Media reports of Chevy Volt’s death have been greatly exaggerated

President Obama has averted the Bush-Cheney depression, and given the US auto industry a fighting chance.  Needless to say, that isn’t the narrative either conservatives or the status quo media want to push right now.

But it’s hard to attack the auto industry directly, especially since it is doing much better than anyone could have expected given overall economic conditions.  And so we have that bastion of the status quo media, the Politico, giving Rush Limbaugh a whole story on his “Obama Motors” spiel and nonsense like this, “Limbaugh said the Volt, as well as other hybrid automobiles “” such as the Toyota Prius, which sells for roughly $30,000 “” are nothing more than an expensive way to promote the environmentalist agenda.”

In fact, plug-in hybrids are not merely a core climate solution, but electricity is the only alternative fuel that can lead to energy independence.  The world’s top energy economist from the traditionally staid and conservative International Energy Agency warned last year of impending peak oil: “We have to leave oil before oil leaves us.” It is PHEV and EV — or bust!

And so the only hope for the US auto industry in the medium term and beyond is more fuel-efficient cars, which, thankfully, the administration understands (see “White House rolls out details of fuel economy, emissions standard “” The biggest step the U.S. government has ever taken to cut CO2“).

But you’d never know that from the Politico or Limbaugh.  Indeed, Limbaugh wants this Administration to fail so badly that, the Politico notes, he’s willing to do his part to help GM fail:

Limbaugh told listeners that his radio program last year canceled an advertising campaign with General Motors because he “knew this was coming.”

Good for you, Rush.  Hey, why not just discourage companies from hiring people, since that would only help Obama in the end.

But Limbaugh is hardly the only voice criticizing the Volt.

Edward Niedermeyer, the editor of the Web site The Truth About Cars, was given a whole op-ed in the NYT to rail against “G.M.’s Electric Lemon,” which aside from its many other non-virtues (see below), absurdly suggests the fate of the whole company rests on this one car:  “the future of General Motors (and the $50 billion taxpayer investment in it) now depends on a vehicle that costs $41,000 but offers the performance and interior space of a $15,000 economy car.”  Not.  And he ends by saying, “If G.M. were honest, it would market the car as a personal donation for, and vote of confidence in, the auto bailout.”

Needless to say, there is no mention of the price of gasoline, the vehicle fueling or operating cost, or the inevitable return to $4 and higher gas.

The NYT’s Green Blog notes:

Erich Merkle, an auto analyst and president of Autoconomy, said that environmentally motivated consumers “should have no problem with that kind of upcharge “” it’s insignificant over and above the cost of a Chevrolet Cruze if you think it’s helping keep our planet clean.”

… [David Champion, director of automobile testing for Consumer Reports] said that G.M. had built the Volt around a selling price of about $40,000. “At that price, will they recoup their considerable development costs in the near future? No. But are they going to sell it at a price that pays back what it costs to make each car plus some of those development costs? Yes.”

Miss Electric takes on the flawed analysis more fully in her post, “Chevy Volt: Sweetly Priced for Many Americans, Not for Poor Journalists“:

The Chevy Volt’s long-awaited price tag was finally unveiled this week – $33,500 to purchase (after the $7500 federal tax credit) or $350/month to lease (with $2500 down). Despite what underpaid journalists have reported this week in regards to the Volt being “too expensive,” this is a sweet price for many Americans.The main reason why the media is wrong when it comes to characterizing the Volt price is their reference of comparison. According to, other sedans in that price range do not come close to offering any of the features or efficiency that the Volt has to offer. Sedans in the $35-$40,000 price range include base models of the 2010 Buick Lucerne, 2010 Cadillac CTS, 2010 Acura TL or TSX, or the 2010 BMW 3 Series. Typical gas mileage of these models is between 18 and 25 mpg.The Chevy Volt, by comparison, has a much lower overall total cost of ownership as a result of its 40-mile all-electric range and gas-sipping extended range mode. It also comes standard with a new energy-efficient Bose sound system and five years of OnStar service free-of-charge. For consumers in in the market for a hyper-efficient, stylish sedan with a rockin sound system and the most technologically advanced propulsion system in the world, they cannot go wrong with $33,500 sticker price.

Another faulty Volt comparison is with the Nissan Leaf. While the Nissan Leaf is priced at $25,280 (after the federal tax rebate), they belong to two different vehicle categories with distinct electric drive systems. They will have an entirely different consumer base altogether. For those looking for an economy urban commuter car, similar to a Honda Fit or a Nissan Sentra, the Leaf would be an ideal vehicle with its 100-mile all-electric range. Any respectable journalist would not compare the price of an urban commuter car with that of a relatively luxurious sedan”¦so the Leaf vs. Volt price debate is completely irrelevant.

To better communicate the Volt value to the public, it would be highly advantageous to spoon-feed this information directly to the media. For example, when justifying the 40-mile all-electric range, GM included the statistic that this is suitable for “75% of each American driver’s daily commute.” When discussing the price, it is absolutely necessary to say something about the target market for this car, their purchase power, and how they will benefit from the overall lower operating costs.

It is critical to foresee all possible media perceptions of information before it is shared. Having been present at the Chevy Volt Press Dinner at Plug-In 2010 the evening before the price was publicly released, I learned something very crucial. Journalists are excited about plug-in cars, but they are not market researchers. When not given accurate market research information, they will manufacture it. This is dangerous, since we know that the media plays a key role in shaping public perception.

GM and the Chevy Volt team have worked hard to create the technological masterpiece that is the Volt. So have all the other plug-in vehicle manufacturers in this space. Rather than let the media get hung up on faulty comparisons, let’s create compelling and resonant stories that communicate the real value of a plug-in future.

