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Friday, 14 October 2011

GM Ditches the Gas Tank in Its New Electric Car

Technology Review
Oct 14, 2011

Electric only: A rendering shows the innards of an electric version of GM’s Spark mini-car. The box at the back is a lithium-ion battery pack to be made by A123 Systems.

General Motors plans to sell an electric version of the Spark, a mini-car that it currently sells outside the United States. GM will sell the gasoline version of the Spark in the U.S. starting next year, and will follow with the electric version in select U.S. markets and around the world in 2013. The electric Spark will be powered by batteries made by A123 Systems, based in Waltham, Massachusetts.

The car is a departure from GM's current strategy for electric vehicles, exemplified by the Chevrolet Volt. For short trips—about 35 miles—the Volt can run on battery power alone. For longer trips, a gasoline engine generates electricity to power the car. The range-extending gas engine is meant to address one of the main drawbacks of electric cars—their limited range on a charge. But adding an engine, and the complex transmission needed to coordinate power from the engine and electric motors, adds significantly to the vehicle's cost.

That added cost seems to be hurting sales. The Volt was released at the end of 2010 at about the same time as the Nissan Leaf, an electric vehicle powered by batteries alone, and which has a range of about 73 miles per charge. The Volt costs $39,995, down from $41,000 originally, compared to $35,200 for the Leaf. This year, drivers have bought almost twice as many Leafs as Volts. As of the end of September, Nissan had sold 7,199 Leafs, compared to GM's sales of just 3,895 Volts.

For much of that time, the Volt was only available in some states, but even with the car now available nationwide, it looks unlikely that GM will achieve its goal of selling 10,000 Volts this year, says Michael Omotoso, senior manager for powertrain forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates. "They may have to lower the price more to compete with the Leaf. Although the cars are different, consumers are comparing them head to head."
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