General Motors, parent company to car brands Vauxhall, Opel, Holden, Chevrolet, Saab, Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac, Hummer and others, is about to take the lead in the race to make the car a sustainable means of personal transportation. Within the next three years, it plans to bring a family of cars it calls E-Flex to market that could make both conventional internal combustion engines and hybrid-electric technology seem harmful and outmoded.
From also-ran to the head of the green field
GM, until very recently the world’s largest car-maker, gave up ground to rivals Toyota and Honda in the late ‘90s and the early ‘00s in the rush to adopt hybrid petrol-electric technology as the saviour of the climate. “The General” was always sceptical about hybrid technology, maintaining that it was expensive and relatively ineffective when it came to cutting emissions, and that other routes around the problem – via biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells and pure electrical power – would prove better.GM’s philosophy will soon be vindicated. Behind the scenes for the last two years, it has been focussing on what it calls “the electrification of the motor car.” That focus is about to pay off with a family of electrically powered battery cars capable of travelling commuter distances without any emissions at all, and of tackling longer trips on a choice of petrol, diesel, hydrogen, bioethanol or biodiesel.
Chevrolet Volt: an early warning shot
Back at the Detroit motor show in January 2007, the Chevrolet Volt concept arrived as the first sign that something big was about to happen at GM. Here was an electrically powered sports car capable of hitting 60mph in less than 9.0sec that could also be charged from the mains and convey you the 40 miles to work and back on electric power alone. Beyond that range, it relied upon a modest, low-emissions 1.0-litre petrol engine that extended its range up to 600 miles. But fundamentally, it was not a hybrid, said GM; it was a pure EV (electric vehicle) backed up by a petrol engine.