New electric concept car shows that alternative power could figure in the humble Astra's future
7 January 2007

This dramatic Chevrolet concept, unveiled on motor show press day in Detroit (7 January 2007), might represent the future of alternative power as General Motors sees it. It's called the Volt, it shares its basic layout with Vauxhall's next Astra, and we could see it as a stand-alone electric car on sale from GM in the next decade.

The Volt concept is based on GM's new Delta platform technology (see gallery), which will underpin the next Vauxhall Astra. GM made the Volt a four-door family car because it says the market for electric cars is primarily an urban one. At the heart of the car is GM’s E-Flex system. It uses combinations of electric motors, internal combustion engines and fuel cells in a common chassis to create different cars. GM is using it to show several different Volts at Detroit this week. One has an electric motor, a battery pack and a generator powered by a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, while another had a fuel cell in place of the motor, reducing the size of the battery.

E-Flex is designed to be altered according to what buyers want and what fuels are available locally. In Brazil, for example, widely available ethanol means E-Flex cars would use the generator powered by a small engine set-up. “This is not a science fair project. We have quite some development under way,” said Jon Lauckner, GM's vice president of global program management. “Engineering development has been initiated.”

But plans for an all-electric car are being held back by batteries. A car charged purely by plugging it in to the mains requires a leap in battery technology that GM’s experts “don’t see yet.”

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