Jan. 9, 2007 — -- Chevrolet's new hybrid car, called the Volt, has generated a lot of buzz this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
It's different from the hybrids currently on the market, making it the newest of the new technology in the car market.
Whereas other hybrid cars, such as Toyota's Prius or Ford's Explorer, use a mix of battery power and a conventional gasoline engine to move the wheels of the vehicle, the Volt runs only on electricity.
The electricity is provided by either plugging into a standard wall socket or by fuel -- which can be gasoline or some more environmentally friendly alternative -- that recharges the car's battery. General Motors said the Volt's technology could nearly eliminate the need to fuel up at the pump.
"When you get to the end of a range of the battery, which is 40 miles, you just continue to move along, and the only thing that you notice is the engine comes on and it generates more electricity," said John Lauckner, GM's vice president of global programs.
GM said research showed that almost 80 percent of American motorists drive less than 40 miles a day.
"Many, if not most, consumers in the United states would never need to buy gasoline, or buy gasoline very rarely," Lauckner said.
Using a full tank of fuel to power the motor, you could conceivably drive from Detroit to New York -- about 600 miles -- with no need to stop.
The only problem is that the battery needed to do all this is prohibitively expensive right now. If you wanted to buy this flashy concept version of the Volt today, it would set you back several hundred thousand dollars. So the success or failure of the Volt hinges on GM's ability to mass produce the battery and bring its cost down -- way down.
"Those batteries have to be developed, and the cost has to come down probably tenfold from where it is now," said Csaba Csere, editor in chief of Car and Driver magazine.
It remains to be seen whether it will ever be realistic to purchase one of these cars at a reasonable price.
GM says it's serious and not just trying to win public relations points.
"We really want to sell a lot of these," said Lauckner.
But the company becomes vague on exactly when you'll be able to buy a Volt.
"It's not as soon as some of us hope. But it's a lot sooner than a lot of people may think," Lauckner said.
That's likely to translate into four years … at least.