by Tom Donelson on February 21, 2012 at 12:02 PM
When I was learning to drive, I asked my dad to teach me to drive a stick, and he asked me why. As he explained, “You are putting automotive back thirty years, you don’t realize how glad I was to be able to put the key into the car and just take off without shifting.” I did not learn how to use a stick.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the electric car lost out to the combustible engine, and I wonder if we aren’t simply going back into time, or is the Volt or other alternative cars truly advances? It depends how you define progress. If you define progress as a car that reduced pollution from the tail pipe, then it is an advance. If you define progress on whether a car becomes more convenient to use, then the answer is no, this is not an advance.
When Fox's Eric Bolling took his Volt on test drive, the electric engine died after 25 miles, and it got me thinking what is so advanced about this automobile? The Chevy Volt batteries go 40 miles after a full charge, then it switches to a 1.4 liter engine to give the car another 300 miles. What you ask? The super Volt has a gas engine to ensure that it lasts beyond its initial 40 miles after a 10 hour charge? Yes that is right; the Volt has an additional engine to ensure that it is practical. It is essentially a hybrid, even though it is classified as a “series” hybrid as opposed to a parallel hybrid like the Prius. The Prius control unit switches from the engine to the battery pack constantly, whereas the Volt power kicks in when the battery is exhausted and the battery is exhausted in very quick order.
The Volt shows the limitation of the electric car. The first is self-evident; the electric car has to be enhanced by a gas engine or it is a totally impractical car. The second is the charging time, since to have a fully charged car, you need an overnight charge. Compare that to the combustible engine where a fill up is less than a minute.
The disadvantage of the purely electric car is that one can’t really take a family trip beyond 70 miles and a cross time trip will take a month. The Volt's ability to match a combustible engine in efficiency is due to its gas engine. So the purely electric engine is putting the auto industry by a century, reminding me of what my father asked, “Why?”
As for the Volt, it is hardly a leap forward in automotive technology since it is a combination of technology used for the past hundred years. Even with all of its government subsidies and tax credit, you would still be better off driving a combustible engine if convenience and performance is what you're looking for. Another way to look at progress with our automobile industry is to ask can I get from Kansas City to Cedar Rapids any faster than a car made twenty years or even fifty years ago? The answer is no. My 1995 Olds can get to Kansas City as swiftly as any 2012 car, so if getting from point A to point B in reasonable time, then there has been no progress. The big area of progress with today’s models deals with conveniences just like GPS, CD players and TV screens in the back to keep children occupied.
The other problem is the lack of charging stations across the country adds to the disadvantages of the electric car, but this a problem that can be eliminated if more electric cars are bought. So the reader has to ask themself the following questions, what makes for progress in automotive development? Is the speed to get from point A to point B important or the efficiency of the engine? How important is a cleaner car or does it matter that the electric car must get its juice from a coal producing plant? Or for that matter, does price matter if the environmentally correct car is a higher price despite being an inferior car in most ways?
Volt might be a nice car to drive around town but there are hardly advantages to owning a more expensive but slightly less efficient automobile. The Volt's fate, along with other alternative automobiles, will be decided in the market place, no matter how the government pushes the Volt or how many tax credits are offered. So far the Volt is not exciting the public as they buy those totally environmentally incorrect cars in far bigger numbers.