GM may be poised to pull an electric rabbit out of its hat that could save the company. The car manufacturer has provided a preview of the Chevrolet Volt, an electric hybrid that has a good chance of beating the Japanese electric hybrids at their own game. GM has done something that is blindingly obvious, but for some reason has been avoided entirely by the Japanese carmakers: make an all electric drive train.
Hybrids like the popular Prius have both a gas engine and an electric motor, and either device can transmit power to the wheels. This improves performance somewhat. But it makes the car much more complex, with a dual power input drive train, and the complexity makes the cars pricey. But GM picked a much simpler design. The Volt has an electric motor to drive the wheels, and a gas engine that only charges the batteries. So the car has fewer parts, less weight (good for mileage and performance), and should be much less expensive. The car can go about forty miles on batteries alone, and according to GM, half the country has a daily commute of less than twenty miles, so a single charge can get you to work and back. If you do need to drive further, the electric generator kicks in to charge the batteries while you drive, extending car range to about 600 miles, at 50 miles to the gallon, according to GM.
You can also plug the car in the wall at night and charge the batteries that way, which might be less expensive if gas prices climb again.
This car could be a big winner for GM, and the Volt could end up being nearly everyone's second or third car. What would be really smart is if the company offered a stripped down version that lends itself to being modified by hot rodders--bigger electric motors, high powered batteries, "hot rod" computer chips, big sound systems, and all the other mods that would harken back to the nineteen fifties when it was a rite of passage to soup up a basic GM automobile.
Update: Reader Ed D. has provided another link with some pictures of the car.