This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

January 10, 2007

GM and Ford Unveil Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles at the Detroit Auto Show

General Motors Corporation (GM) is reviving the electric car, as it unveiled its Chevrolet Volt concept sedan at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, on January 7th. Drawing on GM's experience with the EV1 electric vehicle, which the company launched in 1996, the Chevrolet Volt concept employs a lithium-ion battery that can power the car's electric motor for 40 miles of city driving. The battery can be recharged in six hours by plugging into a standard outlet, or for longer drives, a one-liter, three-cylinder gasoline engine will drive a generator to recharge the battery. GM notes that the engine could also run on E85 (a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) and that other versions of the vehicle could include a fuel cell system or other propulsion systems. GM has begun production work on this family of electric propulsion systems, which it calls the "E-Flex System." See the GM press release, and for images of the Chevrolet Volt and a video of its unveiling, see the GM Experience Live Web site for the 2007 NAIAS.

The key to the Chevrolet Volt is, of course, the lithium-ion battery. GM admits that the battery needed to make the vehicle a commercial reality doesn't exist yet. The battery would weigh nearly 400 pounds and would need to deliver high levels of electrical current while surviving thousands of charge and discharge cycles over the life of the vehicle. And of course, it would have to do that at a price that would still allow the car to be affordable. But GM isn't just waiting for such a vehicle to come along: in early January, the company awarded contracts to two company partnerships for the development of lithium-ion batteries. The two partnerships—one combining Johnson Controls with battery company Saft Advanced Power Solutions, LLC, and the other combining battery companies Cobasys and A123Systems—will deliver test batteries later this year for evaluation in prototype Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrids. See the press releases from GM and A123Systems.

Photo of a futuristic crossover vehicle on a display pedestal, with a crowd gathered around it.

The Ford Airstream Concept, on display at the Detroit Auto Show, relies on a small fuel cell to recharge its battery while driving.
Credit: Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company is also displaying a plug-in hybrid concept vehicle at the Detroit Auto Show, although the Ford version employs a hydrogen fuel cell to recharge its lithium-ion battery while on the road. The Ford Airstream Concept, unveiled on January 7th, is a crossover vehicle that borrows its styling cues from streamlined, aluminum shells of the classic Airstream trailers. Drawing on a 336-volt lithium ion battery pack, the concept vehicle can travel 25 miles before the fuel cell begins operating, and another 280 miles with the help of the fuel cell. According to Ford, using the fuel cell as a battery charger allows it to be smaller and less expensive and allows it to produce a steady power output, which more than doubles its useful lifetime. See the Ford press releases on the Airstream Concept and its propulsion system.