For a good discussion of how the Volt shapes up as a car, Paul Scott, consultant for electric vehicles and renewable energy industries, has a post, “Chevy VOLT: Prius Killer!

For another take on the car, see Slate‘s “The Volt Jolt; Electric cars like Chevy’s new Volt are too expensive today, but they won’t be for long.”  See also TPM’s, “The Chevy Volt: Now For The Good News.”

Interestingly, the ill-informed status quo media missed a chance to point out what I consider to be the biggest actual flaw in the Volt design.  As I’ve said many times, a 40-mile all-electric range (AER) is probably too much. The optimal design is a car with 20 mile AER — or less (see “CMU study suggests GM has wildly oversized the batteries in the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid“).

So GM probably could have cut the battery size in half and maybe lopped $5000 to $7000 off the sticker price — and ultimately as much as $10,000 as batteries (and experience with the technology) improves.

I have little doubt that over the next several years as the price of gasoline goes up and the price of batteries goes down, that many companies will be successful with plugs-ins and pure EVs.  GM may even be one of them.  I suspect, however, they are at greater risk from a competitor like Toyota [including China] with a plug-in that has a much lower AER than they are from there being insufficient consumer interest in cars that can run on very little gasoline.

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55 Responses to Media reports of Chevy Volt’s death have been greatly exaggerated

  1. Daniel Ives says:


    Thanks for your coverage and analysis of the Volt and the Leaf! I’m very interested in purchasing one of these cars (or perhaps a hybrid), and I appreciate your opinion.


    [JR: Thanks. For early adopters, I think this will be a popular car.]

  2. Dave says:

    Limbaugh hates American automakers and autoworkers. He wants to make sure that by the time the US becomes a major player in the electric vehicle market, the rest of the world is light years ahead. That is the only sensible inference for why he would bash an American product by an automaker struggling to regain market share. I guess when you make a 100 million dollars whispering racist sweet nothings in the ears of simpletons, the price of gasoline is irrelevant.

  3. evchels says:

    Well done as always, Joe!

    What’s interesting about the backlash is that the price is about what GM’s been saying it would be for a few years now (though they shouldn’t have inched it up the extra $1,000 to be utterly defensible on this point.) However, I think folks were hoping for a Hail Mary given the Leaf pricing, and some of the backlash is merely disappointment that has festered. But no question that GM has extra layers of cynicism to overcome compared to Nissan and others.

    As for “ideal” range, we’ve talked a lot about this among the various stakeholder groups, and the general consensus is that it’ll sort itself between 20 and 40 miles for PHEVs and EREVs. Above that, there’s definitely a point of diminishing return- but that’s equally true (if not more) at this stage on the low end, and I gotta side with GM on the mileage gamble they’re making. Given the incremental cost of all of these vehicles, there’s a risk that consumers won’t see the value of say, a nominally 13-mile PHEV Prius that could easily return far fewer EV miles in “real world” conditions. Unless the net incremental cost is negligible, it all but begs for a “PHEV technology isn’t ready for prime time” story by a novice public and media. And while we know that drivers could charge twice a day, the reality is that many are worried about where they’ll charge even once. And given the EREV set-up, the Volt aims at folks who really want a “pure” EV experience most of the time, including the right foot performance that goes with that. It’s a different market aim than the lower-mileage parallel PHEVs, but from a marketing perspective it makes sense to give drivers who are new to this technology a robust experience with it. The reality is that $5,000 won’t make the difference in selling the first year or two of vehicles at current volumes; that’s still pretty firmly in early adopter territory. But if those early drivers don’t have a good experience with the car and with the company, all the marketing in the world won’t save these programs.

    That said, just as there’s no single gas car “for everyone”, it will take a variety of EVs to appeal to enough people to make the difference we truly need. The only EV that matters is the one that gets bought and used, regardless of how many batteries are on board.

  4. Philip says:

    Technological Change Part of Solution…
    How do we transform our transportation? At a technical level this topic is well covered on TreeHugger and pretty much every other green website. Electrifying small motorized vehicles, shifting long haul vehicles to natural gas, using biofuels in aviation as much as possible, cleaner burning fuels in shipping, all can play a part.
    …But Creating Different Communities the Bigger Part
    On a policy level though, the issue is less flashy, and doesn’t quite hold people’s attention the way a shiny(!) new (!) Tesla (vroom) does. Which is too bad, because if we want to really use less oil, we have to construct our communities, our product manufacture and distribution chains so that less daily travel is needed. So the average person doesn’t need to own a car at all. We have to create more walkable and bikeable communities. Beyond that we need to re-localize and regionalize economic activity for all those goods which can be produced in this way–recognizing that not everything can or should.
    Normally framed as a quality of life issue, when it comes down to it, creating more communities where the average person’s daily needs are met on foot, on non-motorized vehicle and via public transportation, is the most critical piece of using less oil.

  5. Rob Honeycutt says:

    This is the area of the economy that I think has the greatest potential to make an impact on climate change. Not just in terms of reducing CO2 but in terms of changing the mindset of Americans. The oil companies have to be terrified of the potential of EV’s to break the back of their industry. I applaud the auto industry for being forward looking (albeit somewhat late, but better late than never).

    Let Limbaugh go on with his tirade. He’s setting the stage for his own demise. Don’t forget what happened just a couple of years ago with the price of oil. That was just the first short sharp shock. Those are only going to get more frequent and exaggerated. And the price of gasoline? Everyone who didn’t buy an EV is going to kick themselves in the rear because the trade-in value of their gas car is going to be ZERO. And those of us who are early adopters are going to grinning ear to ear.

