Electric-car shocker: Lane drives Volt!
Hurrah! The Volts are starting to roll off GM's production line in Hamtramck, Mich. And the company says it is about to hire 1,000 researchers to develop more electric and hybrid vehicles. Readers of my past posts on electric vehicles will not be surprised to learn that I am as skeptical of this latest auto electrification "triumph" as I have been of previous ones. At $41,000 each, the little, four-seat Volts will never find a mass market -- not even after the federal government kicks in a $7,500-per-car tax credit.
But I gotta hand it to GM. They are good sports. My sour forecasts notwithstanding, GM's Washington office offered me a chance to test drive a Volt the other day, probably on the theory that there's no such thing as bad publicity -- rather than out of any hope that they could change my mind.
In a nutshell, my 20-minute jaunt through the congested streets of downtown D.C. convinced me a) that the car drives just like a gas-powered vehicle in all-electric mode, though I'd really like to take it for a spin on the highway to confirm that, and b) that GM's designers have knocked themselves out to make the interior and amenities much more attractive than drivers have come to expect from its other models.
So, kudos to GM: let it never be said that they cannot produce an advanced-technology car that actually works and is not hellish to drive.
Alas, I'm still not convinced. For me, this has never been about technology, per se. (Though I must admit the jury is still out on the Volt battery's long-term performance, especially in cold climates or hilly terrain.) It's always been an issue of economics and commercial viability. And that sticker price is still simply far too high to make Volt ownership an economical proposition for anyone in the bottom 98 income percentiles or so. Since breakthroughs in battery costs are still many years away, I agree with experts who don't expect the economics of all-electrics or plug-in hybrids to get significantly better anytime soon.
The notion that the Volt and vehicles like it represent part of a viable near- or even medium-term climate change solution is far-fetched. That's my story -- and I'm sticking to it.
But I admit it was fun to take one out for a spin!
| December 2, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories: Lane | Tags: Charles Lane
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