car appears to have been a mirage. Within weeks of each other in September, GM and Chrysler unveiled production versions of electric cars they plan to make available to the public by late 2010.

"The EV1 is alive and well and living in many, many General Motors products," said Carolyn Normandin, a Chevrolet communications manager. "And the people that worked on the EV1, they are some of the same people working on the Volt. So it's not like we just disassembled any of our work on any of this."

Normandin said waiting for the advancement of regenerative braking, range-extending technology and lithium ion batteries -- cornerstones of the new generation of electric cars -- created the delay between the EV1 and the Volt.

Better Range Than EV1

EV1s were available in a limited capacity by lease to customers in Southern California and Arizona. The EV1 had a range of 40 miles, making its less than practical and limiting consumer interest. GM said it leased around 800 of them.

GM and Chrysler's new electric cars have extended-range capabilities that make them more viable for the open market. Consumers will be able to purchase them. The EV1 was only available by lease, and GM pulled them from the market by letting the leases expire.

All of the GM and Chrysler's new electric cars can be plugged in and charged in a standard outlet overnight.

Electric Power From Gas

GM's Volt is a full-sized sedan. It has a range of 40 miles on battery, which can be extended for several hundred miles with gasoline, although Normandin said the exact range has not yet been determined.

Chrysler revealed three models all based on previous designs based on the Lotus Europa, the Jeep Wrangler and the Chrysler Town and Country minivan. However, Chrysler only plans on rolling out one of the models in 2010 and has not yet determined which one.

Like the Volt, the Wrangler and minivan both have extended-range capabilities, meaning they also have a gas tank. When the electricity runs out, the gas engine kicks in. But instead of propelling the vehicle directly, it acts as a generator for the electric motor. They both have an electric range of 50 miles and a total range of 400 miles on eight gallons of gas, according to Chrysler spokesman Cole Quiennell.

Chrysler's EV, based on the Europa, has no gasoline tank. It has a range of 150 to 200 miles, and Chrysler also said it will provide superior performance to its gasoline-powered counterpart. According to Quiennell, the EV has a top speed of 120 mph and can go 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds, compared to 5.5 seconds for a gasoline-powered Lotus. Quiennell also said the electric Jeep and minivan outperform their gasoline equivalents.

"Any internal combustion engine, it has a torque curve … You step on the throttle and it starts going and then it builds speed," said Quiennell. "And an electric motor has all that torque immediately, so you don't have to wait for that engine to come up to speed."

Better Batteries

Another reason for the high performance and viability of the new electric cars is their lithium-ion batteries. The EV1 and most current hybrids run on nickel metal hydrate batteries, which are larger than lithium batteries and produce less electricity.

"Electric cars have been around for a long time, but they haven't been as successful because they didn't have the battery technology that gives them the driving range that people expect," said Quinnell. "Lithium-ion batteries basically hold a lot more energy in a smaller package."

Motor Trend's Paul A. Eisenstein got a chance to drive the EV when it was unveiled and said it is "nothing less than impressive."

What Will They Cost

Many of the details about the cars from both companies are still vague. There has been no pricing estimate yet, and both companies said the initial rollout will be limited. Like today's hybrids, the electric cars figure to be more expensive than their gasoline-powered counterparts.

"There will be some cost that is above and beyond an internal combustible engine, because we've been making them for 100 years. We know how to make them. (The Volt) has a lot more technology in it and a lot more advanced material," said Normandin.

Pricing also is hard to determine as the technology that powers the cars will continue to advance over the next two years.

"Cost is something that we're too far away from market launch to talk about," said Quiennell. "We still have to wait for the battery technology to evolve a bit. The battery technology is probably the most expensive component in the car."

Neither GM nor Chrysler has a waiting list yet, but interested drivers can go to ChryslerGoesElectric.com or Chevrolet.com for updates on when a waiting list for the cars will begin.

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