General Motors spent a lot of time, money and political capital in the Chevy Volt. The car that started out as just another concept last year has become the company’s springboard for its second hundred years. In fact, in the time GM set aside to talk to the press about its 100th anniversary, almost all of the occasion was taken up by information on the Volt.
With this in mind, it is worth going through a detailed breakdown of what GM wants you to know, including what it has accomplished and what GM still has to complete on its Volt.
The concept car was beautiful, radical, and completely irrational. A car with flat sides kills fuel economy. So GM could have delivered the production car exactly as shown, but it would have been like owing a fancy Malibu. Instead the production Volt is in the spirit of the concept design, just a little rounder.
General Motors kept all the little details, and this looks like a complete car.
The interior is an attractive set-up. The car is designed to be encasing. The Volt’s interior design manager, Tim Grieg, believes that if the car had an open, airy feeling then it would lose its sporty feeling. Because of this, all four passengers get bucket seats with clear dividers separating each one from the other. The seating is also limited to four because of battery storage.
The center controls are very reminiscent of the iPod (in fact, the only color choices are white or black,) Grieg insists Apple’s media machine was never used for inspiration. Most controls are located on an iPod-like electrostatic touch panel, which means there are few buttons, but multiple points on a single panel to access climate control, radio, and other comfort functions. People who are reluctant to use this technology (anyone who’s used an worn out touch screen for example) may not like the dash panel at first. Grieg has assured that in testing, the panel can accurately detect where an approaching fingers is, and the panel will shut off other nearby buttons to avoid incorrect inputs.
The navigation screen on the final production will actually better integrated into the dash. The one currently shown was developed when engineers were working on a folding design, but it was rejected because it used too much energy.
In fact, this car is analyzed for all energy usage. Convenience items systems such as power windows and heated seats are standard on the Volt for their ability to save power. Because the drive has the ability to put down all windows easily, the car can cool off quicker, saving energy from the air conditioner. The heated seats provide a more direct heating sensation, saving the heater from having to regulate the whole car.
The Volt is designed to be charged in about 8 hours on a normal household 110-volt outlet (3 hours for 220v). That charge should last for 40 miles and cost about $.80. A gasoline engine generating power for the electric motor will supplement any miles after that. Giving the car a total range of about 340 miles. Frank Weber, GM’s Global Chief Engineer, says that anyone who drives around 15,000 miles per year could possibly never use the gas engine.
The car has the equivalent of 150 horsepower and 273 ft lbs of torque. GM claims this is good for 0-60 times in about nine seconds and a top speed of 100 mph.
The car utilized the same kind of lithium-ion batteries that are found in cell phones. Unlike the phone’s battery, which will have a noticeable loss in charge capacity over a few years, the Volt’s battery should hold the same charge over its five-year lifetime. This is partially accomplished because the never fully charge (usually 80% full) and never fully discharge (about 30% empty) over its lifetime. This means less stress on the over 220 battery cells in the car.
Many of the more conventional parts of the Volt (suspension, steering rod, etc.) are shared with the upcoming Chevrolet Cruze. This means a host of parts that will be less expensive to produce and repair in a car that will start out with only about 10,000 units in its first year.
General Motors doesn’t want you to call the Volt a hybrid. It says that this is in a new segment called E-REV (Extended-Range Electric Vehicle). The truth is GM is half right. The Volt was designed to be run on pure electric. GM figures that most of its drivers will accomplish their daily tasks under the 40 miles that can come from a full battery charge. The gasoline engine is only used beyond the 40 miles or sooner if not fully charged. The car can either be run by charging the battery with electricity or filling the tank with gas. Although this is a new slant on fuel efficiency that may deserve its own category, it also falls under the exact definition of a hybrid car.
The exterior takes some heat for being more conventional than the concept. The explanation has always been it simply needed to change to keep fuel economy. Bob Lutz once said that the concept was, “more aerodynamic going backwards than forwards.” The production car now looks a little more like a conventional GM sedan. This is ok because THE VOLT IS A SEDAN! It would be nice to have a radical looking car, but if the Volt’s design goes too far on the fringe of mainstream, it doesn’t get accepted by middle America. Without full support, it will defeat the purpose of a mass produced alternative energy car.
The interior is amazing. By far the best GM has put on any car both by materials and appearance. This is where the car gets to show off the design talent (now that the exterior is dictated by its wind-cheating ability.) More than anything else, this is the piece of technology that GM must spread to the rest of the car families, and it needs to have out there today. The interiors of most GM cars of today are on par with the competition, but the touch panel is the leap ahead that would give GM a great showroom advantage.