General Motors has started manufacturing an electric vehicle called the Chevy Volt. It claims the car will drive up to 40 miles on its lithium-ion battery, which can be recharged at home or work using a regular electrical outlet. According to GM, more than 75 percent of Americans live within 20 miles of where they work. If that sounds like your commute, you could drive the Volt to your job and back on 100% electricity without generating any of the emissions that cause air pollution or climate change, at a cost of about 80 cents in electricity a day.
If the battery does run down, the 1.0-liter, three-cylinder gas engine acts as a generator to charge the battery and provides enough power for up to an additional 600 miles. Says Chevy, the Volt will get 50 mpg with the generator running in what’s called "extended range" mode. If you drive 60 miles, with the last 20 miles in this mode, you'll enjoy a 150 mpg equivalent for the trip.
Does the car's high fuel efficiency rating mean it's "good" for the environment? That begs the question, is ANY car good for the environment?
After all, manufacturing a car is still a polluting, resource-intensive process. Fom an environmental perspective, driving a car is still inferior to using mass transit, biking, walking, and telecommuting, Americans need better transportation options, not necessarily better cars.
However, I think it's fair to say that the Volt is "better" for the environment, in several ways:
It shows that any company – even one like General Motors, maker of one of the world's most polluting, least efficient vehicles, the Hummer – can make great strides in creating new products to protect the planet and human health.
It demonstrates to consumers that their demands for more environmentally-responsible products create a powerful incentive to businesses to clean up their act.
It fuels competition. General Motors may be the first to market with its electric car, but it won't be the last. It has set a standard other manufacturers will now be in a race to emulate. Remember the history of hybrids in the U.S.? In 1998, there were virtually no hybrids being sold. In 1999 Honda introduced its first hybrid model, followed by the Tyotoa Prius hybrid in 2000. The wild popularity of these cars, especially the Prius, inspired a frenzy of re-design among all car companies. These days, every automobile manufacturer has at least one hybrid in its showroom – and over a million hybrids are being sold every year.
Should we all get out of our cars more?
But when we drive, should we drive cars like the Volt (especially when their price comes down) that generate the least amount of pollution possible? You bet.
For more commentary, take a look at my recent conversation with Neil Cavuto on Fox News.
Don't have a Volt but still want to get great gas mileage? Look here.