First Look – Chevy Volt Concept Car

Chevrolet Expert Reviews Feature Articles

By Kurt Gensheimer

Genius in theory. In reality? We might know by 2010.

For decades, American automakers, Washington politicos, oil companies and consumers alike have been caught up in the lure of cheap gasoline. It’s led to fuel inefficient vehicles, lax legislation, and even more lax energy innovation. But in the end, the root of all these behaviors comes back to the American consumer. The American consumer has always wanted and purchased gasoline-powered products, so that’s what the market delivers. But like repeatedly putting one’s hand on a burning stove, at what point do American consumers conclude the financial pain at the pump has gotten too great? And when do their automobile choices start changing the behavior of automakers, politicians and oil companies? The Hybrid craze is the first step in this new direction. Although Hybrids get a lot of well-deserved grief from some industry experts, there is one undeniable merit to them – Hybrid popularity is producing more alternatively-powered choices for American consumers.

Take for instance the new Chevy Volt, a purely electric vehicle which uses a 1 liter combustion engine only to recharge the batteries, not drive the wheels. Although it’s still a concept vehicle, according to GM bigwig Bob Lutz, he doesn’t want to retire until the Volt makes it into production – which translates into somewhere around 2010. So when we found out the Volt was being displayed in nearby Palo Alto, decided to go and see firsthand how close this machine is to being a production vehicle.

Eco-friendly doesn’t have to mean Eco-fugly

There is no debating the visual aesthetics of the Volt. It’s a sharp-looking machine. Whoever established the precedent that eco-friendly cars must resemble disfigured spacecraft obviously didn’t affect GM designers when creating the Volt. Taking design cues from the concept Camaro, the Volt is actually a car you’d want to be seen in. The interior also has that de-facto concept car, George Jetson, never-gonna-look-like-this-in-production vibe to it. Very sharp all around, but still, it’s still a prototype, so all bets are off for the production model.

Can you guess the secret word of the day?

Let’s focus on the heart of the Volt and GM’s bet for a totally new automotive power platform – it’s E-Flex Drive System – which uses multiple components to make the Volt mobile. As mentioned, the Volt is 100 percent electric with a 120 kW engine powering the wheels. This translates to about 160 HP, giving the Volt a theoretical top speed of over 100 MPH and a theoretical 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds.

For up to 40 miles, the Volt can theoretically function on pure electricity. When you come home at night, plug the Volt in to a standard 110V outlet, and 6 hours later, it’s theoretically ready for another 40 mile jaunt. Perfect for the average commuter – and when off-peak, much less expensive to charge than buying gasoline. However, beyond that is where the combustion engine comes into play. GM claims the engine will theoretically be available as either Biodiesel, E85 or gasoline, and the 3-cylinder engine functions as a theoretical “range extender” – giving the Volt recharging capability while on the road. Because the engine does not power the wheels, it can function at a fixed RPM without a heavy load, and theoretically gets 50 MPG. With a 12 gallon gas tank, this gives the Volt a theoretical range of 640 or so miles.

The Volt was created with all the learnings GM gleaned from its much ranted and raved EV-1 concept. But unlike the EV-1, the Volt features a combustion-powered “range extender” and Lithium Ion battery technology, making it a much better electric vehicle, theoretically speaking.

And the secret word is….

If you’ve been paying attention, and are partial to theories, you’ve probably figured it out. After talking with GM representatives, it doesn’t seem the Volt has actually achieved any of the advertised acceleration, top speed or fuel economy numbers yet. In fact, the only place the Volt seemed to drive was across the Stanford Mall parking lot from the transport rig to the display stand. The reality is, as of December 2007, GM still doesn’t have the appropriate Lithium Ion battery technology to make the Volt achieve its theoretical numbers. But apparently it’s coming, and coming fast.

Therefore, the biggest hurdle GM, the Volt and the E-Flex Drive System faces is the ingenuity of its battery suppliers. Can they produce a battery powerful, inexpensive and durable enough to make GM’s E-Flex Drive System a reality, and more importantly, by the time Bob Lutz is scheduled to retire in 2010? We think so. Theoretically speaking, of course.

We have video! Kurt interviews a representative from GM and picks up a few details on the upcoming Chevy Volt

Chevrolet Volt Video Feature

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