The Spark of Volts Electric Power Steals the Show

By: Glady Reign

The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), a haven of phenomenal concepts and production vehicles, sparkled brightly like no other automotive event. The show is known for its ability to satisfy the cravings of car aficionados in every respect. Lately, it has offered a remarkable feast of automotive technology. And among the vehicles introduced, the electrifying appeal of the Chevrolet Volt seemed to steal the show.

Bob Lutz, GM Vice Chairman, showed off the Chevrolet Volt concept car - the so-called series hybrid. The batteries in the car do all the work in giving power and the gasoline engine is merely used to recharge them. The day was cloudy however and despite the weather, some 7,000 journalists came to witness the latest revelations in the auto industry.

The bountiful feast of automobiles includes Audi, BMW, and Volkswagen's remarkable lineup. Mercedes-Benz also flaunted its Bluetec system that reduces harmful diesel engine emissions. By next year, the automakers will be offering "50-state" diesels that meet the stringent limits of states including California.

But according to critics and enthusiasts, the best meal was the Chevrolet Volt. GM announced its plan to build cars that accept a new kind of hybrid electric drive. These cars are expected to be released in 2010. To offer a sneak peek of what is to come, GM pulled the cover of Volt concept car, the first serial hybrid concept from the automaker.

Volt's engine has no connection to the wheels. Instead, it turns a generator that charges batteries, the batteries power a motor, and the motor drives the car. According to the automaker, the car is engineered to go about 64 kilometers on a single charge and it is enough to cover many drivers' daily requirements without ever engaging the tiny 1.0-liter engine to be in use. This engine's only purpose is to serve as what GM calls a "range extender." Usually, the car would recharge on wall current hence the term "plug-in hybrid."

The 64-km range of the cars made it distinct from other hybrids. The latter runs mainly on gasoline or with a considerable help from electricity. Moreover, they are only capable of running on pure electric power in a matter of minutes. This is because they rely on nickel-metal hydride batteries. They are designed for high peak power rather than for utmost energy storage. The Chevrolet Volt, on the other hand, is engineered for lithium-ion batteries which are those batteries used in laptops.

To make the car commercially available, GM needs automotive-strength lithium-ion batteries. Various companies are working on the design and are testing them. But cars, compared to laptops and mobile phones, are more demanding. Laptops and mobile phones do not have to survive 64-km side impacts or work in temperatures from 30 ?C to 249 ?C (-22 ?F to 480 ?F) or during heavy dust storms. Worst, batteries for the Chevrolet Volt have to last 10 years.

GM earlier reported its agreement with 2 battery groups to make the concept a viable commercial car. It has also announced its plan to design small cars starting around 2010 to deliver the drivetrain architecture of Volt.

The Ford Motor Corp. has also unveiled a serial concept called the Airstream at the Detroit auto show. The difference lies on the Ballard hydrogen fuel cell instead of an engine and a generator as a range extender. The car features asymmetric windows and an entire body side that lifts up. One striking feature of the concept car is the modern lava lamp with soothing flame images on the circular LCD.

Volvo, Ford's safety marquee, is boosting its reputation with the introduction of the Volvo XC60, a small sport utility vehicle that features an anti-collision system called CitySense. The latter is scheduled to be offered within a couple of years. CitySense uses optical radar to monitor the speed of the car in front of it. It will use "pretension" to prevent impacts at speeds up to 30 kilometer per hour.

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