Enter the Volt
Squeezing more miles out of each gallon by using electricity makes sense in a world of increasingly expensive petroleum. A smarter way to solve the hybrid equation is by using smidgens of gasoline to make electric cars attractive to tomorrow's commuters. This is the game changer, the plug-in car that fans have been advocating.
You already know that the Chevrolet Volt has a battery pack that, when plugged in overnight, provides about 40 miles of pure-electric driving. Now that the wraps are off the production version scheduled for sale in two years, GM is finally adding information to the hype clouding this project.
The Volt will be a four-passenger, hatchback sedan. Major chassis components are shared with GM's new global compact platform, but extensive alterations were required to accommodate the five-foot-long, T-shaped Li-ion battery pack. If the show car was a chopped-top Camaro with vestigial rear doors, the production aesthetic leans more toward the Chevy Cruze that debuted at the Paris show. Here's why: Few budget- and energy-minded consumers purchase racy-looking cars. The squished roofline left insufficient headroom for four adults. And, according to designer Bob Boniface, 400 hours of wind-tunnel effort trimmed the Volt's drag coefficient by 30 percent, thereby adding several critical miles to its electric-only range.
A 149-hp (111-kW) AC motor drives the Volt's front wheels through speed-reduction and differential gears. All of the propulsion torque flows via this path. For that and other reasons, GM calls the Volt an electric car - specifically an Extended-Range Electric Vehicle, or E-Rev - versus a plug-in hybrid.
The word hybrid has traditionally described a vehicle employing two forms of energy conversion. By this definition, the Volt is a series hybrid, because the energy produced by combustion is converted to electricity before it's used to drive the wheels. Jon Lauckner, GM's VP of global program management, believes otherwise and offered these reasons why the Volt is not a hybrid:
- Propulsion is handled strictly by the electric motor.
- The gasoline engine runs only when the battery is depleted.
- The car's performance is determined by the drive motor and battery system.
- The primary fuel is electricity.
We expect the court of common sense to find GM guilty of coining yet another catchy name - plus the inevitable acronym - that only confuses those interested in joining the plug-in movement. But how the Volt is categorized pales in comparison with how far it leaps ahead of Toyota in the green-car game.