Hybrid vehicles are a reality,
and have been for some time in America. Most hybrids, like
this Chevy Tahoe two-mode hybrid employ small capacity petrol
engines alongside relatively powerful electric engines to
provide low fuel economy and reasonable performance.
Companies like General Motors are well aware of the importance
of the Sports Utility Market, which has been one of the big
growth areas in vehicle production over the past decade.
However, with ever-increasing
fuel prices, analysts have been predicting a swing away from
SUVs, simply because these relatively large family vehicles
are not particularly fuel efficient.
Hybrid SUVs address the economy problem, and the large battery
for the electric motor is re-charged by the petrol engine on a
Hybrids like the Chevy Tahoe have provided a taste of
emission-free, alternative power possibilities.
Full-sized buses using very
advanced Hybrid technology have been developed by various
companies and some are already employed in cities around the
world. Pure electric power was commonly used by city buses in
the past, including some in South Africa.
GM’s Hybrid long-distance bus was tested extensively in cold
high-lying regions and in the desert and similar technology
will go into production on Chevrolet and GMC sports utility
vehicles in 2007.
But emission-free pure electric
vehicles remain one of the goals as global vehicle population
heads towards the one billion mark. And a parallel alternative
energy source constantly under development is hydrogen.
The Opel Zafira Hydro-Gen3 uses
hydrogen fuel-cell technology, and in late 2004 Germany’s
first hydrogen fuel station, with access to the public, was
opened in Berlin. The Zafira Hydro-Gen3 covered over 9000
kilometres in a European marathon in 2004, and since then has
been used by a German furniture company to do city deliveries.
The Zafira’s 60 kilowatt electric motor is powered by a
series of interconnected fuel cells, which convert hydrogen
into stored electricity.
Other manufacturers, like BMW
have been working on hydrogen-fueled vehicles while still
employing the internal combustion engine, or IC, as Bob Lutz
The fuel-cell drive-module uses about 200 fuel cells which are
stored where the engine would normally be in a conventional
vehicle. The hydrogen tank located towards the rear of the
vehicle operates under very high pressure and liquid hydrogen
is then fed to the fuel cells which convert the gas into
The Chevrolet Corvette has been
around for over fifty years. In the past a few left-hand-drive
examples were imported here, but in the late nineties only
right-hand drive cars have been allowed for importation to SA.
The Corvette is now in its sixth generation and is recognized
as a serious sports car with performance and handling to rival
Europe’s finest. Car Torque sampled a Corvette in late 2004
and we were very impressed.
For the past few years GM’s Corvette division has undertaken
a serious factory-funded racing programme and it has been
The Corvette has notched up a string of victories in the GT
category at Le Mans. After a concerted test programme, hopes
are high that the new C6 Corvette will again be victorious
against the likes of Porsche, Dodge’s Viper and other series
production sports racers in the 24 Hour Classic held
traditionally in mid-June.
From international race
programmes to concept vehicles like the V8 Graphyte hybrid SUV
and less ambitious concept cars, General Motors still gives
off extremely optimistic vibes.
Will its strongest product drive in the company’s
ninety-nine year history enable it to overcome its financial
While South Africans look
forward to the advent of the Hummer and Cadillac on our roads
and motorists across the globe enjoy products as diverse as
the road-gobbling Corvette and the Daewoo-sourced mini cars,
one has to conclude that General Motors will be around for
another century at least.
The General Motors Story - part 1
The General Motors Story - part