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The Chevrolet Volt takes on the Nissan Leaf.  Who will come out on top?

Chevy Volt

Can this much-hyped (semi) EV take on the new Nissan?

Performance

If you’re looking for speed, the Volt is probably where it’s at.  The Chevy delivers 150 hp and boasts a top speed of 100 mph.  On the other hand, the Nissan has 110 hp and tops out at 87 mph.

Winner: Volt

Amenities

Both cars can charge to full battery capacity in about eight hours (assuming you have the Nissan charging station).  The Nissan offers a support network, LCD display, helpful charging functions, Bluetooth connectivity, XM radio capability, and roadside assistance.  Volt offers much of the same, including some advice on how to obtain the best fuel efficiency while driving.  The Leaf is a bit roomier, but I think the Volt has a nicer overall look.

Winner: Volt

Range

This really depends on what your driving goals are.  If you are content to use the car for commuting and short distance driving, then go for the Leaf, which has a range of 100 miles.

At first glance, it appears that the Volt can’t go as far; its electric motor will power it for merely 40 miles.  However, after the first 40, a 4-cylinder engine powers an on-board generator, which then powers the electric motor.  The car can then go for up to 300 miles.  GM says that 40 miles will cover the average American’s daily commute, which is about 33 miles.

Winner: Volt

Environmental Impact

Obviously, the Leaf does not burn any gasoline whatsoever, meaning it does not emit carbon dioxide from its tailpipe.  But that doesn’t mean that the Leaf is emissions-free.  It is still obtaining electricity from the grid, and the CO2 emissions from the electricity used depends on the source of the power.  In states where the electricity comes from renewable or low emissions sources, like solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear, CO2 emissions are slight or none.  But burning “dirty” coal puts more pollutants into the air, so the overall emissions varies depending on location.  Regardless, the Leaf wins this battle, as the Volt still burns gas to power the generator.

Winner: Leaf

Price

Here, it looks like the Leaf has the Volt around the neck.  Both vehicles are applicable for a federal tax credit of $7,500, and some states offer more rebates, too.  While Chevy hasn’t announced its price officially, estimates are coming in at around $40,000.  The Nissan is slated to come out significantly lower at $32,750.  In today’s economy, which isn’t expected to turn around dramatically anytime soon, that seven grand can make a big difference.  Also, some consumers might harbor some resentment towards GM for killing the electric car all those years ago.

However, it should be noted that the Leaf needs to be plugged into a special home charging station, which will run about $2,200.  The feds will pay for half of that, but still, that’s an extra $1,000 on top of the base price.

Winner: Leaf

Fuel Efficiency

The Volt: For the first 40 miles, the Volt uses stored electricity from its battery.  Beyond that, its electric motor is powered by a gas-fueled generator.  The EPA estimates that the Volt is expected to get 50 mpg from its gasoline motor while in the charge-sustaining mode.  Its difficult to estimate the overall fuel economy, since the car runs off both gasoline and grid electricity, and the EPA is working to create standards that would make more sense for consumers.  Their closest estimates for the Volt are 85 mpg.  GM came out with some interesting estimates using complicated math that puts the car at 230 mpg.  Upon hearing those estimates, Nissan stifled a laugh and claimed that using that math, the Leaf gets 367 mpg.

Winner: Leaf

Overall winner: Leaf.  It’s not perfect, but when it comes to being a great new green car, the Leaf is where it’s at.

Nissan Leaf

Oh yeah, you know you love me.

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Who Killed the Electric Car?

A look at the movie, Haley style: a running commentary as I watched it.

Opening scene – funeral, presumably for the car.  A little cheesy, but makes a good point.  There were more electric cars than gasoline cars on the road a hundred years ago.  Who would’ve thought?  Apparently these cars were like sitting inside huge lamps.  I feel like it would be very hot inside a lamp…

Ick!  Now we’ve got some pictures of lovely smog….“the black cloud of death.”  I’m glad I don’t live in California!  One gallon of gas burned=19 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  That seems like a ton.

All right.  Onto the Sun Racer!  Take a look at this little car – solar-powered, goofy-looking, pretty neat!  So GM challenges these guys to make an electric car.  The GM CEO even says that these cars will be the perfect commuting vehicles.  GM wants their marketers to develop a strong desire in the market for an electric vehicle, especially in Cali, where smog still reigns supreme. California’s in on the game, passing a zero emissions mandate in 1990.  And then, the Saturn EV1 is born.

EV1

The EV1 in all its glory...

And everyone loved it!  So other car companies joined in on the action, creating conversion (gas/electric) cars.  People are amazed by the lack of pollution, and Tom Hanks makes lots of appearances extolling their virtues.  Mel Gibson even pops his scarily-bearded head in.

