Revenge of the internal combustion engine
At the Chevrolet dealership here, customers want to see and touch the Volt, the gasoline-electric hybrid hailed by enthusiasts as the kind of innovation that could secure the future of General Motors.
But they usually kick the Volt's tires and move on, often to a Cruze. The compact Chevy gets up to 42 miles per gallon, and you can buy two of them for the cost of one $40,000 Volt.
Call it the revenge of the internal combustion engine.
Major automakers and the Obama administration have bet heavily on hybrids and pure electric vehicles. But new and more efficient gas engines are winning on the showroom floor, an inconvenient truth that could slow the acceptance of electric cars.
"They come in to look at a Cruze. They drive a Volt. They go back to the Cruze. It really helps us with sales of the Cruze," said Michael Mosser, general manager of Suburban Chevrolet of Ann Arbor.
The plug-in Volt has become General Motors Co's high-mileage halo car. But the hybrid has also been outsold by its simpler sibling by 200 to 1. Globally, GM has sold about 5,000 Volts versus 1 million Cruzes.
"It's naive to think that the world is going to switch tomorrow to EVs," said Larry Nitz, GM's executive director for vehicle electrification.
Meanwhile, new cars with traditional engines are showing striking fuel efficiency gains thanks to technologies such as turbochargers, direct injection, and engines that shut down when the vehicle stops, then spring back to life when the driver presses the accelerator.
Turbochargers compress the air flowing into engines, allowing more fuel into the cylinders, while direct injection provides improved delivery of the fuel needed in each engine cylinder so it burns cleaner and more efficiently.
The average fuel economy for new vehicles is now 2.5 more miles per gallon than four years ago. And emissions of greenhouse gases per new car are down 14 percent since late 2007, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
Photo shows Suburban Chevrolet dealership sales person Scott Northway showing two potential customers a Chevrolet Cruze on display at the dealership in Ann Arbor, Michigan, October 22, 2011.
Credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook
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