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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Transportation

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Chevy Volt, Electric Revolution? Or Outta Gas?

September 1, 2010 - 11:40 AM | by: Mike Tobin

The first thing I noticed driving the Chevrolet Volt is that it’s a real car.  GM did not kick out the kind of street-legal version of a golf cart like we have seen with previous attempts at making an electric car.  The Volt is sturdy and it has horsepower. I had it up to 80 MPH on the test track and given how quiet gasoline powered cars are today, I was hard pressed to notice a difference between the Volt and my last airport rental.

Well one difference is that the Volt is decked out with the latest electronic everything. You can even download an I-phone app to remote start your car and cool it down before you climb in. But given the price, it had better come with groovy electronic doo-dads.

Calculating the price is a difficult task because you started paying for the Volt long before you ever considered looking at the sticker.  You remember, of course, that GM dipped in heavy to the bailout money. “It was developed mostly before the bailout,” Says Detroit Free Press Auto Analyst Mark Phelan, “but like everything else GM does, if the Government hadn’t stepped in to get it through the crisis, it wouldn’t be happening how.”

GM took $50-Billion in bailout money and a $14-Billion loan to re-tool its plants. The Energy Department doled out $240-Million in grants to help the technology intended to wean drivers off the petroleum addiction.

But after all that Federal money, the sticker price is still a whopping $41,000. GM officials boast of a tax rebate that could reach $7500. Those tax rebates and government buyer incentives total up to around $1.5-billion, which still end up your burden when all the costs shift around. After the tax rebate, the Volt is still in price competition with entry level BMWs and Mercedes.

GM argues that the Volt has no competition. “Comparing against any battery electric car is probably unfair to the battery electric car,” Says Tony Posawatz, the line director for the Volt. “Because the Volt can be your only car and go 350 miles before you need to refuel. Other cars have range anxiety.” He is subtly referring to the Nissan Leaf, due at the dealerships about a month after the Volt. The Leaf has a bigger battery and can go about 2.5 times as far as the Volt on a single charge, but it has no engine to re-charge while you drive.  Drivers of the Leaf need to stop and plug-in every 100 miles.  The Volt can go cross-country as long as you gas the engine that creates the electricity.

On the flip side, GM competes with itself creating the Chevy Cruze. It’s the gasoline driven equivalent of the Volt. When that hits the dealerships in the next couple weeks, it will only cost $17,000. This displays where GM is banking on you, the consumer, to get swallowed up with that Iphone effect.  At least 10-thousand of you need to wait in line and pay extra just so you can walk around with an earth friendly smugness and brag about owning the first real electric car. Then you have to continue to like it and brag about it or the Volt will flop and the drive for electric car technology will get stuck in a ditch before it ever gets up to cruising speed.

Aaron Bragman an analyst with IHS automotive says, “It practically is the equivalent of the space shuttle.  The space shuttle is expensive, the space shuttle is in limited production but the space shuttle has done some amazing things for other industries from materials research to fostering engineering.”

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