Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Chevy Volt: 150 miles per gallon

The anti-car movement will be disappointed to hear it, but the Chevy Volt shows that the electric/hybrid engine technology is almost ready for prime-time. Mayor Lee is doing his "patriotic" duty by using a Volt. It's still too expensive, but advances in battery technology and economies of scale will eventually make it---and other hybrid vehicles---widely available.

A NY Times writer got 300 miles from two gallons of gas when he tried the Volt:

Having said all that, driving it did convince me of two things. The first is that, Consumer Reports notwithstanding, the Volt has a better chance of success than anything else on the market. Yes, G.M.’s track record for making cars people want has not exactly been inspiring in recent years. But the company has been through hell and back, and a good number of the institutional impediments that prevented it from making good cars are now gone.

Though the Volt has its share of flaws, it is unquestionably a good car. More to the point, as I discovered when I drove it, the Volt makes sense for the economic and cultural moment we’re in now. The psychological grip it held me in, the smugness I felt as I drove past gas stations, the way it implicitly encouraged me to stick with battery power as much as I could — others are going to feel that as well. Somewhat to my surprise, I actually felt a pang of enviro-guilt when I gave the car back and returned to my gas-guzzling ways. Mr. Farah told me that Volt owners often drove 1,000 miles or more before they needed to buy gasoline. I believe it. It has extremely high word-of-mouth potential.

The second thing it convinced me of is that the electric car is no longer some environmental pipe dream. Several years ago, I drove the Tesla, and though it was a wonderful experience, its high price and limited utility did not give me confidence that electric cars were ready for prime time. The Volt has made a believer out of me. At this moment of maximum uncertainty about how the future will play out, the Volt is comforting in its combination of new technology and old. Eventually, we’ll have batteries that can get 300 miles per charge, and an infrastructure solution that will replace gas stations. Eventually.

In the meantime, we’ve got the Volt. It’s a start.



At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd hate to see the upkeep cost on one of those. What you save in gas will be lost to huge repair bills.

At 12:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

one gallon of gas and how much coal for the electricity?

At 7:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are speculating as to the repair bills. Chevrolet has every incentive to make this car as bulletproof as possible.

Also, it's not about "saving money on gas", it's about NOT USING GAS. For all kinds of reasons.

Regarding the coal comment, as noted, it's about NOT USING GAS. Assuming the replacement electricity is from a coal-fired plant, it is still far easier to improve emissions collections at coal plants than retrofit every car on the road.

And as has been noted in many articles, including the one the author referenced, best estimates for cost of the "coal energy" is still far lower than the cost of the "gas energy".

At 2:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Chevrolet has every incentive to make this car as bulletproof as possible"

Not really. They make a lot of money in the aftermarket on parts and service. But even if we exclude that nefarious premise, they have had the incentive to make cars as bulletproof as possible since they were founded - and they have not succeeded.

"it is still far easier to improve emissions collections at coal plants"

If this were true, it would have been done a long time ago.

"best estimates for cost of the "coal energy" is still far lower than the cost of the "gas energy"

This is only a short term dollar cost estimate, and does not include externalized costs which are far greater for coal usage on a per joule basis.

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

General Motors/Chevrolet first has to make cars that people want to buy, whether you call that "bulletproof" or something else. Since most auto trips are less than 35 miles---the range of a Volt on electricity---a Volt will be a good investment, since most auto trips are less than that, especially in the city.

California doesn't use much coal to run its power grid.

At 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most trips are 2 miles or less, perfect distance for a bicycle.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

But if you don't want to risk injury, have to do serious shopping, have a family, on a tight schedule, even better for an electric car.

At 4:34 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

And there's also the air pollution problem that's a threat to the health of cyclists. More cars running on electricity reduces that threat.

At 10:24 PM, Anonymous Your Neighbor said...

So, how many people can afford $40,000 cars in this recession? And how many of those people do you want to bet are guilt-ridden yuppies replacing their Prius with something even "greener"?

There is simply no way that Americans can replace their ICEs fast enough to curb emissions to the extent that we'll meet even Kyoto's modest goals. It's pure fantasy to imagine that cars like the Volt will save us. The real problem is not that a few people own inefficient and environmentally destructive cars; it's that we simply drive too much.