    For myself, I plan our two car garage to have one Tesla Model S and one, either a Volt or plug-in Prius. Still trying to make our minds on the latter.

  6. Cass says:

    The Volt is an attractive, reasonably priced car. New technology is always more expensive and limited. After all, how many years, or decades did it take for the automobile with the internal combustion engine to catch on? It should be no surprise that Republicans want to slam this car–they love innovation, except when it comes to reducing oil and energy use. Kudos to GM for taking the concept nearly entirely to reality, something rarely done in the automotive world.

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    Some Additional Head-Spinning Context, Just FYI

    The Chairman and CEO of General Motors, Edward Whitacre, Jr., is a member of the Board of Directors of ExxonMobil. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that he was on ExxonMobil’s Board BEFORE he joined GM as Chairman of GM. According to ExxonMobil’s website, Mr. Whitacre has been on ExxonMobil’s Board since 2008, and he joined GM in 2009 as Chairman of GM. Whoever picked, or helped pick, the new Chairman of GM, to help lead GM to a healthier future, with the help of taxpayer money, chose someone who was already on ExxonMobil’s Board of Directors, and who still is on ExxonMobil’s Board, even as he runs GM.

    Also, according to an article not long ago in The New York Times, one of four cars GM sells is now sold in China. China is, apparently, a great growth market for GM. So, even as we are (presumably) hoping to convince both ourselves and the Chinese to reduce the use of hydrocarbon fuels, our “American” car company, GM, is pushing cars in China, and its new Chairman and CEO is on ExxonMobil’s Board of Directors. Meanwhile, we (taxpayers) helped bail out GM, with the promise (from someone?) that GM will help us all move into the future, in healthy ways for all of us!

    While I am listing a few of the ExxonMobil Board members, and mentioning articles in The New York Times, I should mention these two: Michael Boskin, of Stanford/Hoover, is a long-standing Board member of ExxonMobil. So is William George, of Harvard Business School. Meanwhile, The New York Times ran an interesting article about the intermingling of large corporations and academia in the form of academic leaders sitting on one or multiple corporate boards. Often, as the article pointed out, a main benefit to the company is the credibility and image it gets — or rather borrows — from the university involved. And, in many cases, apparently, the money earned by academics from the companies (whose Boards they sit on) is more than the money they get from their main full-time university posts.

    In any case, in my view, at least as this all relates to climate change and energy issues, the present situation is a mess, and that’s putting it mildly. What can we make of the facts I mention above? Can we “trust” that these folks, and this interconnected web of people who presumably have conflicts of interest, can lead us to a healthy future? The leader of the company that brings us the Volt is on ExxonMobil’s Board of Directors, for goodness sake, and that same company is pushing cars in China, even while we are supposed to be trying to convince both ourselves and China to get off of the hydrocarbon habit. (Even electric cars in China will use electricity generated, mostly, from coal and other hydrocarbons, at least until China gets itself off of the coal habit, which it is unlikely to do as long as we stick to our coal habit too.)

    People, we are NOWHERE CLOSE to addressing our problems until we notice, wrestle with, and change some of these sorts of things. (Or we can simply pray!)

    Be Well (or at least try),


  8. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Philip… It’s going to be interesting how that one plays out. Redesigning cities could likely take centuries. In the meantime, as many in the solar industry love to note, enough energy hits the earth in one day to power everything for X years (I forget the figure).

    It’s keeps getting bandied about that battery technology is going to start going the way of computer chip technology. Apply Moore’s law to batteries. If that happens, along with an ever improving cost of photo electric cells, then the entire model of human society is likely to change faster than the layout of cities.

    As long as we haven’t already set off the chain of climate events that leads to our demise, it’s almost impossible to imagine what the world of 200 years from now will be like. Think back to the founding fathers of the US. These were some of the most well educated people on the planet but how could they possibly have imagined the society we live in today? We are space aliens to them. And in 200 years those people will be space aliens to us… As long as we don’t f it up for them.

  9. mikel says:

    Joe, I have to say that your selection of cartoons is spot on!

    Is this where the US media talent has gone? I’m thinking of the Toles cartoons and not forgetting The Simpsons, South Park and the PIxar movies.

    To sum up,accurate, succinct and to the point.

  10. dhogaza says:

    Meanwhile, in the midst of all this supposed kiss-of-death to the Volt, GM quietly announced 2nd year production will be increased to 45,000 from 30,000 because of consumer interest.

    Rush can flap his lips all he wants, GM will have done market research …

  11. BB says:

    Let’s say I drive 40-miles per day. And get a full charge on this per day…

    How many recharges do I get on the Volt, before I have to replace the battery? (does the charge wane in successive charges? I’m assuming there’s some sort of battery meter).

    I’ve also heard these batteries, and the construction of them, are pretty hazardous things, such that the only way to economically create them is overseas under lax regulatory conditions…Is this correct?

    [JR: GM is intentionally under-driving the battery. It should meet the car’s extended warranty. If you are going to post third hand speculation, please provide links. I’ve never heard of such claims]

  12. Doug Bostrom says:

    BB, in general the useful lifespan of a secondary (rechargeable) battery depends on depth of discharge. As an example, low earth orbit satellites experience daily eclipses that are bridged with batteries. The batteries capacity is engineered so that depth of discharge is quite small (typically 10%) so these batteries produce useful results of 20,000 cycles or even more. For your scenario you’re looking at full depletion of the battery on a daily basis. Your results will head straight for GM’s “end of life” scenario for the battery, a vehicle that still goes 40 miles on batteries after 8 years or 100,000 miles of operation. If if fails to do that you’ll presumably enjoy a prorated warranty claim.

