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?).
David, you are really lucky to get a chance to drive volt. And I feel GM did a great job after been criticized for vehicles like Hummer. The interior electronics looks really attractive and 38 miles is definitely good enough for an average office commute. By the way what is the exact price?
You would be surprise to find out that there are actually 3KW panels commercially available, but the issue is the investment required to store that energy and other infrastructure.
If you can add more pictures, I'd be interested to see more of the interior, specifically the dual screen dash you mentioned. I'm sure we'll get to see some of it when Brian drives it around, but I have to say, it looks pretty slick!
It is very important that we are aware of the future. Your test of the Volt and your article are equally important for audience and even American to understand the innovation from GM. Volt has no doubt caught a lot of eyes. I have seen it a couple times and it stands out really well. I have a lot of question with regard to the saving it brings on the table. What's the tested gas mileague or charge mileage? How long it can ride w/o charge? If the engine is used to charge the battery, I assume it will run as long as the gas last plus more, won't it? What's the average charge time from almost empty to full charge? I know a lot of these information can be found through GM. Yet, I have tendency to believe the actual than the claim. Seeing is believing, you know. I suppose these information will help consumers to adopt to this new technology.
First i thought it is an article aboutt voltage in circuits!but surprise to see a lovely car. GM always gives beautiful cars with great looks.
This time extra special with volts.Let the volts give a good shock in the market
2002 Acura MDX = a touch version for the navigation, and climate systems. And I am expecting we'll see significant user-experience enhancements in autos of all flavors (internal combustion, hybrid, and all-electric drive). But thanks for the nice little review of the Volt David.
This no doubt a lovely car and it is very tempting to take a test drive. This is definitely a step forward for better environment. But why do you think "this is a huge win for GM". Is GM going to make money on this so soon? The main advantage mentioned is lower fuel cost, but again you are using electricity to charge the batteries. You might need to replace the batteries after sometime depending on usage. Are these cheap? You would need a good amount of investment for installing the solar panels to charge it in descent number of hours. If one calculates the pay-back period considering all these factors, does it look a good option still?
It is very nice to see GM do a good attempt to bring electric vehicles to the masses. My concern would be the cost of battery replacement, and the frequency. That is a certainty that will have to be overcome with field reports of reliable performance in numbers, to gain converts and see migration to this option.
Otherwise it is just another beautiful car with noble ideals but only afforded by the affluent.
What about the fact that the car is quiet? In Germany at BMW some years ago, I was told the govt. made them add noise to their test e-vehicle as people couldn't hear it coming and therefore it was a danger.
Lots of great questions, let me answer a few:
Sticker price of this car is $45k but we paid more because they are in short supply but a recent study (by Accenture) showed that for buyers of electric cars price is not an issue they are making a statement just like someone who buys a BMW M3/5 isn't looking for transportation!
On the question of how quiet they are, GM has added a feature that clicks like the turn signal via an external speaker for pedestrians, I think there will be a lot more development on this over the next few years
This car will be torn down by EE Times to look at the technology over the next few months and someone is going to win one next year so please follow us on Twitter
Stop it already, it's a HYBRID!
GM promised an electric car with great range and delivered a hybrid - what a let down.
There are two power sources, it doesn't matter if the power is routed to the wheels by wires or gears or whatever, two power sources make it a hybrid.
Don't blow a gasket, kevin. The point of the article is that if you don't have a 100 mile commute, you will never have to kick on the gas engine. It's a backup generator for the electric engine. That's a good thing because it means you can drive it across the country if you need to.
Currently the Volt runs in a "dumb" mode knowing only the current conditions. I read an interesting article elsewhere about driving in "mountain mode" (which recharges the battery) on the highway so that charge will be available for pure electric driving in the urban destination at the end of the trip. It would be nice if Google maps could provide recommended driving modes for trip segments. In my (non-PHEV) hybrid I learned a long time ago not to use cruise control because it always gunned the engine just before the crest of a hill when I knew we could coast over and would gain speed back from gravity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 "... it’s 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.
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.