Saturday, August 7, 2010

Is the Chevrolet Volt a Smart Car?

After billions of dollars in Federal subsidies, years of research, and enough media hype to sell the Brooklyn Bridge; this is the year of the electric car. Twenty years after the first announcement, Chevrolet is selling its first electric car; the Volt.

The Volt is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that has such dramatically lower emissions that every single time you drive it, the number of baby seals in the world increases dramatically. The car can go forty miles on fully charged batteries, not bad when you consider that 75% of Americans have a daily commute of 33 miles or less.

Recognizing the future of electric cars, the New York Times stated that the electric car has long been recognized as "ideal" because it was cleaner, quieter and much more economical than gasoline-powered cars.

I need one of these cars. I live about 3 miles from the university, about 2 miles from the grocery store and the mall, and less than a mile from the university golf course. My average commute is so short that during the winter, I’m at my destination before the heater warms up. I’m not sure my car has been over 35 miles an hour this year. I’m not real sure about last year, either.

Hell, the Volt might be overkill; I could get to work on a golf cart. Or a Segway. I could even, shudder, walk.

Or maybe not. I drive a pickup, and in the last ten years, my poor little truck has been rear ended twice by students evidently learning to drive by crashing. One crash happened while I was stopped at a stop sign and the other time while I was stopped at a crosswalk. While neither crash was serious, they would have been if I had been driving anything much smaller.

As perfect as southern New Mexico weather is, in the last ten years, I have driven home in dust storms, high winds, (and even in the desert) the occasional rain. I’m not real sure that I want to do that in a golf cart, even if it helps baby seals. Occasionally, I do drive to the mountains, the lake, or the desert, all of which are more than 40 miles away.

And that is the real issue: practicality. I want to be green, I want to be responsible, I want all those things I read about on other people’s bumper stickers, but I also want to stay alive. To be honest, I don’t particularly like my truck--I’m willing to give it up, but only if everyone else does at the same time. I will drive the golf cart to work only if everyone else does. If I’m in the new Chevrolet Clown Car and the student three feet off my back bumper with a six month old drivers license is driving a Suburban while busily texting; I’m going to lose this contest.

No matter how politically correct, an electric car is not yet practical. They cost too much, and when you add in the cost of the eventual battery replacement, they are expensive to operate. They are under powered, too small, and overly impractical. And while I am being honest, I’ve never been politically correct, I’ll run my truck on pureed panda if I have to.

If a green vehicle is going to catch on, it’s going to have to be a little more practical than a Chevy Volt. How many people really want to drive a $41,000 car that is actually still powered by hydrocarbons? Yes, it’s an electric car, but most of America gets their electricity by burning oil, natural gas, or coal. Do I really want to pay that much money for a coal powered golf cart?

For $49,000, I can get a Mercedes E-Class with four doors, leather seats, and a sun roof. Let’s splurge, call it $50,000 and I can make a nice contribution to Greenpeace. If I have to spend that much money for a car, I’ll take the Mercedes.

Oh yeah, that quote about electric cars from the New York Times? They printed that in 1911. Almost a hundred years later, that technology is not quite ready.

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