GM Executive Refutes Chevy Volt / EV Hype

Sam Windgarden photoThe WSJ yesterday reported that auto company executives are skeptical regarding the prospects for plug-in electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt. The skepticism was displayed at the annual Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress. Among the skeptics was General Motors’ executive director of powertrain-engine engineering, Sam Winegarden (in photo). It seems that not all criticism of the Chevy Volt and cars like it are driven by a right-wing conspiracy to enrich oil companies.

Mr. Winegarden presented a chart comparing the amount of energy delivered by a given volume or mass of fuel. According to the article, “On his chart, lithium-ion batteries, used in electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf and GM’s plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt, were ranked close to zero compared to gasoline and diesel fuels, which delivered the most energy for the least amount of weight and cost to the consumer. ‘The rumored death of the internal combustion engine is premature,’ Mr. Winegarden said.” I guess Mr. Winegarden hasn’t been paying attention to GM’s spin on what a technological wonder the Volt is.

Other industry executives were also aware of the limitations of the much-hyped Chevy Volt along with other lesser-hyped EVs. Also from the piece, “Robert Bienenfeld, senior manager for environment and energy strategy at Honda Motor Co.’s U.S. arm, said that by 2025, a customer who buys a plug-in hybrid could wait 10 years to recover the added upfront costs, compared with a 2025 car outfitted with a more efficient gasoline engine and transmission. The payback for an all-electric car would be even longer.”

It only requires a little common sense to understand the limitations of cars like the Volt. Consider that the vehicle has a battery power source that weighs about 450 pounds and takes up a good deal of passenger and cargo area. An internal combustion engine is still utilized as a back-up. If you charge the lithium-ion based power source for 10 hours you can move the vehicle the equivalent of what about one gallon of gas can move a conventional vehicle. The good news is that you can save about two dollars a day and make up for the additional cost of the vehicle in about twenty years.

The limitations of the Chevy Volt have not stopped proponents from touting the vehicle as a technological marvel. I still fail to understand how a car that cost twice as much as a conventionally powered vehicle and only saves about a gallon of gas a day by traveling about 30 or 35 miles on a charge before switching to premium fuel is such a “moon shot.” It appears that politics is playing more of a role than herd mentality as supporters continue to attack any critics of the Chevy Volt. The crowd that normally wants the wealthy to pay their fair share now supports subsidies to rich buyers of the Volt and other plug-in vehicles. Low consumer demand, however, belies the media hype for the vehicle.

The WSJ also states, “The Obama administration has put promoting electric cars at the center of its auto-industry policy, offering $2.4 billion in grants from its economic-stimulus program to boost some 48 projects related to electric vehicles or battery production. President Obama has set a goal of putting one million plug-in vehicles on the road by 2015.” This seems to be the main driving force behind support for the Volt as the rhetoric in defense of the vehicle heats up. In addition to the $2.4 billion mentioned, there are also billions of dollars slated to go to buyers of EVs in the form of tax credits.

Look, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or an honest GM executive (something I was beginning to believe was an oxymoron) to realize that the Chevy Volt in its present form is doing practically nothing to save America from foreign oil dependence. Taxpayers  are paying a ridiculous price to help cars like the Volt succeed, if you consider selling a few thousand cars a month a success. Congratulations to Mr. Winegarden for coming clean about the limitations of EVs and the Chevy Volt. Now, if only he can talk some sense into Obama-appointed GM CEO, Dan Akerson.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.