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GM and the other Detroit auto makers just reported that new car sales have hit a 15-year low. Could vehicles such as the Chevy VOLT, (pictured above in artist Jason Cullinane’s estimation) save America’s automakers?  Detroit is paying the price for having fought tooth-and-nail to avoid a transition to smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles and will now have to look at thousands of SUV’s sitting forlornly at dealerships for the foreseeable future. It takes a long time to change Detroit’s production cycle and even longer to change its management mindset. If Chevy is counting on the Volt to replace gas guzzlers in its inventory, it will take a while. Production of the Volt will begin in late 2010 with about 10.000 units hitting dealerships in year one.

volt_1.jpgThe Volt will be powered by Chevy’s E-Flex Propulsion System which will use a lithium-ion battery with a variety of range-extending on-board power sources, including gas and, in some vehicles, E85 ethanol to recharge the battery while driving.  Chevy’s emphasis that the Volt is an electric, and not a hybrid vehicle, is just semantics.

When it comes to plugging in, the Volt will be designed to use a common 110–volt household plug. For someone who drives less than 40 miles a day the VOLT will use zero gasoline and produce zero emissions. For longer trips Chevy Volt’s range-extending power source kicks in to recharge the lithium-ion battery and give the Volt an estimated range of about 600 miles at 50 mpg, but a tasty 100 mpg on a 100 mile trip. It will take an estimated 6 hours to fully charge.

The VOLT could cost anywhere from $30k to $40k in its initial production run.  Can the same guys who killed the electric car be saved by one?  Let’s just say I’m skeptical.