    Large secondary batteries are extremely amenable to recycling; vehicular lead acid starter batteries overwhelmingly find their lead reused. As to battery fabrication there are several large vehicle battery fab plants soon to be brought online here in the U.S. and in fact predictions are the market for lithium ion vehicle batteries will see a temporary glut in something like 5 years as supply adjusts overshoot in response to demand.

    Me, I’m going for a Leaf. Based on 100 mile rating I’ll deplete the battery something like 25% on daily driving, meaning that unless the battery has defect it should a very long time. Considering all the thrashing metal parts eliminated I have to think it’ll be a reasonable substitute for one of my paleo-cars. Plus I get a full order of magnitude more smugness over a Prius.

  13. Michael Tucker says:

    Perfect! Limbaugh is against American manufacturing and Paul says “…don’t give me the power in Washington to be making rules.”

    But, senators do make rules and conservatives do promote American manufacturing… Further proof that conservative dogma will make anyone stark raving mad!

  14. Desiree Smith says:

    Obama took car sales from 16 million a year down to 10.5 million. He fired 3,000 dealers and their thousands of workers. It will come back when he is gone.

  15. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Desiree… I actually laughed out loud at your comment. Thanks. I needed a good laugh today.

  16. Chad says:

    I am glad Rush doesn’t bother to fact-check. I paid $22000 for my 2010 Prius, which was about a $3500 premium over a comparabily-equipped Corolla. After the gasoline savings, I will break even, more or less.

    Oh wait…we already knew that Rush no longer checks facts.

  17. Friendly Smith says:

    The dollar has fallen to multi-month lows against the world’s major currencies as investors bet that evidence of a faltering US recovery will lead to further monetary easing by the Federal Reserve

    Limbaugh predicted the economy more accuarately the last 18 months than Geithner has.

    How are Volt sales?

  18. MapleLeaf says:

    Amazing the lengths the shock jocks will go to to serve their masters….

    And yes, the Prius is much less than US$30,000 as Chad said. In Canada a Prius costs about 30K. Rush needs to learn to get his facts straight.

  19. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Friendly… Maybe you missed one of the earlier posts. GM has increased their 2nd year production from 30,000 to 45,000 units. Nissan has already pre-sold its entire first year of production of the Leaf.

    Hey, maybe we don’t really need the “other party” in order to fix the economy they f-ed up so royally.

  20. NeilT says:

    To take an entirely differnt tack on this.

    We can’t shift vehicle fuel to electricity until we fix the grid to renwables. Otherwise we just shift the problem and create as much (or more given charge inefficiencies), problems.

    So we have, literally, hundreds of millions of cars around the world which are not going away any time soon. Ditto Trucks.

    I took note of this snippet above “And so the only hope for the US auto industry in the medium term and beyond is more fuel-efficient cars”

    Not just for the Auto industry but for all the other vehicles on the road too. Replacing the engine is viable, replacing the vehicle for hundreds of millions of vehicles is just not going to happen.

    Also Hydrogen, much touted, is never going to fly if you burn it in such an inefficient engine. Hydrogen takes Energy to produce and energy, today, comes with a CO2 cost which is more than the cost of burning hydrocarbons in an inefficient engine. I should know as I’m currently working for the company which has the largest Hydrogen production facilities in the world.

    So we come back to the IC engine. Designed by Alphonse Beau de Rochas in 1861 it has, basically not changed in any serious mechanical detail since then.

    And it is 80% mechanically inefficient!

    Simply putting the effort into making it mechanically Efficient (even 1%) would net a fuel economy increase of 400%.

    Not only is the small engine 80% inefficient, but the larger you make the engine the more inefficient it becomes. Yes you can even make one which is 140,000 bhp (the size of a small warehouse), but the gallons per bhp increases with the size. So much so that they have to use waste oil so thick it has to be preheated to a high temperature, in order to be able to burn it, before it is cheap enough to actually run the engine.

    Are any of the vehicle manufacturers interested in even Talking about a more efficient design???

    Not likely. They won’t talk to you unless you’ve already patented the idea. Why? Because to get a worldwide patent which they can’t break will cost circa $1M and only large companies have that kind of money to throw away.

    So to reiterate.

    First we fix the grid
    Then we change to electric/hydrogen driven by green power

    That is the priority. See anyone really doing it? In the meantime there is a window of opportunity to reduce the oil we are burning for no good reason. Energy companies should embrace this. If they had truly efficient IC engines they could charge $20 a gallon of gas and we would still be where we are today in terms of household costs.

  21. Philip says:

    Rob Honeycutt

    You happen to be mistaken. This transformation is taking place now, in cities all over the world. In the U.S. traffic officials have begun to realize that more and more cars is not the solution to the country’s transportation problems. Cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland and even Los Angeles have all taken significant steps to reduce the amount of driving. LA is expediting the completion of a light rail system. Other cities are creating or expanding bike infrastructures and creating better space for pedestrians. Bike sharing programs are being introduced in more and more cities, and where they exist, there is an increase in non-motorized transportation. Maybe you should check out the National Association of City Transportation Officials, NACTO.

    You might find the video interesting.

