A pity that GM killed the EV-1, now all they have is the GM "Short Circuit"
Which electric car will win?
2 vehicles have radically different approaches
BY MARK PHELAN
FREE PRESS AUTO CRITIC
The Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf will square off later this year in a
battle that could determine the course of the 21st-Century auto industry.
The Volt and Leaf electric cars take two radically different approaches
to reducing oil consumption and emissions. The compact Volt will cover
40 miles on a charge and use an on-board generator for longer trips. The
subcompact Leaf’s bigger battery pack promises a 100-mile range but
won’t be capable of longer trips and will require hours of charging time
after a long drive.
The vehicles’ prices will also differ significantly. Nissan has
announced the Leaf will retail for $25,280, after a $7,500 federal tax
credit. Chevrolet has not revealed the Volt’s sticker price, but it’s
expected to cost around $32,500 after the same tax credit.
The Volt arrives in dealerships this November. The Leaf follows a month
The cars represent multibillion-dollar bets by GM and Renault-Nissan.
The winner will be the early leader in a new technology that’s expected
to eventually dominate the worldwide auto industry.
Electric cars have their ups and downs
You can't get lower than zero. You can't drive farther than forever.
In a nutshell, those are the key selling points for the Nissan Leaf and
Chevrolet Volt, respectively -- the first new electric cars expected to
sell in large numbers in a century.
The cars promise different things, but they'll be direct competitors as
General Motors and Nissan-Renault try to define what a modern electric
vehicle is, what customers should expect, how much they'll pay and
whether they should accept any compromises compared with conventional cars.
The company with the winning approach will have an early lead in the
technology likely to dominate the 21st-Century auto industry.
The Leaf promise: Zero, zilch, nada direct petroleum consumption and
exhaust emissions. Your car will never burn a drop of gasoline.
The Volt guarantee: No emissions or oil used on the 40-mile and shorter
drives that constitute daily driving for around 70% of Americans, and
absolute certainty you'll never be stranded by a dead battery.
The Volt and Leaf's underlying technical approaches are radically different.
The Leaf is a pure battery-electric car, or BEV. It has lots of
batteries and can go up to 100 miles on a full charge.
Its drawbacks are:
• It takes eight to 20 hours to recharge the batteries, depending on
whether you install a 240-volt outlet for your car.
• Electricity is not like gasoline: You can't assume there'll be a
filling station around the corner when you run low, and topping up
drained batteries takes hours.
• The 100-mile range assumes good weather and driving conditions. Very
hot or cold conditions, fast driving, or stop-and-go traffic may reduce
the Leaf's range considerably.
"Range is a big deal," said Joe Phillippi, principal of AutoTrends
Consulting in Short Hills, N.J. "The Leaf can't be anybody's sole vehicle."
The Volt, meanwhile, uses a smaller set of batteries and should cover
about 40 miles on a full charge. It charges from an outlet in about half
as much time as the Leaf.
A small gasoline-powered generator produces more electricity for longer
trips. You never have to stop to recharge, and most drivers will only
occasionally need the range-boosting generator. The Volt is called an
extended-range electric vehicle, or E-REV.
The Volt's disadvantages are:
• It has two power sources -- batteries and a generator -- so it will
cost about $7,200 more than the Leaf.
• It does not allow the driver to completely divorce himself or herself
from the possibility of ever consuming oil.
GM and Nissan speak of their differing approaches with evangelical zeal.
"It's the first affordable zero-emissions vehicle," Leaf product
planning director Mark Perry says. "The question of its range is an
issue of perception more than behavior. If you charge overnight, you
wake up with 100 miles' range. Ninety-five percent of the world's
drivers go less than 100 miles a day."
"No battery-electric vehicle can match the Volt's 350-mile range," says
Tony Posawatz, GM vehicle line director for electric vehicles. "The Volt
can also operate in all temperatures, climates and geographic areas"
because the generator supplements its batteries.
The cars will appeal to different types of customers, but the automaker
whose approach draws more will have an early lead in the
"The Volt has the standard range people expect from a car. That's an
advantage," said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics in
Birmingham. "The Volt could conceivably be a person's primary vehicle.
The Leaf is a perfect second car for most people."
GM will build the Volt at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant. Nissan will
initially import the Leaf from Japan and build it in Tennessee starting
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