Much has been written about Chevy's 100 mpg Volt — a gamble that, if it pays off, could send shockwaves through the automotive industry, especially with the price of oil going nowhere but up.
The key to the technology behind the Volt's promise to go 40 miles on a single charge is the development of its lithium-ion battery. GM has staked a lot on having this battery — and thus the Volt — ready by 2010, but questions still remain.
The company behind the Volt's battery is A123 Systems, and it’s charged with creating a product that will not only reliably power the vehicle those crucial 40 miles, but can also last the life of the car and not burst into flames if punctured.
Currently, most hybrids use nickel metal hydride batteries. The promise of lithium-ion batteries involves packing more power into a smaller package, but obviously this comes with technical issues, not to mention a hefty price tag.
A123 thinks it can have the technical matters ironed out and the battery ready for mass production before 2010. Even so, the cost is likely to remain high. Chevy has said the Volt will cost $35,000, and the battery for the Tesla Roadster — an all-electric car that uses similar technology — will account for $20,000 of its $98,000 price tag, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Interestingly, Toyota — typically a leader in the hybrid field — has not jumped on the lithium-ion bandwagon. Although it plans to use the batteries in some of its upcoming vehicles, Automotive News has reported that the company wants to leapfrog this technology with zinc-air batteries — the kind used in hearing aids, of all things.
This may all sound a bit wonkish to some, but keep in mind what we're likely seeing with this battery race is the trial-and-error period for the future of the automobile.
Company Says Its Batteries Will Change Future of Cars (Detroit Free Press)
Toyota Working on Post-Lithium Ion Battery Technology (Automotive News Europe via Autoblog)