People interested in electric cars can test drive GM’s Chevrolet Volt when a national tour stops in San Diego on Oct. 20. General Motors says interest in the electric car has led it to boost production in the first year.
The Volt packs some interesting technology into its five-door hatchback frame, and it really has no direct competitors. Unlike the Toyota Prius, the Volt can be plugged in to charge the onboard batteries, then driven solely on battery power. Unlike the Nissan Leaf, the Volt has a gas-powered, onboard generator that produces electricity to power the car once the batteries are depleted.
The Volt is a multibillion-dollar bet. From the day work on it began in mid-2006, GM saw the Volt as its best hope to reshape the company’s image. The car would combine the pollution-free operation of earlier electric vehicles with the freedom and cruising range of conventional gasoline cars. It would shatter the image of GM as a low-tech laggard and convince people the company and its vehicles were winners. That mission is more important than ever today. The Volt is vital as GM tries to regain the public’s trust, convince skeptics it deserved government assistance and attract investors to its first post-bankruptcy stock offering later this year.
The Volt promised to overcome the two great weaknesses that short-circuited electric vehicles for a century: short driving range and long charging time. Its batteries’ 40-mile range is expected to cover the daily driving of 60% of American motorists. An onboard generator — yes, it’s gas-powered — produces electricity for longer drives, eliminating the range anxiety that limited the appeal of electric cars from the 1907 Detroit Electric to the General Motors EV-1 and Toyota RAV4-EV in the 1990s.
“This is a project that must overachieve,” Joe Phillippi, principal of AutoTrends Consulting in Short Hills, N.J., said after driving a Volt about 50 miles around suburban Detroit on Sunday. “The car feels really good. It’s solid, smooth, quiet and amazingly advanced. Lots of people who own one will never have to stop at a gas station.”
The Volt is propelled by a 120-kilowatt electric motor that pulls power from a 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. That gives the sedan an all-electric range of about 40 miles, gas and emissions free. But the Volt also has a 1.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. When the car runs out of electricity, the gas engine kicks in and works as a generator, supplying electricity to the motor. The car can reach 60 miles an hour in just under nine seconds and has a top speed of 100 mph. This design extends the range of the Volt by about 300 miles, according to GM, but it also means the car is burning gasoline. GM expects that many buyers will be able to make their daily commutes or errand runs within the 40 miles, or will be able to recharge while at work and that many will only rarely use the gasoline powered generator.
The car will have a top speed of 100 mph and go zero to 60 mph in less than nine seconds, the automaker said. Its electric-gas propulsion system, which GM is marketing under the name Voltec, offers a low speed torque of 273 lb.-ft. GM insists the Volt differs from other hybrid vehicles, in that the car can travel 25 to 50 miles powered solely off the electric battery. Once the battery is mostly depleted, a 1.4L engine kicks in adding 310 miles to its range. The battery comes with an eight year, 100,000 mile warranty and has undergone more than one million miles of validation testing since 2007, GM said.
In addition to the battery warranty, GM is offering three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage and roadside assistance for up to 5 years or 100,000 miles. The Volt will come in six exterior colors including silver, black, gray, red and white. The interior will include two, full-color screens – one of them a touch display, a Bose audio system and a 30-gigabyte hard-drive for storing music. In addition to revealing new details about the Volt, GM also said today it has invested more than $700 million in eight Michigan plants to manufacture the car and its components. The automaker will begin building Volts for the retail market in mid November.