Not to be outdone by General Motors’ (NYSE: GM) announcement in early June that they will begin production of their new plug-in car, the 150 mpg Chevy Volt with an anticipated production run of 10,000 vehicles for the 2010 model year, Toyota (NYSE: TM) and Honda (NYSE: HMC) have jumped into the race with greater publicity for their entries into the plug-in car market. The Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid which is driven by electric motors which are,in turn, powered by plug-in lithium batteries and supplemented by a generator for recharging the batteries that can be powered by a gasoline, ethanol, biodiesel or even fuel cell power plant. Representing a significant step forward, GM plans to increase production of substantially for 2011 and beyond will be utilizing production lines previously used for producing gas guzzling SUV’s. This represents a clear signal that American is speaking with its pocket book and GM is listening and responding.
Toyota was quick on the heels of the GM announcement, responding two days later with their own reminder that they will be offering their latest version of the Prius hybrid, with plug-in lithium-ion batteries, for model year 2010 as well. The Toyota Plug-in Prius features longer range plug-in lithium-batteries but still uses the gasoline engine to power the drive train when batteries are not sufficient or running out of a charge. Prius is the top selling hybrid in America and signaled a growing acceptance of the hybrid powered automobile. The new, plug-in Prius is expected to deliver around 100 mpg.
Honda joined in as well, running commercials on TV featuring their FCX Clarity while announcing they are beginning production for sale in Japan and the US on a limited basis. The FCX Clarity is a pollution free, hydrogen fuel cell car that uses no gasoline at all. Being powered exclusively by hydrogen, the Clarity’s only emission is H2O but presents owners with limited availability of fueling stations. As a result, Honda is limiting initial availability to 600 customers in the Los Angeles area and then, only on a lease. Proof of the consumer’s interest in escaping the victimization by skyrocketing gasoline prices is evidenced by the fact the lottery system Honda setup to choose the first owners was inundated by more than 50,000 entries. The Clarity will get an approximate 68 mpg at a current cost of around $5 per kg of Hydrogen, the equivalent of 1 gal of gasoline. We expect the cost of hydrogen to fall dramatically as production and delivery systems are improved and expanded.
This activity over the past 11 days provides evidence that the paradigm shift we have been talking about is underway. Three major auto manufacturers are committed and competing for market share in the ultra high mileage or petroleum free markets. The rest of the field is sure to follow, if not now, when the initial sales figures are in and we predict a tsunami of interest. The pain of $4 will not quickly fade like it did at $2… it’s simply too much too fast.
Alternative Energy Today has reviewed these three early entrants and find three totally different concepts. The Toyota Prius represents an improvement to the “traditional” gas/electric hybrid, if we can consider such a new industry’s first entry as “traditional”. GM, on the other hand, has decided to take the hybrid to the next generation. There is little doubt that the future of hybrids, as technology advances will surround the battery/generator concept as opposed to the dual drive system of the Prius and other current generation hybrids. We applaud GM for taking such a bold step and think it will pay handsome dividends in the future.
Honda’s introduction of the pure hydrogen fuel cell automobile, is a bold step indeed and, although not commercially viable at this time, may lay an important foundation for the future, as we see hydrogen fuel cell cars playing an essential role in coming decades.
Another unique aspect we notice about these three cars, is how similar in appearance two are and how strikingly different the third is by contrast. While Toyota and Honda have chosen to stick with what we consider to be the “green” look that only a “dyed-in-the-wool” environmentalist (organic dye and no hormones in those sheep thank you) could love, Chevy has decided to go with a bold and very sexy look, the kind that would appeal to a broad range of consumers.
While it’s true, that many Americans would purchase a hybrid for the cost savings and the freedom from OPEC dependence even if the cars didn’t meet their stylistic aspirations, we American’s really do love our cars and we hate to settle. In our opinion, the Chevy Volt has a distinct advantage stylistically, and could easily bury the Prius and Honda as a result if they are equally priced. Personally, I want to be environmentally conscious and I certainly hate the idea of being considered OPEC’s “biatch” but that doesn’t mean I have to advertise it by driving a car that looks like I am on my way to a Friends of the Earth meeting wearing my Birkenstock’s and sporting an Al Gore 2008 bumper sticker. I put playing cards on my bicycle and hated driving my mothers station wagon when I went down to the Mel’s Drive-In for a burger and Cherry Coke for the very same reason. I wanted to be “bad”… looking at least even if I was good. It’s always seemed to me that the captain of the Chess Club would drive a Prius but the Quarterback of the football team, now I could see him cruising for chicks in a Chevy Volt. GM seems to still know that better than the Japanese. Of course, this is just our opinion and time will be the final arbiter.
Regardless, the consumer and America will be the winners in the long run. A new day is dawning, I can feel it.