GM Says Challenge X Is The Future, We Say We Want It Now

Illustration for article titled GM Says Challenge X Is The Future, We Say We Want It Now

Looking at the array of biodiesel hybrids, ethanol hydrogen hybrids and fuel cells on display in Central Park this morning, the impression we got was GM is looking to these technologies as the future. All we could think was how much they should be the present. You see, this wasn't a display of pie-in-the-sky concepts or prototypes, but actual vehicles capable of competently carrying humans and all of them designed and built by students on a limited budget. If a couple of pubescent geeks still waiting for their first pocket protectors can put a functioning biodiesel hybrid on a driveway, why isn't GM doing so right now?

We've heard all the arguments before: lack of infrastructure, high development costs, unproven technology, bad leadership; but here are vehicles which, as we speak, are being driven to Washington DC in climate-controlled comfort by their student creators

Yes, GM is developing the Volt, a car that's essentially electric on a platform allowing for production-swappable powertrain technology to eliminate the limited range. Basically, it allows for every powertrain under the sun including diesel, petrol, hydrogen and probably poop — but we don't want to wait until 2011 to drive it, we want it now damnit. Yes, even the poop-powered version. The company intends for Challenge X to highlight possibilities, and it does. However the unfortunate flip-side is it also highlights the lack of foresight in their past, a mistake they're only now trying to fix. After all, if a bunch of kids can build a fleet of alternate-fuel cars, why can't one of the world's biggest companies? And no, a limited-run fuel cell Equinox fleet does not count.

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Actually I believe that the major problem isn't that GM isn't technically capable of putting something like this on the road. It's that GM's cost premium for doing so is so high that they'd rather not sell anything than sell cars at a $10,000+ loss per vehicle.

Of course, one of the problems is that in order to get costs down you have to just plain start selling stuff so you get economies of scale that'll help lower costs, but since GM's financial situation is kind of problematic right now they can't as easily spend money on money-losing projects that'll help in the long term.

So GM has to be very selective as far as what they can afford to build right now, and I guess they've chosen to focus their funds on the Volt. Time will tell whether it was a good decision, but for now Toyota has about a decade-long lead in terms of cost-effective hybrid tech.