As set out in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, basic survival must first be established before one can move on to worry about the esoteric concerns of philosophy, morality or ethics. In an odd twist of logic, however, America's car companies have been forced to premise their immediate survival on their past work on a long-term future in hearings before Congress. At the core of General Motors' plan lies the ongoing development of the Volt plug-in hybrid, which will have cost the company about $750 million by the time it hits the road in 2010.

Called before Congress to present plans for viability in the future, all three of Detroit's carmakers relied in part on electric or hybrid technologies.
Though it calls the volt the future of the company, GM admits that the Volt probably won't be profitable throughout its first generation, or around 2016. According to CNN, Rob Petersen, a member of GM's electric vehicle team, said, "The Volt is the first step in a long-term viability plan." It's a plan so long-term that it's hard to build a business case to support it.

Taking the next step in hybrid and electric vehicle technology, and being responsible for pushing the boundaries of what will define the segment in the future can be valuable for the company's image, but getting there is an immense gamble - one that has cost GM nearly three quarters of a billion dollars. Now the challenge lies in getting to the point where it can have a chance to pay off.

There are ancillary benefits to the Volt's development, however. Advanced work on aerodynamics have a wide range of applicability to GM's other cars, the batteries and underlying hybrid technology could be used in any number of platforms, and the fuel-saving measures investigated for the Volt's combustion engine could have direct and immediate applicability in the cars already on the road.

Nonetheless, GM is in a precarious position as it pleads its case for emergency loans before Congress. Still at least two years away from the release of the Volt, and as much as ten years away from profitability on the car's technology, the need to develop a clear and sound business solution to the long-term future of the company - one not necessarily motivated by technological or ecological concerns - is huge.

Instead, the Volt appears to be aimed at creating a of perception for GM as a technology leader and green innovator, likening the plug-in to Toyota's Prius, which has cemented the Japanese carmaker as the central name in mainstream green motoring. Though that approach meets Congress' requirements, in many ways it puts the cart before the Maslowian horse.