This year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit is less glamorous than last year’s since the Big Three U.S. car makers are struggling to survive and even the industry leader Toyota will post an operating for the first time in more than 70 years. General Motors and Chrysler averted bankruptcy last month due to emergency loans from the U.S. government. But this stop-gap solution won’t be enough to protect them from going bankrupt. The loss-making U.S. car makers are turning toward electric cars as their last hope and savior. Both, GM and Chrysler promised to launch mass production of some electric car models in 2010. Chrysler Vice Chairman Tom LaSorda said that the car maker is further ahead on developing electric vehicles than many had thought, but the company has kept them secret for quite some time. Chrysler unveiled three cars running on pure electricity: The ecoVoyager, the Jeep Renegade and the Dodge ZEO.
Dodge ZEO: (photo from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dodge_ZEO_in_Paris.jpg by
GM is betting on the Chevrolet Volt which runs on electricity for the first 40 miles, and if necessary, the driving range can be extended to 400 miles. If the ride is longer than 40 miles, a generator kicks in and recharges the batteries. More than 75% of all Americans could commute to their workplaces daily without burning any gasoline. Overnight, the Chevy Volt can simply be plugged into any electric outlet and the batteries will be recharged completely after eight hours. Therefore, the Chevy Volt has an incredible fuel economy. GM’s Vice President Bob Lutz also unveiled the Cadillac Converj concept car which also uses the “Voltec” electric drive technology as well as the same platform used to create the Volt. The Converj is a luxury range-extended electric car and also runs 40 miles on a charge. Ford plans to have numerous electric cars and hybrids in showrooms by 2011. A semi-electric vehicle which can be recharged from a standard outlet is scheduled for 2012.
The public perception of GM, Ford and Chrysler has been completely contrary to what the car makers’ executives are aiming at now. Until recently, the trend in the American auto industry was toward bigger cars with more horsepower than ever before. Now the attention is on environmentally friendly and efficient electric cars.
As President-elect Barack Obama is determined to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, the automakers are probably hopeful that he’ll help them to suvive in order to allow them to launch their electric cars in 2010. Obama’s target for 2015 is more than one million at least semi-electric cars on the streets.
Generally, the interest in electric cars is very high after gasoline prices reached record levels last summer. Now it’s essential that car makers manage to increase the availability of electric cars and reduce production costs since there’ll be huge demand as soon as oil prices shoot up again. With intensified research and mass production of high capacity lithium-ion batteries setting in, the battery pack will become smaller and the storage capacity will increase. Prices are also expected to come down decisively. Nowadays, the cost of the battery pack makes up about a third of the price of an electric car.
Nex to GM and Chrysler, other American car makers such as Tesla Motors and Wrightspeed from Silicon Valley are entering the electric car market. The Tesla Roadster and the Wrightspeed X1 are electric sports cars that can can accelerate faster than a Ferrari and go some 300 miles and more on a single charge. The concept of these innovative Silicon Valley car makers is to introduce electric cars to the upper-segment market which makes sense as the cost of the battery pack is not that decisive.
Toyota which started producing hybrid cars more than 10 years ago unveiled plans to launch a fully electric compact car by 2012. The car is named “Urban Commuter” which perfectly describes where electric cars have the biggest potential. The range that is easily achievable today is sufficient to handle almost everyone’s daily driving. Especially for suburb-downtown commuters, electric cars make great sense. For the occasional road trip, the best solution is a rental car.
The German luxury car makers BMW and Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) are also developing electric vehicles. At the moment, they’re testing electric versions of their smallest cars: BMW’s electrified Mini will be available for leasing in southern California. The electric version of the microcar Smart is can be seen on streets in Berlin and London. The Mercedes-Benz BlueZero concept car was introduced in Detroit on Sunday. The car will be available in three configurations: a battery-electric version with a range of 124 miles, a model with a fuel-cell that allows a driving range of 248 miles and a range-extended electric car with a driving range of 372 miles.
The bottom line is that future cars will be smaller and using alternatives to gasoline. Especially electric cars will start replacing conventional cars step by step. In the medium-term, demand for electric cars from emerging countries could fast exceed demand from industrialized countries. (Check out China, India and other countries subsidizing gasoline to keep domestic prices down are forced to embrace electric cars)
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