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With the big three already deep in the doo doo, is the Chevy Volt the answer to General Motors problems or will it prove to be the final nail in the manufacturers coffin.
Much has been made of the Chevy Volt, a plug-in electric hybrid. GM sees this idea as the saviour of its company. The only problem may be that the technology is already out of date by the time it is launched. Battery power may indeed prove to be a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine in the short term, but with limited mileage on a full charge and hours needed to recharge, the hydrogen fuel cell looks, on the face of it, a much better long term solution.
Enter the Honda FCX Clarity. Powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, the Clarity has been hailed as the most important car launched this century. Creating electricity by combining hydrogen that is stored in a fuel tank on board the vehicle, with oxygen from the air, the only bi products produced are heat and water. Giving us the first truly eco friendly car, that is, if you ignore how the hydrogen is produced (currently from electricity generated from fossil fuels).
With a top speed of one hundred miles per hour and a claimed range of 280 miles, the Honda Clarity does not need to be recharged and does not need a conventional internal combustion engine to top up its charge, it is simply filled with gaseous hydrogen at suitable filling stations. These stations may be limited at the moment, but as demand grows for these vehicles more stations will no doubt follow.
Currently available on a six hundred dollar a month three year lease, the Clarity will no doubt already have a host of celebrities lining up to confirm their green credentials and as it is only available in southern California (probably the most environmentally aware location in the States) the allocation has already been filled. This area has been chosen for the trials purely and simply because it has at least got a few of the hydrogen filling stations needed to refill the Clarity.
So, with General Motors announcing that it will delay the completion of the factory that will produce the engines for the Volt, even though it has been held up as the symbol of their future. It is looking more and more as if the hydrogen car may overtake the electric / hybrid plug in before it even makes it into the showrooms. GM hope to launch the Volt in 2010, but Honda will have no doubt ironed out any glitches with the Clarity by then, giving them a clear advantage over others, just as Toyota did with the Prius.
With technology moving towards cars that produce zero emissions General Motors may be pinning their hopes on a car that has a very limited shelf life. Historically, it has been very late in realising that its customers needs have changed. In its haste to catch up, has it once again misjudged the direction in which the market is moving? If it has, then the Chevy Volt could very well prove to be the final nail in the coffin for General Motors.