    For a look at my city, Copenhagen, please see this:

    Another example of how quickly and radically a car based system can change is the Dutch city of Groningen:

    In Groningen, the Netherlands’ sixth largest city, the main form of
    transport is the bicycle. Sixteen years ago, ruinous traffic congestion
    led city planners to dig up city-centre motorways. Last year they set
    about creating a car-free city centre. Now Groningen, with a population
    of 170,000, has the highest level of bicycle usage in the West. 57% of
    its inhabitants travel by bicycle – compared with four per cent in the
    The economic repercussions of the programme repay some
    examination. Since 1977, when a six-lane motorway intersection in the
    city’s centre was replaced by greenery, pedestrianisation, cycleways
    and bus lanes, the city has staged a remarkable recovery. Rents are
    among the highest in the Netherlands, the outflow of population has
    been reversed and businesses, once in revolt against car restraint, are
    clamouring for more of it. As Gerrit van Werven, a senior city planner,
    puts it, ‘This is not an environmental programme, it is an economic
    programme. We are boosting jobs and business. It has been proved
    that planning for the bicycle is cheaper than planning for the car.’
    Proving the point, requests now regularly arrive from shopkeepers in
    streets where ‘cyclisation’ is not yet in force to ban car traffic on their
    Like the Netherlands nationally, Groningen is backing bicycles because
    of fears about car growth. Its ten-year bicycle programme is costing
    £20m, but every commuter car it keeps off the road saves at least
    £170 a year in hidden costs such as noise, pollution, parking and

    I’m sure we would agree that electric cars and hybrids are preferable to the cars that dominate our roads today. But where cars can be replaced by less polluting means of transportation, shouldn’t we be willing to consider them without fallacious time perspectives. And if you believe that using cars in cities makes economic sense you might read this:

    Individuals who ride public transportation can save on average $9,343 annually based on the July 7, 2010 national average gas price and the national unreserved monthly parking rate. On a per month basis, transit riders can save on average $779 per month.

    If you believe that cars in cities save time, you might look at this:

    In June 2006, car maker Citroen admitted that the average speed of a car in London during rush-hour (which is nearly all the time in London!) is just 7mph and that motorists waste up to half of their commute time going nowhere, stuck in jams. The company commissioned some ‘gridlock’ research to promote a car designed for such conditions, a car that shuts off its engine when stuck in jams.
    Motorists may be grinding to a halt but the average cyclist can travel at 12-15mph, twice the speed of a car in rush-hour London.

    If gas powered cars were simply replaced by electric vehicles, congestion would still be a problem.

    It’s past midnight here, so if you reply to this I will not be able to reply in turn, at least not until tomorrow.
    Good night.

  22. Rick Covert says:

    This just in. The newer, sleeker, lighter shock jock model Beck has just been released. It replaces the older, cumbersome Limbaugh model. It consumes fewer calories, has a lighter frame, is powered by the lighter, more concealable white powder cocaine, then the previous Limbaugh model’s Vicodin powered model, which needed a doctor’s prescription, but it’s mouth moves from 0 to 60 without thinking in under 3.9 seconds as opposed to the Limbaugh’s perpetual thoughtless loop mode.

  23. Lou Grinzo says:

    NeilT: No, we need to do both (electrify trans. and clean up the grid), but we don’t have the time to do them serially.

    And hydrogen is a non-starter simply because it takes 3 times the energy to drive a hydrogen car the same distance as an EV. (For a very detailed analysis, see paper “E21” at this site: )

    We’re facing a future where we’ll be very hard pressed to reduce our emissions from electricity generation, so consuming 3X the clean electricity per mile driven is not a workable solution.

  24. BB says:

    Ref JR @ #11

    I’m sorry I forgot to put something up from where I saw it (I had to remember)… Anyway, it was a PBS Newshour thing I saw regarding the batteries (for Prius’s, actually) and the rare-earth metals and the processing hazards.

  25. adrian smits says:

    The first place gm might achieve market penetration is in the taxi business because of quicker payback in fuel savings.However the leaf with its 100 miles range fits the bill way more effectively than the volt.It would appear that consumers are moving away from fuel efficient cars again because of the high cost and prohibitively long period for investment recovery.

  26. Prokaryotes says:

    The EV1 came in two “flavors”: one using advanced NiMH batteries, and the other using cheaper lead-acid batteries. With PSB EV-EC1260 lead batteries, this EV1 had a range over 100 miles on a charge. The cost of this off-the-shelf battery pack is no more than $4,800. The rest of the EV1 is just electronics and bent metal. As for Nickel, it’s entirely recyclable; after the Nickel battery wears out, perhaps 200,000 miles, the only expense is melting it down and “reforming” it into a new battery, using all the old metals and components.

  27. Bob Wallace says:

    Wrong Neil. Here in the US we have surplus off-peak grid capacity that would allow us to switch to electric vehicles right now. A couple of federal studies have found that the grid could support about 85% of our driving if we happened to switch to EVs/PHEVs overnight.

    Then, we’re down to about 44% of our grid supply from coal. (Varies from about 1% in CA to in the high 90% range in Indiana, but on average….) We will continue to add renewables and pull coal off the grid.

    Studies vary, but some find that running EVs off of 100% coal power would release less CO2 and other greenhouse gases than running on gas. One study says about the same or slightly more. But since were already under 50%, that’s a moot point.

    Hydrogen seems to be well out of the picture. Even if it were as efficient as batteries as a storage/propulsion method it would require a brand new distribution system. There’s no need to build a new fuel distribution system as the grid is already up and running. And being improved as we speak. Hydrogen is out, it’s a very inefficient “battery”.

    As for more efficient ICEs. All car companies have been working on more efficiency for years. To say that the ICE hasn’t become more efficient since its initial introduction is just silly. We’re reaching the end of the petroleum-driven car. Just as we reached the end of horse and buggy days. Almost certainly we’ll move to EVs.

  28. Bob Wallace is correct. Coal is declining in importance in the US electric grid, even though it’s still a big chunk of the generation. We’ve got plenty of natural gas capacity to make for it in the short term, and plenty of renewables in the medium term.