Now, the skeptics show up.  Is the car big enough?  Strong enough?  Manly enough?

First the skeptics, then big oil (which funded most of the anti-electric movement).  Are electric vehicles really more environmentally-friendly?  (Which is why we need to be working to create clean electric energy – wind, solar, all that good stuff, but that’s neither here nor there.)  Are they only for rich people?

There seems to be some sort of poem going on now.  Or was that a car commercial?  I guess so.  The lady speaking sounds a bit too gravelly to be sexy.  And in America, cars are supposed to be sexy (ever watch Cadillac’s spokeswoman Kate Walsh?  Take a look at this). This begs the question: is GM really trying to market the cars earnestly?  And GM starts withdrawing its EV reach…laying off employees, closing factories, and moving backwards.

Headline: White House Joins Fight Against Electric Cars.  It looks like the government is leaning towards hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  Again, Cali is all over it, with Arnold lauding their virtues and driving around a hydrogen-fueled Hummer.

We go to a meeting with the California EPA (at least that’s what it looks like to me), cause automakers sued the state because of the emissions law.  Eighty people showed up to support the electric car, and two showed up to support the automakers who didn’t want to comply with the zero emissions mandate.  Yet, in April of 2003, CA killed the mandate.

And then they took the cars off the road altogether!  How wild is that?  Ahh, protests…EV supporters showed up in CA to garner support for their cause.

Which brings us back to the funeral.  One of the GM marketers even cries…pretty touching, not going to lie. And GM has all the cars back…

And the crush them!  Oh my god.  They take them out to this racetrack in the desert and literally destroy them.  That is truly sad. Other electric vehicles are being taken off the road, too.  Some of these actually get shredded.  Just wild.

The activists think it’s wild, too.  They offer $1.8 million to GM to buy back the last 78 surviving cars.  GM never gets back to them.

California Air Resources Board, Alan Lloyd, GM, big oil, American consumers, batteries – all suspects in the killing of the EV.  GM says there was no demand, no profit (how on earth does Toyota do it?  Well, have done it, at least). Some people say Americans were too dumb to understand that EVs worked just as well as gas cars.  A very cute older couple (the Ovshinkskys) had already sold a long-lasting battery to GM, which then in turn sold it to Texaco.  Nice. Now we’ve got a tax break for people buying Hummers – I’m sure that is super helpful. Hydrogen cars.

“The average vehicle on the roadways today is less efficient than it was 20 years ago.”  Another sad fact.

Carter tries to eliminate dependence on oil, Reagen deregulates everything, Clinton tries to promote hybrids, and Bush…well, Bush is Bush. Here’s a good point: it took laws to get everything standardized with cars (think seatbelts, catalytic converters, airbags).

The verdict: I think we all killed the electric car.  Good news?  We’re bringing it back!  Tesla’s already done it, and Chevy (GM-owned is bringing out the Chevy Volt next year).

Ah, Tesla Motors…the only automaker selling only mass-produced electric vehicles in Europe or North America.  Well, really, make that vehicle – Tesla currently only produces one kind of car: the Roadster (well, if you want to be picky, you could argue they produce two kinds, the Roadster and the Roadster Sport).  The base model runs at about $100,000 after the government tax rebate.  Not cheap, but this isn’t your granola neighbor’s electric vehicle.  It’s sexy, it’s sporty, and it does zero to sixty in under four seconds.  All while costing about two cents per mile to run.

Tesla Roadster

No more electric Roadsters for Tesla?

Today now you, too, could be an owner of this innovative company.  Well, in the form of stock, at least; Tesla just announced that it’s going public and putting $100 million in shares on the public market.

But it’s like a wise frog once said: it ain’t easy being green.  Tesla hasn’t seen booming sales despite an increasingly emissions-conscious public.  They plan to stop making the current version of the Roadster next year when they change suppliers and won’t restart production until 2012, when they’ll also likely introduce their next model: a sedan tentatively priced at around $50k.

So why aren’t Teslas flying off the lots?  Why aren’t they commonplace cars by now?  After all, the company’s been around for since mid-2003.

Maybe because the Tesla doesn’t offer much middle ground (not that it should, but as a culture, we seem to be reluctant to change.  Those big trucks and SUVs are still permeating the roadways, usually inhabited by one lone driver.)  It’s all electric and that might be scary for consumers.  Also, Tesla began offering cars to the public in the middle of a deep recession – not exactly the right time to buy new luxury vehicles (unless you’re in charge of a major bank, of course).  And Tesla prides itself on no advertising.  It certainly works for Lamborghini, but the jury’s still out on Tesla.

Hopefully going public and getting over $450 million from government loans will bolster the seemingly tenuous company.  After all, turning the lights off when we leave the room will only go so far.  Tesla goes the extra mile.  And in a sporty roadster, no less.

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