General Motors Moves Deeper into the Electric Vehicle Business
GM is already the maker of the Chevrolet Volt, the first wide-selling domestic plug-in hybrid electric vehicle to hit the market. With new CAFE standards put in place by the US Government, and with growing public demand for cleaner vehicles, GM has decided to expand its electric vehicle inventory. According to GM's product development chief, by 2017, the US automaker will build up to 500,000 vehicles which utilize some sort of electric technology. Adding to its fleet of Volts will also be the new all-electric Spark, which goes on sale in select markets starting next year. The half-million vehicles expected to be produced would equal about five percent of its total global sales from 2011.
Part of the electrical technology GM plans to include is the eAssist system. This is also known as a BAS Hybrid, or Belted Alternator Starter. It is a type of gas-electric hybrid technology that allows the electric motor to contribute power to the gas engine crankshaft via a serpentine belt. This can improve efficiency as much as 25 percent
It can add significantly to the power during starts or stops, adding power assist, and mild levels of regenerative braking. The system actually shuts off the gas engine during braking and instantly restarts it when the brake pedal is released. It is different than other hybrid technologies because the electric motor is hooked up directly to the crankshaft. GM already employs this technology on its Saturn Vue Green Line and the Chevy Malibu Hybrid.
GM is aware that the electric vehicle market has not taken off like many would have wanted. Conventional engine cars still dominant the new car landscape. Nevertheless, the GM product development chief, Mary Barra, is pushing to keep GM ahead of the curve. "A major focus for GM's electrification strategy will center on the plug," she said. "We have every intention of maintaining our leadership position in plug-in vehicles."
The new Spark EV minicar due out next year will rival the Nissan Leaf, one of the most-widely known all-electric vehicles. The Spark will start out in select markets in the US and South Korea before launching into other markets.
GM is also planning to build a Cadillac ELR luxury coupe with similar plug-in technology to the Volt. It is expected to be released to the market in 2013, and built in the same plant which makes the Volt.
The new push for electric vehicles at GM has a lot to do with the newly enacted regulatory requirements for vehicles sold in the United Sates. Ford is also getting heavy into the game with its Focus EV and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles.
And both will have to compete with long-time electric vehicle producer, Tesla Motors, who is planning on installing fast-charging stations on major US routes by the end of next year.
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