2011 Chevrolet Volt Still on Schedule, Power Grid Poses Challenges

General Motors says that the 2011 Chevrolet Volt is still on schedule for its planned market launch in 2010. The only problem that remains is the available charging network for the plug-in hybrid.

GM has been testing versions of the Volt- in Chevrolet Cruze guise- for about a year and now plans to move beyond the development mule prototypes. The new test vehicles will look and feel like the real Volt. They will have a real Volt interior and exterior.

Despite corporate struggles and the Volt’s probable price tag, GM is so confident in about the technology that it has already started development of the second generation Voltec platform. Two variations of the Voltec platform are reported to be under development to help spread the powertrain’s development cost out. There is a European variant planned, the Opel Ampera, for release with the Volt and the Cadillac Converj concept shown at this year’s Detroit show also uses the Voltec platform.

The biggest hurdle to the Volt program- and plug-in electric and hybrid-electric vehicles in general- right now is the lack of charging infrastructure. The Volt will have an electric only range of 40 miles, enough to cover most Americans’ daily commutes. “It’s quite conceivable that 70 to 80 percent of people will use no gasoline at all,” said Tony Posawatz, the Volt’s vehicle line developer.

The fact that the Volt could feasibly use no gasoline at all immediately poses a problem. For people who live outside of a major city, it’s not a problem to charge the vehicle in a garage. However, people living in densely populated urban areas, charging is an issue. In many large cities (even in Ann Arbor, where our office is located), most people have to park on the street. With no infrastructure set up to allow people to park on the street and charge their vehicles, it immediately decreases range by roughly half as the internal combustion engine becomes the only means by which the batteries can be charged.

Solutions to the infrastructure problem include utility companies stepping in to support public charging, governments offering it as a service, or a bold startup launching a new industry. Mark Duvall, electric transportation director for the Electric Power Research Institute said “It’s very expensive and it’s very complicated.” While the infrastructure to charge plug-in vehicles may be a challenge, experts say the current electrical grid can handle the extra burden of charging electric vehicles without a problem.

Source: Automotive News


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