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The General Motors Story - Part 3

Broadcast date : 4th June 2006

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 continuous basis.

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 calls it.

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 electrical energy.

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 highly successful.

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 woes?

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 2

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