    And of course, the auto industry has made great strides in the efficiency of engines, but almost all of that technology has gone into making the cars more powerful. There’s still plenty of potential for improving efficiency in conventional cars, and we should, but I think ICEs will no longer be dominant sometime in my lifetime (I’m hoping for another 50 years).

    For those interested in an integrated analysis of pathways to get off oil, check out the RMI book Winning the Oil Endgame: on which I was a coauthor.

  29. Friendly @17, your statements make absolutely no sense. What “monetary easing” do you imagine exists for the Fed to do? Interest rates are at a low, which foreign investors are prefectly well aware of. There is no “easing” left in the system, so if that is what these investors are waiting for then they are even more profoundly ignorant of basic economics than Limbaugh.

    This, by the bye, is why this recession requires massive federaly stimulus spending. That spending cannot be provoked/promoted by a reduction in interest rates — there is nowhere left to reduce them to.

  30. catman306 says:

    Jeff is on to something BIG. Nothing new about interlocking directorships. Seems like I read about them in high school in the 60s. Today’s msm will never go near this one. It’s a SECRET.

    Maybe someone should compile a list of these cross board executives and send it to Wikileaks. Maybe THEN the media will notice that the American automobile was developed as an inefficient gasoline burner to help sell petroleum products. Electric and steam vehicles of 100 years ago couldn’t compete with the gas powered cars. Street car trolleys were bought up by auto manufacturers and by local auto dealers. They proceeded to go out of business and tear up the tracks. They sold more cars that way and the cars used more gasoline. The interstate highway system sealed our fate. None of this was through malevolence. It was just good business. It made lots of money for some and a living for others. Energy company board members sit on power company boards and on auto companies boards. And we think we have a network.

    But ultimately the petroleum age and the automobile age happened because someone had a lot of petroleum and needed a market.

  31. catman306 says:

    Definitions of Interlocking directorates on the Web:

    Interlocking directorate refers to the practice of members of corporate board of directors serving on the boards of multiple corporations. This practice, although widespread and lawful, raises questions about the quality and independence of board decisions.

  32. NeilT says:

    Lou, Bob, I’m not talking 10mpg to 40mpg. I’m talking 400, 800 or 1,000 mpg. A very different scenario. When I say the engine has not changed mechanically I mean that the power take off for the energy given by the burn has not changed. At all. The piston to con rod to crank drivetrain is 100% the same as the first ICE ever developed. The fact that better scavenging, fuel management and fuel itself gives us a better burn (with less fuel), does not improve the “mechanical” characteristics of the engine.

    There is a point which is slightly missing here. EV cars require time to recharge. Much as horses had to be changed becuase they could not recuperate in a few minutes or hours, EV cars will take hours to recharge.

    Petrol engines replaced horses, not just for power, but because they could refill in just a few short minutes and continue on their journey. For the same reason, we will have to have Hydrogen power to fill the gap until we create an energy cell which will be able to take very high voltage, short term, charge and deliver it as very low voltage long term power to a motor.

    The point I’m trying to make is that if you bring the ICE into the 21st century and give it 1,000 mpg capability you only need 1/20th the current petrol infrastructure.

    I understand that we have excess power overnight and, yes, we could use that for EV recharge. However that power comes with a CO2 tarrif. We need to remove the excess and move to a model which delivers power as and when we need it for the lowest CO2 tarrif and then make that power portable. Part of this will be EV and part of it will by Hydrogen, both of which are portable power.

  33. catman306 says:

    Someday those exchangeble batteries will have evolved into charcoal fuel cells. The cars sold next year could use this technology, instead of batteries, when it becomes available.

    The battery/capacitor invention mentioned last week may really change electric vehicles in a good way: the battery can be smaller and lighter and still meet the power requirements for a road vehicle.

  34. catman306 says:

    I forgot to mention gasoline powered fuel cells. The gasoline provides hydrogen that is used in the fuel cell. So I googled it and it’s an old idea, but it works..

    So here is still another alternative. A cartridge battery, that is easily swapped, becomes the basis of a multi-fuel vehicle system.

  35. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Philip… Please don’t get me wrong. I’m all for everything you’re pointing out. I’ve worked in the bike industry for over 20 years. Worked at Arcosanti while Paulo Solari was still around. I understand the potential for bicycle transportation and urban planning better than your average Joe (no disrespect to Joe Romm).

    My point is, I think there is a good possibility that rapid advances in clean energy may very well dictate how our cities are laid out far more than the best intentions of forward thinking urban planners. In some places what you’re talking about works extremely well and those successes are notable. But show me a hilly city with tough winters and an elderly population, it just is not going to play out the same way.

    I would never fault anyone for working on urban projects like these. I hope more of it gets done! I just question any notion that this is a panacea for what we are likely to face in the coming decades.

  36. Bill Waterhouse says:

    Trying to decide between the Leaf and Volt. The added luxury if the Volt is appealing as is buying American. Both the Volt and Leaf would work for our average day of less than 40 miles driving. Our other car is a 2006 Prius that reliably gets 44 mpg.

    Question: For a 200 mile vacation daily trip would we be more fuel efficient taking the Prius or the Volt? Same question for a 500 mile daily trip?

  37. Mark says:

    I take the point–made very nicely in the cartoon–that electric cars have a lot of development room left. However I can’t help remembering a very similar point being made about the rotary engine in the 1970s. “Sure, it’s heavy on fuel,” people said, “but it’s only been in development for a decade. The reciprocating petrol engine has been developed for 80 years. Imagine how efficient the rotary will be when it’s had 80 years of development.” Well, 40 years on it’s more a niche product than it was in the 1970s, largely because of its poor efficiency.

