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Chevy Volts forward

Chevy introduces its concept car, Volt, at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show.

The Chevy Volt concept car
The Chevy Volt concept car
CNET Networks/Sarah Tew

Bad pun, I know, but "Chevy charges forward" would be worse, because the concept Volt is an electric car. Chevy grabbed the front of its new Camaro and grafted on a small sports coupe made of lightweight composite materials developed by GE. GM has been using its Chevrolet brand to push its most futuristic alternative energy ideas, such as the previously announced Fuel Cell Equinox. The Volt seems especially designed to counteract the bashing GM got in the movie Who Killed the Electric Car?, as the Volt builds on the technology GM used in its original electric car, the EV1.

While the car looks pretty cool on the outside, with a clear Lexan top stretching down over the hatchback, its underpinnings would make any tech geek drool. The Volt uses what GM calls its E-flex System, a drivetrain using an electric motor to turn the front wheels, getting its power from a bit lithium-ion battery down the center. With that electric drivetrain system, the car can go 40 miles and takes a little more than six hours to charge up.

The underpinnings of the Volt
The underpinnings of the Volt CNET Networks/Sarah Tew

So to extend the range, GM adds in a three cylinder, turbocharged 1-liter engine. This engine isn't connected to the wheels, rather, it turns on and runs at a steady speed whenever the battery needs charging. GM says the range with the engine goes up to 640 miles. Now I know some of you are thinking, "Yes! I've been saying for years that instead of hybrids, cars should use engines to generate electricity, like they do in locomotives." Well, I've got some bad news--the Volt is far from reality. GM's press materials point out that a technological breakthrough in battery development must occur to for this concept to work. Currently, there's no Lithium-ion battery big enough to meet the car's requirements.

I don't know enough about battery engineering to figure out why someone just can't build a bigger battery, but I'm sure GM would use it if it existed. But take heart--battery technology, stuck in lead-acid stasis for most of the last century, is being pursued with a vengeance. The big brass ring? Owning a technology that could be used in all the world's automobiles.