Death by Car

capitalism's drive to carmageddon: news & comments

Where There’s Smoke…

chevy-volt-garage-fire Remember our recent report about a Chevy Volt catching fire three weeks after a crash test? Turns out it wasn’t a fluke. According to Automotive News:

In lab tests completed last week by U.S. safety regulators, a second Volt [battery] pack began to smoke and throw off sparks while a third battery pack caught fire a week after a simulated crash.

GM may redesign the battery for its Chevrolet Volt to address issues raised after federal officials opened a safety probe into the plug-in electric [sic] car, CEO Dan Akerson said today.

GM said on Monday it would also offer loaner vehicles to about 5,500 Volt owners as it works with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on ways to reduce the risk of battery fires breaking out days after crashes involving the car.

How delightful! After shelling out $40,000+ for the car and another few thousand for the home charging station, you get to enjoy a loaner GM.

Such is reality in the Rube Goldberg world of late Oil Age automobiles.

Share Button

Smoking Halo

dumpster_fire Not that it much matters, given the sub-anemic sales, but it seems that GM’s vaporware/haloware/loss leader, the Chevy Volt, might be prone to conflagration after collisions. Bloomberg reports:

U.S. auto-safety regulators are scrutinizing the safety of lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles after a General Motors Co. (GM) Chevrolet Volt battery caught fire, people familiar with the probe said.

The regulators have approached all automakers, including GM, Nissan Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co., that sell or have plans to sell vehicles with lithium-ion batteries with questions about the batteries’ fire risk, four people familiar with the inquiry said.

The Volt caught fire while parked at a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing center in Wisconsin, three weeks after a side-impact crash test, said an agency official. The fire was severe enough to burn vehicles parked near the Volt, the agency official said. Investigators determined the battery was the source of the fire, the official said.

As usual, NHTSA is dutifully representing the interests of the industry by keeping the investigation secret:

The official, as well as the three other people familiar with the inquiry, said they couldn’t be named because the investigation isn’t public.

Share Button

Remember these?:

volt_230volt_label

The left image shows Chevy’s erstwhile claim that its Volt model would be getting 230 MPG. The right one is the EPA playing along and saying it would be getting some blend of 93 and 37 MPG.

Now that the Volt exists (albeit barely, and without its promised all-electric power system) in the real world, what MPG does it actually get?

41, according to edmunds.com.

Neither the miniscule sales nor the pathetic results, of course, are stopping GM from exploiting the contraption as halo-ware. [Note the highly curious inclusion in this ad of almost-questions about why the Volt isn't all-electric. What's up with that?]

Share Button

laughing-cat I have just learned that the voice-over, read by former cocaine dealer and c-list actor Timothy Allen Dick (stage name “Tim Allen”) on Chevrolet’s television ad for its vaporware/haloware/gas-electric hybrid model, the Chevy Volt, goes as follows:

“This is America, man.  Home of the highway, last-minute detours and spontaneous acts of freedom.”

ROFLMFAO2 :

Spontaneous,” as if anything about either the Chevy Volt or the General Motors corporation resides within a light year of easy, natural outcomes!

Freedom,” as if ordinary Americans have (or have ever had, since the consolidation of corporate capitalism) serious transportation choices!

Only in America, man.  Only in America.

Share Button

Electrically Flaccid

flush According to the corporate media, the Obama administration, and the usual crowd of half-informed conspiracy theorists and technophiles, “plug-in” electric cars are both possible and almost here as a viable automotive fleet-replacement technology.

Alas, the laws of physics, which enforce a rather strict connection between an object’s mass and the amount of energy it takes to move it, seem to continue to govern the universe, despite fervent contrary wishes.

Introduced as a concept car in early 2007, the ballyhooed Chevy Volt, to name one telling example, remains a mere industrial experiment.

And, meanwhile, here are the findings of a January 7 research report from the Boston Consulting Group:

DETROIT, January 7, 2010—Although electric-car battery costs are expected to fall sharply over the coming decade, they are unlikely to drop enough to spark widespread adoption of  fully electric vehicles without a major breakthrough in battery technology, according to a new study by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

The study, released today, concludes that the long-term cost target used by many carmakers in planning their future fleets of electric cars—$250 per kilowatt-hour (kWh)—is unlikely to be achieved unless there is a major breakthrough in battery chemistry that substantially increases the energy a battery can store without signifi-cantly increasing the cost of either battery materials or the manufacturing process.

“Given current technology options, we see substantial challenges to achieving this goal by 2020,” said Xavier Mosquet, Detroit-based leader of BCG’s global automotive practice and a coauthor of the study. “For years, people have been saying that one of the keys to reducing our dependency on fossil fuels is the electrification of the vehicle fleet. The reality is, electric-car batteries are both too expensive and too technologically limited for this to happen in the foreseeable future.”

Most electric cars in the new decade will use lithium-ion batteries, which are lighter and more powerful than the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries used today in hybrids like the Toyota Prius. Citing the current cost of similar lithium-ion batteries used in consumer electronics (about $250 to $400 per kWh), many original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) hope that the cost of an automotive lithium-ion battery pack will fall from its current price of between $1,000 and 1,200 per kWh to between $250 and $500 per kWh at scaled production. BCG, however, points out that consumer batteries are simpler than car batteries and must meet significantly less demanding requirements, especially regarding safety and life span. So actual battery costs will likely be higher than what carmakers predict.

Interestingly, these facts are almost certainly well-known to the overseers of the remaining auto corporations.  For instance, the fresh-faced change agent Ed Whitacre, GM’s “new” CEO, seems appropriately jaded:  “I know we have to have an electric car.” Hardly the statement of somebody about to unleash a new epoch-making invention!

Also of note is the corporate media’s predictable mis-reporting of the source of “the challenge” underlying the electric car conversion fantasy.  In The Washington Post‘s telling, a reporter with the Dickensianly perfect name of Peter Whoriskey would have it this way:

But overshadowing prospects for the transition of the vast U.S. auto fleet to electric — and the billions of dollars the automakers have invested in the switch — is the question of whether anyone beyond a sliver of enthusiasts will soon embrace the newfangled cars, which force drivers to rethink their habits and expectations of convenience.

This, of course, fits the standard ideology, in which automobiles come from Joe Sixpack and Joe Sixpack only, no capitalists involved — so all problems return to the humble Sixpack doorstep, not the needs and dictates of the corporate overclass.

9MMWCEEEA9BQ
Share Button