    The rotary engine in the 1970s already had the benefit of much of the 80 years of development of the reciprocating engine, in the form of improvements in fuel, oil, metals and manufacturing techniques.

    Is it fair to say (and I have no idea, I’m just flying a kite) that the electric vehicle in 2010 already has the benefit of 30 years development of cell phones, in the form of improved batteries and electronic miniaturisation? How much development room is left?

  38. john atcheson says:

    My Prius cost me $22,500 in 2004. I was told I was paying a premium of $5K over the comparable car — the Corolla. However, when I test drove the Corolla, it didn’t have the features my Prius did, and I’d have to load up the options until it cost over $20,000 before it came close — so much for the “premium.”

    I was also told it would take me over 5 years to get that $5K premium back in gas savings (never mind the actual premium was really $2K) but that was for gas that was at about $20 a barrel and at less than $2.00/gallon. Of course, that didn’t last long — it costs more than a third more than that, so the payback was more like 3 years — and if you consider the real premium was only $2K, then the payback was less than 2 years.

    And as for the $30K Prius? Haven’t seen one that expensive. Rush must be upping the oxy again.

  39. Mike says:

    Phillip and others advocating city redesign:
    I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.

    There’s no need to change our cities to cram everyone together. Nobody wants to put up with flith, overcrowding, and noise.

    What’s wrong with using a bike to commute 8-10 miles to work? I’m not a pro biker, but I could easily cover that distance in half an hour or less, which is shorter than the commute times of most people. Oh, and did I mention that the 8-10 mile route I covered in half an hour included hills and windy weather?

    Get back in shape, America.

  40. Chad says:

    John, a totally tricked-out Prius costs around $30000. A basic 2010 Prius II can be had for just over $22000, only a few thousand more than a comparibly-equipped Corolla. Another interesting factoid is that the average cost of a new car in 2009 was $28000, implying that the vast majority of Priuses purchased last year were well below the average purchase price for new cars.

    So much for them being expensive.

  41. A Siegel says:

    1. Thank you for posting the cartoon. Hadn’t seen it and it is an excellent summary of the power of technological development. And, this would be wonderful in the pages of the WashPost next to the next of their anti-electric car editorials.

    2. Interesting challenge with the Volt — as I understand it, a 4-seater with the back seat pretty strongly split up. This is a break from American car tradition, in a rather serious way, where it has generally been ‘two-seater’ for amusement and then a jump to five (even if the three in the back would have to be 5-year olds for three to actually fit, sort of like a Geo Metro). This, for example, will keep me away from the Volt.

    3. And, well, as with all of the comparisons — people aren’t noting (a) that the Volt will have lots of luxury compared to many other models and (b) there are lots of other value streams that aren’t easy to monetize. One of the values of PV on the roof — my kids think our house is the coolest on the block and we get positive comments from visitors. Hmmmm … how do you monetize your kids telling you’ve done something right and how do you monetize a compliment from a friend or acquaintance? Etc …

  42. A Siegel says:

    Oh … re

    So GM probably could have cut the battery size in half and maybe lopped $5000 to $7000 off the sticker price — and ultimately as much as $10,000 as batteries (and experience with the technology) improves.

    Doesn’t this slightly mislead? Sure, as batteries/technology improved, the 20 mile range version would see that $5-7.5k lower price fall even further. But, the 40 mile version (the actual one) would see even further benefit. Thus, if advances would drop the 20 mile version to $31k rather than $41k for the original 40 mile version, wouldn’t those advances cut the price of the 40 mile version down to the $36k range? E.g., both paths benefit from advances but the one with twice the batteries gains (essentially) twice the benefit.

  43. Chris Winter says:

    RE: the design decision to make the Volt’s nominal EV range 40 miles (versus 20 miles), I would guess this takes commute time into account. As Philip of Copenhagen notes above, traffic jams in urban areas can eat up a lot of time. The cars’ engines are running, but taking them nowhere much of the time.

    So if a 20-mile commute run at 35mph (typical city speed limit) takes 1.75 hours, rush hour could easily double or triple this time. Designing for a greater EV range seems a prudent decision.

  44. Chris Winter says:

    Whoops! Make that 34 minutes commute time at the speed limit.

  45. catman306 says:

    Chris Winter, electric vehicles use no power (except for lights) when they are stopped at a light or stuck in traffic. Only the actual miles of the journey need be figured. Discounting wind resistance, which increases with speed, and rolling friction, which is pretty constant, electric cars use twice as much power when they travel twice as fast or twice as far, but the mileage per charge comes out the same.

  46. dhogaza says:

    Bill Waterhouse:

    Trying to decide between the Leaf and Volt. The added luxury if the Volt is appealing as is buying American. Both the Volt and Leaf would work for our average day of less than 40 miles driving. Our other car is a 2006 Prius that reliably gets 44 mpg.

    Question: For a 200 mile vacation daily trip would we be more fuel efficient taking the Prius or the Volt? Same question for a 500 mile daily trip?

    How about this? You already have the Prius for long-distance trips, and it’s only 4 years old, and some people get 200,000 miles out of the battery.

    Why not buy the Leaf for your commuting needs, put the money you save vs. the Volt somewhere where it will earn a modest return, then when the Prius turns to junk, you’ll be in a position to buy something that will hopefully be even cooler than a current Prius, Leaf or Volt?

    In terms of overall energy consumption, my guess is that your vacation travel is a modest part of your overall mileage, and whatever relatively minor difference there might be between Prius and Volt performance on typically high-mileage road trips would be even more minor.

