General Motors ends its first century this month. And, you'll have heard, it ain't in very good shape in the US.
So hereâs the car on which it's betting its second century. The Volt, on sale in 2010 is a hybrid, but not as we know it. Theyâre calling it the extended-range electric vehicle.
There is an engine, a new 1.4-litre petrol four, mounted at the front as per usual. But, unlike the Toyota or Honda hybrids, it never drives the wheels directly. In future years, that engine could be replaced by a fuel cell.
In fact, the Volt is designed to give up to 40 miles on battery power alone, with full 150bhp performance available. This, says GM after lots of study, is enough for the habitual daily mileage of 80 percent of American drivers - 12,000 miles a year at 40 miles a day, six days a week. So they'll get home at night and plug in to cheap household electricity, getting that 40 miles for 50p at US mains prices. They might go weeks or months never needing the engine.
When it does spark up, the engine simply charges up the battery - although only partially, as GM wants the car always to arrive at its destination in a depleted state so you can use the mains to re-charge. Even with the engine cycling to keep the batteries at constant charge, the Volt will do about 60mpg.
Disappointed that this doesn't look have the electric-Camaro looks of the Volt show car? Câmon, it's better than a Prius. The shape has morphed from show to production to make space for four adults, and the corners had to be rounded off because every scintilla of drag kocked back the electric range.
Itâs only a four-seater because the upper body tapers backwards to cut drag, and because there's a big battery box running along the car like an overgrown tranmission tunnel. The lithium ion pack weighs 180kg, taking the whole Volt to 1800kg.
By 2012 or so, there will be a Vauxhall/Opel version for Europe with unique styling. The Volt uses the platform of the next Astra, which gives you an idea of its size. And because they had to develop all sorts of power and weight-saving features for the Volt, like climate control and power assists, the Astra will be a better car because of it.
I've met a lot of Volt engineers and they're absolute fanatics. I wish them well. A lot of them worked on the original EV1. Who killed the electric car? If it was GM, they desperately it to be GM who brings it back.