Who Reincarnated the Electric Car?

I may not be a tree hugger, but I can envision a future beyond the middle of next week. And I’m always in favor of saving a buck or two whenever possible.

Conversely, I’m reluctant to sacrifice style – along with tens of thousands of dollars – for a hybrid that is relatively attractive but gets only marginally better gas mileage, or for a fuel-efficient hybrid that is…well, not my style at all. Put me in a V8 beauty and let me burn up my great-grandchildren’s future instead.

Just kidding. Sort of — GM is on their way to reaching that pinnacle where style and efficiency peacefully coexist.

Not only has GM reached out to bloggers in a way that no other major corporation has done, they’ve also put their money where their mouths are when it comes to production and concept vehicles.

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I attended the Chicago Auto Show as GM’s guest, where they wined and dined me and put me up in a lovely room where no toddlers attempted to climb into my bed at 3 a.m. They also arranged exclusive interviews between bloggers and top-level GM executives. I had the privilege of meeting with Ed Peper, Chevrolet’s General Manager. I asked him about the ways in which GM is incorporating energy diversity into their new vehicles:

  • Active Fuel Management: Even if a car has a V6 or V8 engine, it operates on only four cylinders if that’s all that the conditions require. When the car accelerates or ascends a steep hill, the additional cylinders kick in as needed.
  • Hybrid Technology: Not limited to traditional coupes or sedans, GM hybrid vehicles such as the Chevy Silverado truck and the Saturn VUE Green Line SUV increase fuel efficiency without sacrificing style. In fact, the 2007 Saturn VUE is my favorite SUV style yet.
  • E85 FlexFuel: Already popular in Europe, E85 (which is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) is becoming available in the US – check the Chevrolet website for station locations – and several vehicles, including the notoriously gas-guzzling Tahoe and Suburban, already use it.
  • E-Flex – the Chevrolet Volt: An electric car that is truly within reach, the Volt incorporates four different fuel options – gasoline, E85, biodiesel, and electricity – into one vehicle. The Volt was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show, but the buzz is still going strong. While the Volt is still a concept car, all of its features are readily available for mass production except the battery. And its design is sleek and modern without being impossibly futuristic.
  • Project Driveway: In the first market test of fuel cell vehicles, drivers in Southern California, Washington DC, and New York will test-drive Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell vehicles. As Ed Peper noted in our discussion, fuel distribution (in this case, hydrogen) is one key to energy diversity. The findings of this test will directly impact the next steps of fuel cell research, production, and marketing.

In talking to Ed Peper and to the designers of the Chevrolet Volt, what truly impressed me was the excitement they all shared. GM isn’t being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the future. Nor are they dreaming up fanciful ideas of futuristic vehicles that will never be built. They seem to genuinely embrace the challenge of designing vehicles that will appeal to a wide audience – that will win hearts and minds here in America and around the world.

Ed. note: Besides providing travel and accommodations to the auto show, Ms. Marsh received no other compensation from General Motors

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