During a celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of General Motors, the company unveiled a prototype of its long-awaited electric car, the Chevy Volt. Experts say the Volt, which is expected to hit showrooms in late 2010, has the potential to both revitalize the struggling car company and to change American's expectations of what an automobile can do: GM has said that the Volt should be able to drive 400 miles on a full charge and a full tank.
"We're reinventing the automobile," [GM executive Rick] Wagoner said.... GM has placed huge bets on the car, reportedly investing at least $500 million in its development [Los Angeles Times blog].
The Volt's technology differs from the system used in Toyota's hybrid Prius, which has two motors.
The Volt will have only one electric motor, powered by its new battery, and will go up to 40 miles without using a drop of gas. For the nearly 80% of Americans who drive less than 40 miles a day, that would mean they could effectively eliminate gasoline from their lives. After 40 miles, the Volt's gas engine switches on, but unlike the Prius's, it doesn't make the car move so much as an inch [Time].
Instead, the gas engine generates electricity to charge the car's battery, allowing the driver to go several hundred more miles before either filling up the gas tank or plugging in the car. GM officials say that
their ace in the hole bears the Chevrolet badge for a reason: From the Aveo to the Corvette ZR1, every product branded as a Chevy should be "as American as apple pie and baseball." That means widespread consumer appeal is critical. But with its initial production limited, can the Volt really become a mass-audience game changer? [Popular Mechanics]
GM officials have said that they plan to produce 10,000 Volt sedans in the first year, and will gradually increase production to 60,000 per year, but some experts have questioned whether the critical lithium-ion battery technology is ready for mass production.
GM hasn't announced the Volt's pricing, but it's expected to cost between $30,000 and $40,000 [AP].
That price tag doesn't seem to be scaring off some enthusiasts, though; as of today, over 40,000 people have signed up to an unofficial Chevy Volt wait list run by fans. Image: © GM Corp.