For the last 2 weeks what may arguably be the most significant car in the history of the U.S. auto industry since the Model T has been sitting (and charging) in my garage.
The Chevy Volt isn't my car. It is going to be used for an EE Times project sponsored by Avnet Express called "Drive for Innovation" which kicks off in June but we needed somewhere to keep the vehicle for a while, so I quickly volunteered.
I picked up the car from EELife editor Brian Fuller on a Friday night after it was purchased from a dealer in San Jose and I think my kids were more excited than I was. The Volt attracts attention wherever we take it and people have a lot of questions particularly about the range and how long it takes to charge. But there is a misconception about whether it's a hybrid and what that really means.
The Volt is an extended range electric vehicle whose engine is used to charge the battery. It is therefore not a Hybrid like my Prius, which switches between and combines the electric and gasoline motors for optimum efficiency.
I drove the Volt back to my house. Most people would be able to drive it around without really being aware that it was an electric vehicle which is a huge win for GM in my opinion.
The car will only start if you have your foot on the brake but that's nothing new to Prius owners. What was new to me was two LCD screens, one for displaying the status of the "instruments" and the other, a touch version for the navigation, climate and entertainment systems. Even the controls on the dashboard surface are touch sensitive so it's a very different experience.
The car is silent when switched on so the sensation of an engine running is absent, but the responsiveness and handling are excellent. The Volt gives you real confidence in its ability to maneuver through traffic and handle well. My only criticism of the Volt is that visibility is limited and one can feel a little claustrophobic at first, but this is a styling issue which I'm sure will be addressed in the Volt 2 and 3.
When we got home I had to figure out how to charge it because Brian had driven about 60 miles so the battery was depleted. In the trunk was a charging pack with a cable and controller that could be plugged into a standard 110V socket. Unfortunately the only power strip in my garage was ungrounded and it tripped the fuse.
I then plugged the Volt into a standard 3-pin grounded outlet and it started charging. It was about 7pm and the Volt display showed me that charging would be complete at 6:14 am the next day and the range was going to be 38 miles which was fine for my commute of 13 miles each way.
In theory then I could use the Volt every day for my commute and not use the gas engine. If I needed to go to Silicon Valley to the Embedded Systems Conference, ARM TechCon or DesignCon I have nothing to worry about. If I installed solar panels on my garage roof then, except for winter overcast days, I could honestly say I was free of "big oil".
To me this is the breakthrough that GM has achieved with the Volt: it’s an electric car for the masses and that should not be underestimated. My faith in GM as an engineering organization has been restored.
I am not going to comment on the cost of the Volt because we paid way over sticker for it and the decisions we make buying our vehicles are largely irrational anyway (any M3, Mustang, Corvette, 911, Expedition and Suburban owners out there?).
Electric cars still have a long way to go. Storage capacity of the battery will surely decrease with time limiting the range. By the way, is there any study of a carbon foot print of Volt or any hybrid over a period of time considering (a) the power for charging generated at a coal fired plant + transmission losses, and (b) carbon foot print for producing batteries required to be replaced?
Also, small engine means that the car is good enough only for urban commuting. The engine will not produce enough power for the travel and charging simultaneously. This means it will have a maximum theoretical range even with the engine kicking in. Prius is a winner in this scenario.
Replacing the spare with an air pump? Sometimes, a tire gets burst awfully and air pump will not be of much value.
You said "My only criticism of the Volt is that visibility is limited and one can feel a little claustrophobic at first ..." You also said "... itís an electric car for the masses ..." Do you really think "the masses" have an extra $45k to spend on such a car? Do you understand how the battery range will be cut in half on hot days when the air conditioner is being used? It would certainly be a fun car to have, but only as a second or third car for people who have extra money to spend. So it should be a hit for GM but it's certainly no better for the ecology than a conventional small car with a Diesel engine would be.
I would expect that 80HP coupled with battery storage / electric drive would be plenty. As long as the batteries have some charge, the vehicle should accelerate based on the performance of the electric drive train. I'm sure that the average power requirement is far below the 80 HP for such a small car.
The Volt is equipped with a small gas engine to recharge the battery after the battery is depleted, but what kind of performance can that small 80 HP engine deliver when it is charging the battery AND powering the car. It cannot provide anything near the power to the wheels that even the 108 HP underpowered Aveo gives. Unless it is running on level ground, it will be a very sluggish car after 38 miles on the battery.
George, No, you simply connect the solar array to the grid at your home. Power goes into the grid during Peak times, and you take the power late (off-peak) at ~half the cost. Each morning, your "tank" is full and you make money on the time-of-use transaction. I am driving 40 mile daily commute with a 5.5kW array in Oregon, for a net zero power consumption.
I think GM and Nissan both have a big education issue with the public on now these two remarkable cars can best be used but I'm hopeful that they can both do just that. It is very exciting to see both of these cars out on the road now.
Things are not going to change overnight, but cars like the Prius and the Volt are a starting point. Production vehicles driven by ordinary people beats a lot of dogma or theory about what might be workable. Years ago there was the concept of an all-electric car that towed an optional trailer with a gasoline genset on it for long trips. Volt has 10x the battery capacity of a prius and sounds like a credible electric car. It is good to see GM build something challenging. bjd.