Since PHEV's [plugin hybrid electric vehicles] can have so much impact on both the energy investment outlook and national security, I follow with some interest the news about their likely availability. Recently a picture is starting to emerge. It is not positive for American car companies, of which G.M.'s Volt is the poster child. This is not totally surprising given G.M.'s proven history of incompetence.
We know that the Volt's battery is so expensive that G.M. proposes to sell the car for $40,000 - a price that would eliminate most buyers. And even with such a high price G.M. promises they would lose money on every vehicle. So, as I've previously written, the Volt may well be more of a political strategy for G.M. than a likely transportation solution. Now a new study by Carnegie Mellon University says the design of the Volt's propulsion system is inherently sub-optimal and uneconomical - "not cost effective in any scenario" in the words of the study.
The reason is quite obvious once you think about it. G.M. designed the Volt battery to go 40 miles on a charge because, they "reasoned", some 90% of all drivers go no more than 40 miles in a day. What Carnegie Mellon points out is that the average driver goes less than 20 miles in a day. Therefore the Volt's battery is twice as large as necessary for some 50% of drivers . Since battery weight and cost are the prime determinants of a PHEV's cost-effectiveness, the Volt battery is about twice as large as is economically practical for most drivers.
Here's how the report put it: "The Carnegie Mellon study, conducted by engineers from three different departments, constructed computer simulation models to determine the impact of additional batteries on fuel consumption and cost and greenhouse gas emissions over a range of charging frequencies. It found that small-capacity plug-ins that get less than 20 miles per charge are more efficient than conventional hybrids. And it said that large capacity hybrids like the Volt that go 40 miles or further on a charge are never cost-effective, because the batteries cost and weigh too much. A car with the Volt's range, according to the study, would also be extremely uneconomical traveling fewer miles as it hauls around battery capacity it doesn't need."
So much for the Volt. Ciao - and lets hope the U.S. govt. is smart enough not to fall for the Volt's fools-gold as an excuse to keep G.M., a chronically mismanaged company, from enjoying the cleansing benefits of bankruptcy. Among which benefits might be new management.