General Motors Developing New Electric Car Technology

Fans of the EV1, listen up. General Motors has announced that it is developing a new electric car technology, and we could see it as soon as January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The new model is what GM calls a “plug-in” hybrid. Like most other hybrids, GM’s design will make use of regenerative braking while on the road. However, it will also be chargeable via a standard wall outlet. Instead of the gas and electric engines working in unison, the new model will rely mostly on electric power, and use gas as a backup. Standard plug-in electric cars only get twenty to thirty miles from the battery. GM projects that its new hybrid will get a combined 60 mpg, five more than the Toyota Prius.

What this design could offer over traditional hybrid vehicles is better short-trip efficiency. Most hybrids only offer a true gas savings on longer trips, or in stop and go traffic. But with GM’s design, the car could, in theory, make a short trip without ever engaging the gasoline engine.

GM’s new technology has some exciting implications and marks a stark turnaround in its attitude toward electric and hybrid cars. GM’s first foray into electric cars, the EV1, was offered by lease only in the late 1990s. Despite protests from leasers, who offered to buy the cars, GM had almost all of them destroyed.

In addition to abandoning the electric car, GM had, until recently, scoffed at hybrids. Robert Lutz, GM’s vice chairman of product development, said in 2004 that hybrids were not economically feasible, and were little more than an “interesting curiosity.”

So what’s changed? Gas prices for one, which have caused Toyota and Honda’s hybrids to become some of this year’s hottest autos. Not only is GM facing new market pressures, but the axing of the EV1 has proven to be a public relations nightmare. This past summer’s release of “Who Killed The Electric Car”, a documentary about the EV1, has drawn even more scrutiny to the company. CEO Rick Wagoner later said that canceling the EV1 was the worst decision he has ever made, and Lutz has had a similar change of heart.

GM may be entering the hybrid game a little late, but if its new attitude toward gasoline alternatives is sincere, the company could very well become a market leader in the future. GM says its new hybrid isn’t the ultimate solution, but rather a platform for its hydrogen initiative. GM, being one of the auto industry’s chief proponents of hydrogen, envisions hybrids powered not by gasoline, but by hydrogen fuel cells.

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