Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Why the GM Volt is a winner for EVERYONE

There are two types of critics of the GM Volt.

The first is the greenie doomer who doesn't want any energy use let alone fossil powered personal transport (albeit mainly electric). Nothing is good enough for these people and no matter how "green" no technological solution is every going to be adequate because their problem isn't with solving climate change or peak oil, their problem is with industrial civilization itself.
Anyways, those folk bore me so on to the next critic.

The second kind of critic is the person who doesn't believe in either climate change nor peak oil. Personally my take is the jury is out on climate change but peak oil is very real and requires technical solutions of the highest caliber.

Why, then, is the Volt such a big winner in my eyes?

Several reasons.

Firstly, obviously, it's going to substitute demand away from conventional oil supplies which are shortly going to be declining (probably in the region of 1-2% per year). Even if we are getting the electricity to supply the volt from coal it's *still* better than oil because of the much higher powerplant to wheel efficiency (60%) as compared to oil well to refinery to gas station to internal combustion efficiency of only 15%).

Secondly given the current cost of high energy density batteries the cost is kept down by using less batteries with a lower though still adequate range. Even though the hard science has already been done for better batteries, the process engineering is only just getting started - so currently *inexpensive* batteries to create a vehicle with a 500 mile range are non-existent.

Thirdly, the charging infrastructure to charge batteries at high voltage just doesn't exist yet. An alternative is better place's battery swapping stations which are currently on trial but not yet widely installed.

Fourthly if peak oil decline were to come next wednesday then we would need a solution that could displace gasoline usage but didn't require a huge and immediate investment in infrastructure AND allowed the current paradigm to continue without requiring a huge and immediate investment in mass transit.

Fifthly the price: While it's not cheap, the Volt is certainly within the range of most middle class incomes. Just looking round the cubicles in my office, probably 50% drive a vehicle that costs in excess of $25,000 so they could *probably* with a stretch meet the payments.

Sixth: It reduces dependence on foreign oil supplies coming from regions which are not friendly to us.

Lastly the hidden one: Why did GM kill the electric car before?
It's my take that it was uneconomical for them to keep it.
GM is a business. i.e. they build cars in order to make money.

Unfortunately, very few car companies make much money off of the manufacture of cars. The money is made in service and maintenance and supply of parts.
Given that all electric vehicles have parts that last a *lot* longer due to the lesser complexity, there wasn't really any way GM could make money off of all-electric cars. That's a problem for GM because of all the already invested and not-yet-amortized plant and equipment sitting on their books. Ultimately they could find another way to make money off of battery electrics, but with all the current old-paradigm dependencies I think they probably could have gone bust if forced to go all-electric, say by government mandate.

The volt, however, is a plug-in-hybrid. Although it ticks all the boxes for most people (and definitely for those who seek to escape potential liquid fuels shortages) it is also much more complex than just a battery electric vehicle with no gasoline engine. That means the existing paradigm can still continue, allowing GM to continue to service it's existing plant until it is replaced and a new business model can be worked up allowing them to make money off of battery electric only.


Go Volt Go!

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