2007 Chevrolet Volt Concept

2007 Chevrolet Volt Concept

Why it's one of our most signficicant: While the Volt concept is an electric car with a small turbocharged engine to keep the batteries charged, the edgy sedan's "E-flex" technology provides a template for future fuel cell vehicles. The clever layout showcased here offers the flexibility to bolt any power source into the Volt to keep the battery charged. Very cool. Read our full story below.

Looking at two of Chevy's concepts here at the Detroit show -- retro-gorgeous Camaro and the futuristically menacing Volt -- you'd never know that Chevrolet doesn't have a single styling hit on its hands apart from the Corvette. Strange as it is, it seems that the General's value brand has found its design niche: in aggressive sports cars.

Oh wait - despite the twenty-one inch rims, the Volt isn't a sports car. It gets 150 miles per gallon and seats four. 150 mpg? Well, kind of. Keep reading.

Other than its drop-dead styling, the coolest thing about the Volt is its powertrain. It starts with a lithium-ion battery that provides the electric motor with a 40-mile range and can be completely charged by plugging it into a 110-volt outlet for six hours.

Then, the Volt has a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged motor that never powers the wheels directly. As an "EV range-extender", the Volt uses the combustion engine, which runs at a constant speed to maximize efficiency, to generate electricity to power the electric motor and charge the battery when necessary.

Here's the 150 mpg bit: If you have a 60-mile round trip every day to work, 40 of those miles could be dispensed with using only the battery. The remaining 20 miles would be propelled with the gas engine running -- at 50 mpg. The result is that you travel 60 miles on just 0.4 gallons of gas, averaging 150 mpg.

That sounds wonderful, but the Volt doesn't actually exist yet. Why? Because it would require a 400-lb lithium-ion battery, and lithium-ion batteries that large aren't ready for production yet.

One particularly clever feature about the Volt is its E-Flex System, which is an architecture that's designed to accommodate different types of engines. The three-cylinder installed in this show car can run on gasoline or E85, which is a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. But instead, a diesel could be fitted. Even one that runs on bio-diesel. Or a hydrogen-powered fuel cell. Or pretty much anything (except, maybe, a jet engine. That would be hard to fit.) Expect to see different variants of the Volt at future car shows.

Way to go, Chevrolet, for making a flexible electric concept vehicle that looks good enough to grab the attention of sports car fans.

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