A lot of hybrids talk a good game, but the Volt has the potential to deliver.
The big buzz at this yearís North American International Auto Show in Detroit
is around the Chevy Volt. It has surprised many to see GM throw their hat in the hybrid ring as such a formidable competitor. Itís being called one of the most significant hybrid developments to date.
There are two things that make the Voltís E-flex drivetrain noteworthy. First, it is a series hybrid, which means power is fed directly to the motor, not the battery. It can be plugged into a household electric socket and charged fully within about six hours. Completely charged it can drive roughly 40 miles on electricity alone. According to GM, more than 75 percent of Americans live within 20 miles of where they work, meaning the Volt would get them to the office and back on 100% electricity with no direct emissions.
If the battery does run down, the 1.0-liter, three-cylinder gas engine acts as a generator to charge the battery and provides enough power to for up to an additional 600 miles.
The second significant aspect is that the gasoline-driven generator engine can easily be replaced with an engine that runs on E85, diesel, bio-diesel, pure ethanol or even a hydrogen fuel cell. People would then be able to chose their engine based on fuel availability and prices in their region.
According to Chevy, the Volt gets 50 mpg with the generator running in whatís call ranger-extender mode. If driven 60 miles, with the last 20 miles in this mode, this results in a 150 mpg equivalent for the trip.
In purely electric mode the Volt produces no emissions, and the small gasoline engine produces carbon emissions on a much smaller level than larger gasoline engines. While it does use electricity, at least this resource comes from domestic sources like coal and natural gas.
The Volt and other vehicles using the E-flex drivetrain would be a terrific advancement toward keeping people on the road without the current level of no-holds-barred use of our earthís resources to do it. However, GM admits that the battery technology to make it happen is at least three to five years out, because the current nickel battery available weighs too much to make such a vehicle realistic right now.
With all this being said about the hybrid technology, the Volt is also a beautiful car to see in person. The crowds around it at the Detroit Auto Show made it difficult to get a full view, but the details in each element are exceptional, from the clear plastic roof to the 3-D gauges. As Iíve said before, automakers are clearly catering not only to our sense of environmental responsibility, but our desire to pull up in a car that turns heads.
The Chevy Volt is definitely an international story, but itís also very local. Being from Detroit, it encourages me to see so much excitement around a General Motors vehicle. The Volt isnít perfect, and it canít hit the dealerships soon enough for many of us, but with Michigan having the second worst economy in the U.S., maybe thereís hope that there can be a turn around, not only the environment, but the economy as well. Either way, with its series hybrid technology, the Volt is a step closer to a purely electric car, and for some proponents, thatís great news.