Friday, July 23, 2010

Power shifting

Hey remember that electric car that GM unveiled three years ago? You know, the one that was going to save the company from bankruptcy (oops) and lead the American auto industry into a bright, new, clean-energy future? It looks like it might actually be coming, finally.

Nice spot. My guess is the car's going to be nice as well. And at $40,000 ($32,500 after tax incentives), they're probably going to sell every one of the 10,000 they're planning on making to people who think they're doing the right thing by driving a car that produces almost no emissions. 

While it may be technically true that the car itself has a tiny gas engine that should rarely be in use, the Volt will still have a significant environmental impact. Especially since most of America's electricity is supplied by coal. 

When you plug your Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf or any other electric vehicle into an outlet, you're plugging it into your local powerplant increasing demand for coal. We're not reducing the environmental impact of the automobile, just shifting it from the Gulf waters to West Virginia mountaintops. We're also trading tailpipe emissions for those that come from smokestacks.

I don't know which is better or worse, but I do know that until 100% of our energy is supplied by wind, solar or some other magical source (which ain't gonna happen anytime soon), there will be no "clean" car and marketing it as such, even as subtly as Chevy is in this spot, is disingenuous at best.


  1. Too bad the Volt doesn't come with a George Foreman Grilling Machine option so you could prepare a steak on the drive home from the office.

  2. Do you know who did the spot? I wasn't sure if it was done before, during or after the CE-Publicis-Goodby shuffle.

  3. This was a Goodby effort. Their first for Volt.

  4. I like the commercial, it's really nice. It's too bad the whole conversation around EVs is so one sided right now. Good for you for raising the issue about coal fired plants, lord knows we won't hear about it from our Government which has decided that EVs are the right answer.

    EVs are a small part of an answer that should be detailed in a comprehensive energy policy. I'm afraid that developing that comprehensive policy is simply too hard for our politicians so we have to put up with half baked ideas that are anointed 'the answer."

  5. Thanks Cam.

    It's just one of the issues that's been gnawing at me about electric vehicles. Our grid is overtaxed as it is, and as far as I can tell there's no real plan to upgrade it. We have brown outs in major cities now when the temperature rises above 90 degrees. So where's the juice going to come from to power the 49 million electric vehicles we're projected to have on the road in 2020? It's a question we should be asking.

  6. I don't see this as a huge power drain on the system, at least in the near term. The people who are going to be able to have these are people who own their own home and can put in the equipment to charge it. I rent and have a garage space but I think my building owner would be rather pi$$ed if I was plugging my can into her socket every night.

    Let's hope that the people who get them get solar panels to store up charge during the day. GM & Nissan should be partnering on making that happen.