Editorial: Volt Birth Watch 126: Gimme Some Lovins!

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
editorial volt birth watch 126 gimme some lovins

Reading GM’s FastLane Blog sometimes feels like watching the images generated by an underwater camera cruising through the Titanic’s sunken remains. Yes, I know, GM hasn’t cracked in two yet, never mind hit the ocean floor. But the blog’s extended periods of silence strikes this jaded journalist as, well, creepy. A sense of impending doom that’s also reflected by the editorial mix: half-assed attempts to address the key questions vexing GM’s “turnaround plan” (as bulkhead after bulkhead buckles under pressure), interspersed with exec-sourced, over-optimistic appraisals of GM’s prospects. And now, it looks like GM’s just given up, surrendering the floor to “resource analyst” Amory Lovins’ mob over at the Rocky Mountain Institute. Abundance by design™! ‘Cause austerity sucks, right?

The org’s 25-year-old Aspen-dwelling Bulldog-educated transportation consultant uses the platform (so to speak) to plug (so to speak) EV socialism (for real). Apparently, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Volt.” I said, Volt. Not Dolt. But I gotta say, I find the entire premise of Laura Schewel’s article pretty stupid.

I spend my every working (and sometimes every waking) hour trying to make the cleaner, greener promise of plug-in vehicles a reality. The barrier that keeps me up at night is not the high cost of batteries or if Smart Grid will happen. It is the fear that there simply won’t be enough plug-in vehicles soon enough to hit the greenhouse gas reduction targets we must hit. I believe that communities are the best bet for overcoming this barrier.

Consumers and automakers are in a chicken-and-egg situation: the uncertainty of consumer demand for a completely new type of vehicle makes it difficult for automakers to commit to plug-ins in significant numbers. This uncertainty, in turn, affects the building of charging infrastructure and other supporting technologies. This, in turn, creates uncertainty in consumer demand, and so on.

I don’t know about you, but I sleep better at night knowing that Laura is wide awake, helping GM add credibility to their electric/gas plug-in hybrid Hail Mary. I would however like to know exactly which greenhouse gas reduction targets “we” must hit. Kyoto? California? What? You would’ve thought GM would share my curiosity, but I guess not.

That said, you can’t blame them for sharing Ms. Schewel’s sense of urgency—assuming that GM suddenly understands what that phrase means. But who shares her sense that there’s some sort of techno-phobia re: plug ins? You use it like a normal car and plug it into a wall from time to time. The only uncertainty is how much it costs and whether or not the thing will run out of gas/juice and/or break. But Toyota’s got that sussed, one imagines. And, by extension (cord), GM. You know, eventually.

Oh, hang on. She means having lots of sockets available, right? So you can plug in at work or at the post office or something. We need a national plan! Just kidding, ’cause everybody knows that “making a comprehensive national plan will slow us down.”

Furthermore, the ingredients for plug-in success naturally vary from place to place, and a uniform U.S. approach would be a detriment to natural diversity. Of course, this community-based readiness approach should be paired with a national backbone of open plug and communications standards so that vehicles, products, and services can be operated on a national basis. The federal government should also provide funds for cities to implementing their plans.

As Mater from Cars famously opined, you hurt your what? You plug your plug-in into a socket, right?

As far as I know, I don’t need a converter for my shaver when I travel around this great nation of ours. If the plug-in electric vehicles of Toyota—I mean, tomorrow need some special big ass socket, well, let them sell me one. If an apartment complex needs a dozen or so, let them charge their tenants for the privilege of plugging in, tuning out and paying rent. If I’m at the post office needs one, forget about it. I’ll plug in when I get home. Next?

Nope. Ms. Schewel considers this one of those “stakeholder” deals. Which, to me, is the sound bite of my tax dollars flying out of my wallet.

These stakeholders [lots of bureaucrats, ‘natch] must create a coordinated, multi-year plan that makes owning a plug-in better than owning a traditional car for the first local adopters. We’re developing a long list of ways to do this. A few of my personal favorites: a “plug-in” concierge call-in service for all owners; federal and local incentives bundled at the dealer for immediate cash back; special parking spots; free electricity for your vehicle.

Didn’t the Soviet Union have a little bother with all their coordinated, multi-year plans? If I recall, they were a communist dictatorship at the time. I know the Earth is warming, but can anyone understand my gut instinct: let’s not go there?

Surprisingly, Schewel’s GM-promulgated propaganda doesn’t end there. For me the segment title “How Much is Enough?” pretty much answers itself. But for Schewel, the sky’s the limit. Or should it be “this guy’s the limit”?

President Obama’s goal of 1 million plug-ins by 2015 is not a revolution either. We need millions upon millions of plug-ins (coupled with smarter land-use planning to reduce driving, and huge investments in public transit).

Me? I need a drink.

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2 of 37 comments
  • Rusted Source Rusted Source on Feb 10, 2009

    I'm not a proponent of Hydrogen, I don't really know a thing about it, but I agree in theory it doesn't sound completely safe. What I meant by infrastructure spending was that the environmentalists have the government by the balls, but spending money to generate 'plug-in stations' and ramping up the grid just because everyone is convinced that electric is the way of the future seems like a waste to me. People should expect to only charge their electric cars overnight at home but if they want to travel longer distances and still be labeled 'green', then Hydrogen seems like the better option. I'm sure if a Honda FCX Clarify had blown up like the Hindenburg, we'd have heard about it by now. Even hybrids make more sense than primary electric drive cars.

  • T2 T2 on Feb 10, 2009

    Let me attempt to end this thread on subject. In my understanding Amory Lovins was a proponent for the Hyper car. The car would be made of composite materials where lightness is king. He was attributed the statement that you can no more expect to make an efficient car from steel than make a successful airplane from cast iron. In that regard the Hyper Car type of vehicle wouldn't mix with the GM philosophy of every platform needing the abiliity to support a drop-in V8, particularly as the VOLT hybrid continues the tradition by dropping in a massive 16Kw-hr battery pack this time around. I am therefore surprised to learn that the Rocky Mountain Institute has changed their direction to heavier machinery. Series hybrids with 16kwh-hr batteries make little sense in engineering terms. There is a niche for an electric vehicle with a hundred mile range. How broad this niche will be depends on the perceived "range anxiety". The range potential can always be increased by "Park and Ride" or a Daily rental as required. The series hybrid with no battery or 'Virtual Battery' technology, as I refer to it, makes a lot of sense when you crunch the numbers. Of course a guy like Lutz who is not technically literate and likes to play around with Halo cars instead is not going to see that. GM needs to get a real powertrain engineer in that position. That the official RMI stance also embraces plug-ins infers to me that their interest in the Hyper concept is fading. Pity, since Fiat is introducing two-cylinder engines for the Panda, one version of which, in turbo trim, produces 105Hp. T2

  • Mike Beranek I don't care about the vehicles. But I'd be on board for inspecting the drivers.
  • Art Vandelay Coming to a rental lot near you. And when it does know there is a good chance EBFlex and Tassos have puffed each other's peters in it!
  • Art Vandelay I doubt there is even room for EBFlex and Tassos to puff each other's peters in that POS
  • Art Vandelay The lack of side windows is a boon for EBFlex and Tassos as nobody can see them puffing each other's peters back there!
  • Art Vandelay They all have sunroofs which is good for EBFlex and Tassos...one can stand and hang out the roof while the other puffs his peter