Concept Cars Won't Solve Detroit's Problems
WHEN an electric car swishes by, most striking is the eerie silence of its power unit. A compensatory burble of excitement greeted General Motors' (GM) unveiling of the Chevrolet Volt, a prototype electric vehicle, at the Detroit motor show, which opened on Sunday January 7th. Ten years ago GM cancelled its plans for a battery-powered car, the EV1, prompting other big manufacturers to do the same. Now that, after all, GM seems intent on making a mass-market vehicle, it will surely tow other big carmakers along with it.
GM’s new vehicle, a plug-in hybrid, will incorporate a petrol engine and a battery that can be recharged from the mains. The firm hopes to enter a market dominated by Toyota’s Prius, a hybrid vehicle that uses energy otherwise lost during braking and coasting to recharge its electric battery. Increasingly eco-conscious drivers will relish the chance to pick from an ever-growing range of greener vehicles. But opinion is divided among the world’s big car companies about whether the market is ready for a big influx of alternative-energy vehicles.
The attention grabbed by GM conveniently distracts from another bad year for America’s car giants. Alternative-energy vehicles are at present a niche market. Far more important for GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler is putting on show what they will offer to Main Street America in the near future.
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