General Motors, Chrysler and Ford face an uncertain future. They have been lobbying Congress for a $25 billion bailout, which representatives seem reluctant to grant them. It seems like an odd time to be talking about technological breakthroughs in the automotive industry. But GM is saying that it still intends to come out with its plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt, by 2010, and that this new car will “completely reinvent the automotive industry.”

The Tesla Roadster is an all-electric sports car you can buy today.
The Tesla Roadster is an all-electric sports car you can buy today.

Plug-in hybrids run for a certain distance on batteries (so far, hackers have been able to create plug-in hybrids that run for about 10 miles on batteries). After that, they revert to standard hybrid operation, which uses gas and electricity. When you get home in the evening, you plug the car in and recharge the batteries so that the following day you can drive another 10 miles with the electric charge.

Today you can only get a plug-in hybrid by hacking your Prius to add more batteries to it. We filmed members of the Palo Alto nonprofit CalCars doing just this for our QUEST story on plug-in hybrids in 2007. If you’re not handy with tools, you can have someone else retrofit your Prius with the necessary battery pack. Luscious Garage, in San Francisco, has started offering this service. They’re featured in today’s QUEST story “Waiting for the Electric Car,” which explores why all-electric everyday cars remain an elusive goal. The limiting factor is the difficulty in making a battery that is powerful, long-lasting and cheap. QUEST goes behind the scenes to a battery lab at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley to find out what goes into the making of a lithium-ion battery and why it’s taking so long to make one that can power an all-electric car, or even a plug-in hybrid that can go for more than 10 miles on its electric charge.

Producer’s Notes: Waiting for the Electric Car 12 March,2016Gabriela Quirós

Author

Gabriela Quirós

Gabriela Quirós is a video producer for KQED Science and the coordinating producer for Deep Look. She started her journalism career 25 years ago as a newspaper reporter in Costa Rica, where she grew up. She won two national reporting awards there for series on C-sections and organic agriculture, and developed a life-long interest in health reporting. She moved to the Bay Area in 1996 to study documentary filmmaking at the University of California-Berkeley, where she received master’s degrees in journalism and Latin American studies. She joined KQED as a TV producer when its science series QUEST started in 2006 and has covered everything from Alzheimer’s to bee die-offs to dark energy. She has won five regional Emmys and has shared awards from the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Independent from her work in KQED's science unit, she produced and directed the hour-long documentary Beautiful Sin, about the surprising story of how Costa Rica became the only country in the world to outlaw in vitro fertilization. The film aired nationally on public television stations in 2015.

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