General Motors joins the green bandwagon

GM has grabbed the first headlines for a new breed of eco-friendly cars.

General Motors Corp. has never been considered a close friend of environmentalists, but the company seems to be turning over a new leaf. Regardless of their past, GM announced a new vehicle prototype that could help shape the near future of automobiles.

Usually out-greened by Toyota or Honda, GM took a strong step forward with the unveiling of its new plug-in hybrid concept. The Volt, as it has been cutely named, created a buzz at the North American International Auto Show and should help spur the development of improved car technology in the coming years.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles use a battery which can be charged from a simple electrical outlet. In the case of the Volt, the battery would supply the energy needed to power the car, and two six-gallon gas tanks would be used to recharge the battery during longer trips. GM claims the car could have a range of 40 miles without using any gasoline. With the use of gas, the car would have a range of 640 miles.

Much news has been made of hydrogen fuel cells, but more data seem to suggest that these vehicles won’t be viable for at least several decades.

In the meantime, plug-in hybrids seem to be the next phase of green car-technology. Despite the initial clamoring about GM’s revelation, even plug-in hybrids remain a dream for current consumers. Battery technology is still being perfected, and a country of plug-in cars would add some stress to the power grid.

The announcement is noteworthy, however, because it begins what is sure to be an arms race between the world’s top automakers. By beating Toyota to the punch, the Volt could encourage other car companies to speed up their research and development of this advanced technology.

It remains to be seen whether GM will continue this hybrid push or if it was done merely to grab headlines. Nevertheless, this should help pave the way for more cars like the Volt.