We can't keep kicking the can down the road. People's health and safety are in serious risk both from the immediate impacts of airborne pollution and the longer term effects of global warming and climate change. Suggesting that our problems can be solved if everyone would just by a Chevy Volt is cynical at best when simpler, cheaper, healthier solutions—like walking or, god forbid, riding a bike every once in a while—are readily available to anyone.

You seem to think that it's "anti-car" to suggest even modest reductions in auto use. Well, I think your position is anti-human. You have to have a pretty low opinion of other people in general to think that they're incapable of change. I, on the other hand, have faith in my fellow humans, and I think we can figure this out if we work together. Frivolous lawsuits and the continuous stream of angry bile on your blog are counterproductive.

Oh, and I think you missed the part in the article you linked to which repeated,

"While they found a heightened risk to heart health when cycling near tailpipes, researchers noted that, 'the clinical implications of this relationship are unclear as the health benefits of cycling might outweigh any potential negative impact.'"

Anyone near busy streets is <a href='">at risk</a>, <a href="">even drivers</a>. Reducing the number of cars on the road and calming drivers is the only way to solve the pollution problem in a reasonable amount of time.

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No one is claiming that electric/hybrid engines are going to "save us." But they will be a big help in reducing emissions. The price will come down as production ramps up on the Volt and other hybrids.

Yes, I saw the part about how riding a bike might compensate for breathing in pollutants---while you ride a bike! Maybe.

People wil drive because motor vehicles provide them with the mobility to live their lives. It must be disappointing to you anti-car folks to learn that motor vehicles will never be obsolete, that the American people want/need them to get to work, to get to school, to get their children to school, to shop, to deliver all the goods city residents consume via trucks, etc.

"Frivolous lawsuits"? You mean the successful litigation to make the city follow the law on the Bicycle Plan? Is following the law "frivolous"? Why didn't the city just do the EIR in the first place? Only because City Hall thought it could get away with not following the law. "Progressive" governance in San Francisco! Seems a lot like conservative governance.

At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And there's also the air pollution problem that's a threat to the health of cyclists.

This is also a threat to pedestrians! Walking = DANGEROUS! Stay inside!

At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"California doesn't use much coal to run its power grid."

Add a few hundred thousand Chevy Volts to the requirements of California's power grid and get back to me on those stats m'kay?

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The technology is just now becoming feasible to make it possible to sell a lot of these cars. Check back in 10 or 20 years, and we'll see a real difference in reducing emissions and reducing our dependence on oil.

At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How are we going to charge those cars? With Coal.

A) California's grid doesn't use a lot of coal.

How can we double our electricity capacity without adding more coal fired plants

A) Watch me change the subject.

At 1:37 PM, Anonymous Your Neighbor said...

The phrase "anti-car" is a red herring. Nobody in their right mind thinks that cars will be "obsolete" any time soon; you're just projecting the most fringe opinion possible onto anyone who disagrees with you in even the most subtle ways.

Meanwhile, those of us who want to save time and money and get some exercise will choose the better option. Driving is anyone's decision to make; that doesn't mean it's smart, or appropriate for every trip, though. This is not a war between people who drive all the time and those who refuse to on principal. The other 98% of us are interested in figuring out how we can incrementally reduce our personal impact on our fellow humans and the environment—even if it means sacrificing some of the subjective conveniences of driving sometimes. It's clear from your blog that you have nothing to offer in that conversation.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

California is going to build coal-powered power plants because of electric/hybrid cars? More likely they will be powered by natural gas.

At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More likely they will be powered by natural gas.

Cuz ya know, Fracking is no big deal!

At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 12:28 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Anti-car" is a red herring in SF? Wrong! Announcements by the MTA and the mayor have affirmed that as official city policy. And of course the SFBC, which operates as if it was a city department, has long pushed anti-car policies, including the Bicycle Plan and congestion pricing.

I haven't owned a car in 25 years. I get around SF fine on foot and on Muni. The Bicycle Plan will in fact delay a number of Muni lanes when it's completely implemented. The anti-car movement understands full well that when it takes away traffic lanes and street parking to make bike lanes, it's also going to delay Muni. That's just collateral damage in the great anti-car crusade in our supposedly "transit first" city.


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