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Will the Volt be GM's saviour?

Text by Emmanuel SAINT-MARTIN

Latest update : 2008-12-10

On its one hundredth birthday, General Motors tones down economic hardships and looks to a brighter future with Tuesday's launch of the 'Volt,' an electric car that - it hopes - will be its saviour.

Read more: 'GM, a century of American Classics'

 

General Motors is turning 100 Tuesday.  Rather than celebrate a glorious past darkened by slumping market shares and soaring losses – up to $70 billion over the last three years –, GM executives have their eyes firmly set on the future and, in particular, on the Volt, the electric car they plan to introduce during the Detroit Auto Show. The new vehicle faces a daunting task: to save the ailing auto giant.
 
Having missed the road to hybrids, GM is now trying to close the technological gap by offering a car powered by lithium-ion batteries, which can be recharged through a common household plug; a technology already used in laptop computers.

The objective is to give the Volt a 40-mile autonomy powered by its sole batteries. Beyond 40 miles, a small fuel engine kicks in, but only to reload the batteries.

Though the Volt is slated to hit the market by the end of 2010, GM executives acknowledge the car is still far away from the production stage. Its design today is very different from the ‘concept-car’ unveiled last April. All things considered, the final Volt model remains a classic ‘compact car,’ a design imposed by the necessity of fitting a large 200-kilo battery in its vault and of improving its aerodynamics to increase the autonomy.

But on the battery front, Detroit engineers are still proceeding by trial and error. The battery’s life span is still unknown. They are currently being tested to see if they can last 10 years or 150,000 miles. But the tests won’t be over before March 2010, a few months before the car's launch.

As things stand, the Volt is unlikely to be the cheapest of cars. GM hasn’t made the price public yet, but some sources talk of $40,000, which is a lot more than what other existing hybrids cost.
 

Date created : 2008-09-16

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