230 MPG, Fact or Fiction?

G.M. made a bold claim when they unveiled their first Chevy Volt, it was said to have 230 miles to the gallon. August 2009, the car was shown to the public, but one thing G.M. hasn’t released to the public is access for testing. The claim for 230 miles is an in-house estimate based on experimental EPA scenarios. However, the EPA did not perform the test and therefore they do not officially back it either. But who am I to judge. They only owe the American people $50.7 billion according to according to ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom. (http://bailout.propublica.org/entities/233-general-motors)

But that’s beside the point. I will say that even if the 230 is exaggerated, 40 miles on electricity and 50 MPG on gas is still an improvement. And for a company that is just coming out of the bankruptcy margin, it’s a step in the right direction. But a major problem Chevy is going to have will not be gas mileage but rather recharge stations. “80 percent of people in the U.S. commute less than 20 miles each way, making the Volt’s 40-mile range practical for daily life” (http://designobserver.com/). And a lot of that is made upon urban commuters. Most people who live in a city and own a car do not have garages to charge up to at home. At the Volt preview event Mr. Fritz, head of G.M., was quoted saying “If you’re going to park it on the street, I don’t know what to do actually, I don’t know how to address that situation.” (New York Times B5). So what about the major metropolitan areas? I guess G.M. doesn’t have an answer.

If Chevy is trying to make serious stride so are its Asian “counterparts.” Nissan is developing the Leaf, and they used similar tests to claim that they can do 367 MPG. Still, the most intrepid claim of all comes from Chinese electric car company BYD (http://www.bydit.com/doce/products/li.asp). They have claimed to have developed a new lithium battery that could seriously make electric cars a norm.  It’s called Li-ion and it could revolutionize the battery world. Just a few of the advantages are no harmful elements such as cadmium, lead, mercury, etc. This battery is said to have a faster recharge time and a higher voltage. There is also a similar project taking place at MIT by researchers Byoungwoo Kang & Gerbrand Ceder. So if and when this technology becomes a reality it might be a little easier and greener to go electric.

However, Chevy and the many others that are working on electric cars haven’t addressed how these cars will get charged on a routinely. There are two factors to the problem. First, where will they charge when not in a home garage? No automakers have made substantial efforts to address this. There has been some discussion to ask some corporations to offer charging stations at their buildings for their workers. But, what about the urban citizen? How hard could it be to convert city-parking garages with charging ports? Ok, let’s say we solve that problem the bigger problem is where is this massive amount of power coming from. Most of the United States’ power comes from coal and oil. Which in the end nullifies the green effect that electric cars provide. Sure pollution from petrol-powered cars is gone but now the power plants are working even harder.  My point is yes were taking baby steps in the right direction but we still have so far to go. The electric car is not the single component of the solution. We need to transform the whole equation. And that my friends are where the new breed of designer comes in. No matter what sector of design we all must understand to address the problem we have to confront the problem on all fronts. The car, the power of the car, and how to produce the power all need to be redesigned.


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