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Alternative Cars Plugged In at Auto Show

By Todd McClamroch in News on Feb 8, 2007 7:35PM

2007_02_07_chevy_volt_1.jpgIn January, General Motors Vice Chairman of Product Development and Chairman of GM North America, Bob Lutz, spoke with a group of bloggers about the Chevy Volt Concept car shortly after it was revealed at the Detroit Auto Show. The Volt, if developed, with its E-Flex power system, could nearly eliminate trips to the gas station. During the interview Lutz spoke about how likely it is the Volt could go from concept to reality "Are we 100% sure we can get it done, no. We're 90% sure, but in the old days GM would not have dared show a prototype like that until we had absolutely all questions answered at which point somebody else would have already done it."

2007_02_07_zap_car.jpgYesterday, General Motors, invited Chicagoist along with several other blog representatives to the Chicago Auto Show and gave us the opportunity to meet with executives across the company and check out their line of vehicles in addition to the rest of the show. We were really interested in checking out the battery powered Chevy Volt Concept Car. Before checking out the Volt we checked out the Zap Xebra (left). The Zap Xebra is a bare bones battery car that is actually in production but sacrifices many amenities that will keep it from getting mainstream usage such as air conditioning, ability to drive over 40 miles per hour, oh and did we mention it was hit with the ugly stick. Though there is the benefit that you can pretend to be a meter maid and fool the best of us in your three-wheeled Xebra. Seriously though, we applaud companies for actually producing a car with this technology.

We just wish it could be done with many of the benefits that most of us won't want to give up in our vehicle. If that can be done, a battery-driven car could make a wide-scale impact on American's day to day driving habits. After checking out the Xebra we checked out the Volt display and met with with GM Director of Advanced Design Bob Boniface. He mentioned the importance of integrating design with technology in the Volt. Boniface explained "When you think of technology-based vehicles, that have good fuel economy and don't pollute the environment, you tend to think of them as sensible, pragmatic shapes ... We took a different tact with this vehicle to be something that appealed to the enthusiast and was sporty." We think they achieved their design goals as the Volt is sporty on the outside and comfortable looking on the inside.

The Volt concept takes advantage of the fact that half of all Americans live within 20 miles of where they work. The Volt is designed to deliver 40 city miles of electric range. So people could commute to work and back without having to utilize power other than electric charge provided from six hours of charging. The system utilizes a gas engine to create additional electricity for extended range of up to 640 miles at 50 miles per gallon before needing additional fuel. In theory, these advances solve some of the major concerns of battery-driven vehicles such as running out of charge and being stuck in the middle of nowhere or the inability to do practical things like drive up hills or carry several passengers. But again, this is only a concept.

2007_02_07_lutz.jpgSo when we had the opportunity to meet with Bob Lutz we followed up on the conversation bloggers had with him in Detroit to learn more about what it would take to make this car a reality. We asked Lutz, "What are the challenges to bring the Volt to fruition and actually make it a production car?" Lutz responded, "The mechanical portion is pretty simple and all stuff we have done before ... the real challenge with the vehicle is the spec we put out to the lithium ion battery companies." He detailed the strict requirements they are asking from the manufactures including at least a 10-year lifespan, allowing upwards of 5,000 charge cycles. Many experts feel a battery capable of meeting General Motor's standards could be ready by 2010 or 2012. Chicagoist would love to see a car that has a both battery and gas functionality that looks sporty on the road and hope General Motors or one of the other manufacturers can figure it out soon.

At the auto show you can see a variety of environmentally friendly solutions ranging from vehicles that run on E85, an ethanol blend containing only 15 percent gasoline to the gas-electric hybrids like the Chevy Volt and the Ford Edge Hybrid. Make sure to check out some of these exciting cars while you are at the show. We uploaded photos of the Volt to Flickr.