Volt vehicle lags on green list

Sam Fletcher
OGJ Senior Writer

In another indication that Chevrolet’s hybrid-electric Volt might become the next Edsel-size automotive disaster, the car barely placed in the recent American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s (ACEEE) annual Green Book ratings of the most environmental friendly vehicles, coming in last at unlucky 13.

Topping that list was the Honda Civic GX fueled by compressed natural gas. It marked the 8th year the Civic garnered the top spot “notwithstanding changes in rating methods that boosted other technologies,” ACEEE officials said. In second place was the all-electric Nissan Leaf. The hybrid-electric Toyota Prius also rated high, so ACEEE is not prejudiced against electric vehicles.

However, the two-person Smart Fortwo with either conventional diesel or premium gasoline engines; Chevrolet’s conventionally powered Cruze Eco that gets 28 mpg in city, 42 mpg on highway; the Hyundai Elantra, 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway; and Ford’s Fiesta Super Fuel Economy car were all judged greener than Volt. That knocks a hole in President Barack Obama’s call to stop “subsidizing” what he dismisses as “yesterday's energy” in order to invest instead in new alternatives. Gas- and gasoline-powered vehicles obviously are going to be around many years yet.

What dropped Volt to the bottom of the ACEEE green list is its weight, primarily the result of its large battery that reduces its fuel mileage. Volt weighs nearly 3,800 lb, 750 lb more than the similar Cruze Eco. For the purpose of the rankings, ACEEE assumed the Volt would operate on plug-in electricity 64% and on premium gasoline 36% of the time, a ratio based on a standard recommended by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Not the all-electric vehicle General Motors once promised, even when operating on electricity the Volt needs an occasional boost from its conventional engine to accelerate.

A New York Times op-ed article in July 2010 calculated the amount of taxpayer money “wasted” on the Volt, starting with the $50 billion bailout of GM, another $240 million in Energy Department grants, $150 million in federal funds to the Korean firm supplying batteries to Volt, and as much as $1.5 billion in tax breaks and other consumer incentives. Much of the $14 billion loan GM got in 2008 to retool its plants went into the manufacture of the Volt, critics claim. An “investment” in energy of the future indeed!

Fueling electric cars
In another government investment in future fuels, the city of Chicago earlier this month awarded a $1.9 million contract—funded by the state and federal governments under a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—to a California firm to install 280 electric-vehicle charging stations in the city and its suburbs by the end of 2011.

This is to address the chicken-or-egg dilemma of which should be built first—electric cars or the public electric outlets to recharge them. So far only Ford Motor Co. has picked Chicago as one of the initial rollout cities for the electric vehicles the company is now building. It’s hoped this will relieve drivers’ fears of running down auto batteries far from a recharge outlet.

San Diego-based 350 Green LLC plans to install, own, operate, and maintain 73 plazas where drivers can plug into retail electrical power suppliers with either 440-v outlets that will recharge an electric vehicle in less than 30 min or 220-v outlets that will charge for 3-8 hr. The contract calls for retail recharge stations to be installed at airports, grocery parking lots, tollway plazas, and parking garages. The company is to offer two payment options—a monthly subscription (not to exceed $75/month) and not yet determined per-use pricing. None of that revenue is to be shared with the city or state. The company is to partner with other firms that provide sites for its rechargers.

Most recharges will occur overnight at the car owners’ homes, which will require additional private investment.

(Online Feb. 21, 2011; author’s e-mail: samf@ogjonline.com)

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