    The big improvement will be due to switching to an all-electric commute.

  47. dhogaza says:

    The added luxury if the Volt is appealing as is buying American.

    Of course, I’ve not addressed this intangible, only you can weigh its importance vs. $$$.

  48. ToddInNorway says:

    Good luck to the Volt and the Leaf, but I saw a road-testing Prius plug-in hybrid last week here in Norway, and frankly, you have to expect this to be a fantastic alternative to the others. Real competition will work here, and the choice of green ride will get even harder!

  49. Bob Wallace says:

    Mark – “Is it fair to say (and I have no idea, I’m just flying a kite) that the electric vehicle in 2010 already has the benefit of 30 years development of cell phones, in the form of improved batteries and electronic miniaturisation? How much development room is left?”

    The DOE expects EV batteries to be 75% lighter by 2020/30. Lighter means more range, either by being able to carry more capacity or having less mass to move.

    They expect battery life to improve 3.5x in the next five years.

    And they expect battery cost to be 30% of what is now is in five years, 10% of what it now is by 2030.

    And those improvements might come even sooner. Someone has just invented a way to test new batteries in weeks, rather than months. This means new innovations coming to market years sooner.

    Furthermore, cars will get lighter as we push for more range from the batteries we have. The first carbon fiber body cars are going into production this year. Replace steel with equally strong, but much lighter composites and there’s less mass to shove.

    Charge times will drop from “80% in 30 minutes” to much faster (at least one company is claiming that they are already there).

    An affordable, 300 mile range EV that can receive another 200+ miles in 15 minutes, available in about five years would be my optimistic guess.

  50. Lee Bristol says:

    I have a 2005 Prius with an after market plug-in battery upgrade and now during my 15 mile commute my mileage can average about 75 mpg, up from the 45 to 50 normal mpg. I have a small 2.7 kW solar PV system on my house which produces more than enough electricity in the day to offset the charging of my vehicle at night.

    I also am the co-founder of Standard Solar, a PV installation company in the Washington DC area. We can build carports with PV which we are trying to market to the government and large companies so that employees can recharge their EV cars during the day at work. To recharge the Volt, it takes about 8 kw-hrs per day or 2,000 kw-hrs per year for daily commuter one way driving of 40 miles. Since each one kW of PV in the DC area produces about 1,250 kw-hrs per year, it takes a 1.6 kW system to produce the electricity to fully charge your EV by renewable solar energy. Therefore, a 1.6 kW PV system at home and a 1.6 kW system on the parking lot at work results in a fully 100% renewable energy transportation system for commuters with daily commutes of 25 miles or less one way. It may turn out that your commute could be the 40 miles per charge of the Volt but lets plan for the lower 25 miles. If this analysis is incorrect then someone please correct me. In fact, I’ll bet anyone $1 that this is essentially correct.

    Some of you will rightly realize that the 1.6 kW will not offset the winter electrical usage but it will over produce in the summer and the yearly calculation will be net zero. No one is saying that we get rid of the grid, but this is a more efficient use of the grid…using it at night to charge storage devices for use in the day at times of high grid cost (gas fired turbines when you turn on your air conditioning is very expensive electricity) is an area where the utility industry is spending large sums of research money. And of course, the PV produces the most electricity when the sun is the brightest and when the demand on the grid is the greatest. There is not a perfect match between time of peak PV production and peak grid demand because the demand is later in the day but it is safe to say that PV offsets more expensive electricity from peak demand power plants and not just from base load plants. This is why just about every electrical utility is considering the installation of large 10 mW solar arrays. This is why we want to use the space of parking lots during the day to capture some of that energy that bakes your car and is wasted.

    Finally, the cost. In the state of Maryland, DC, DE, PA, NJ and others with state incentive programs, the pay back period of a commercial PV system is 3 to 4 years and for the next 20+ years the investment creates positive cash flow. In financial terms, you are turning an Expense Account, cost of buying electricity, into an Income Account that generates positive cash flow. Should be a no brainer for a corporate CFO.

    Bottom line, a totally 100% net renewable energy commuter transportation system is available at this time using the new EV vehicles, residential solar PV, and commercial PV on the parking lots.

    Lets see if anyone takes me up on the bet!

  51. SecularAnimist says:

    Lee Bristol wrote: “Lets see if anyone takes me up on the bet!”

    I may indeed take you up … on getting Standard Solar to install PV on my house!

  52. Chris Winter says:

    catman306 wrote: “Chris Winter, electric vehicles use no power (except for lights) when they are stopped at a light or stuck in traffic.”

    Well, except for lights, heater or A/C, windshield wipers, radio and other accessories used as conditions demand. But you’re basically right because those use relatively small amounts of power.

  53. Robert says:

    The $7500.00 tax credit could cost taxpayers up to $2 billon dollars over the next 10 years?
    I would think the Auto Industry would move towards a self generating car that wouldn’t need to be plugged in to recharge it.

  54. Charlie says:

    The only issue I have with the Volt is the cost. I do have reservations against GM for their participation in killing the the electric car previously, we would be light years further down the road if GM and Big Oil did not team up to squash the CARB initiative. I guess money is money and people who have it make the decisions for those who don’t.

    The true focus needs to be on the generation of the electricity to fuel these auto’s. If we continue to produce our electricity using coal we have done little to control pollution by switching to the “Volt”.

  55. Prokaryotes says:

    NeilT, #32 “EV cars will take hours to recharge.”

    No, you can have battery exchange stations (1 minute) or fast charger stations (10-20 minutes) OR you could plug your EV into a conventional household plug – which takes hours to reload your battery package.