At the 2007 North American International Auto Show, General Motors introduced the newest in hybrid technology: the Chevy Volt. Having given up on pure electric cars years ago, this is GM’s next attempt to unseat Toyota from its hybrid throne.
The Volt runs off a combination of a lithium-ion battery and a 1.0L turbocharged three cylinder gasoline engine. Convenience is the name of the game with the Volt; the lithium-ion battery can actually be completely recharged by plugging it into an 110V outlet for six hours. This provides the electric motor with a 40-mile charge.
The feature that makes this car stand out is that the gasoline engine never directly powers the wheels. This is different from the current technology. In the Toyota Prius, the car alternates between the electric motor and the gasoline engine to turn the wheels. In the Volt, when the battery charge dissipates, the gasoline engine would recharge the battery. In the end, all motive power comes from the electric motors and battery.
The result of this technology is a vehicle with capabilities for upwards of 150 miles per gallon. However, if the owner fails to charge the Volt overnight, the vehicle would be closer to 60 miles per gallon. The 150-mpg would be based on the following situation: if you have a 60-mile round trip every day to work, 40 of those miles would be powered by just the battery. The remaining 20 miles would be propelled with the gas engine running which runs at 50 mpg. The result is that you travel 60 miles on just 0.4 gallons of gas, averaging 150 mpg.
If flexibility is what you are after, the Volt is also designed with a plethora of engine options. One of the unique features of the Volt is that it features GM’s E-Flex System. The E-Flex System allows for flexibility in engine choices. The turbocharged three cylinder can run on gasoline or E85 fuel (85% Ethanol, 15% Gasoline). This engine could also be replaced with a diesel engine or even one that could run on bio-diesel. The last option would be a hydrogen fuel cell.
The Volt also brings something new to the table in that it is a sporty vehicle. The styling of the Prius is not exactly cutting edge; however, the Volt takes it up a notch. With a sleek body and 21-inch wheels, it is sure to spice up the hybrid market.
Nonetheless, the Volt is not something in GM’s immediate plans. The idea for the Volt would require that a cost efficient 400-lb lithium-ion battery be found. Lithium-ion batteries of this size are not currently available. Further advances in battery technology would be required to allow GM to consider making the Volt a production car. These are enhancements that could occur in as little as a year, or as many as 20 years. GM has stated that they feel the technology is almost there, yet a vehicle like this is probably about a decade away.
Hats off to GM for developing a hybrid car that many can appreciate. The Volt may be a decade away or maybe even more, but GM is showing their commitment to alternative fueled vehicles with a focus on improved looks and performance.