GM Scheduled to Launch Chevy Volt in Novemeber

Currently, the Chevy Volt is undergoing cold weather testing in Kapuskasing Canada and is on track for the Nov 1, 2010 production date. The earliest consumers could take one home is estimated to be late November or early December. The release of this car is a very big deal for the automobile industry, consumers, and policy makers.

Aside from the luxurious Tesla roadster, the Chevy Volt will be the first mass-produced vehicle that uses an electric motor for its propulsion system. However, the Chevy Volt is still labeled as a hybrid-car by the Society of Automotive Engineers because it uses two energy storage systems to provide propulsion power. GM claims that this plug-in-car can travel an average of 40 miles without ever using a drop of gas in the car’s 1.4 liter 4-cyl flex-fuel (unleaded gasoline or E-85) engine. Unlike current hybrid vehicles, the internal combustion (IC) engine is only used when the battery is low. For the first time in the automobile industry the IC engine solely drives an electric generator that charges the batteries and powers the electric motor versus mechanically driving the wheels.

Why are the car companies switching from gas to hybrid-vehicles and now to electrically propelled vehicles? Improving fuel economy, improving emissions, and displacing dependency on petroleum are goals GM and other car companies are working to achieve. Above is a slide from a presentation by GMPT that describes the companies Advanced Propulsion Technology Strategy. The release of the Chevy Volt will represent a big shift up GM’s strategy curve. During the first 40 miles of operation the car will produce zero emissions because the IC engine will not be operating. Additionally, the possibility of completely displacing petroleum in the first 40 miles of operation exists depending on how the electricity the consumer used to charge the car was generated.

The next big question in everyone’s head should be cost. GM has not revealed a price but says it will be around $40,000. What would be the cost if you only drive the car less the 40 miles each day and charge it up overnight? The average U.S. electricity cost is 11 cents per kWh and the electricity needed to drive 1 mile would be 3 cents. This sounds very attractive but a price tag that is roughly twice that of the Toyota Prius does not make the Volt a good economic decision unless gas prices skyrocket. However, power companies and governments will be offering incentives to people who purchase these plug-in-vehicles. For example, buying this car would allow you to claim a $7,500 tax credit in the United States. Additionally,  Canada’s government has already committed to support GM and offset the cost of the car by purchasing 500 Volts which will be used as government-use vehicles and by giving Canadians rebates up to $10,000.

Finally, there is a lot of controversy of how to rate the fuel economy of this vehicle. GM claims the Volt has a 230 mpg rating in the city. However, this is very deceiving and will surely cause the EPA some headaches when they decide how to rate this car. Depending on how the accounting is done the fuel economy could be 1000 mpg. However here are two facts that you can use to decide what the miles per gallon rating is. On average after a full charge you will be able to drive 40 miles without the IC engine kicking in. After the IC engine kicks in you can expect 48 mpg. For example, if you drive 50 miles you will use approximately 0.2 gallons of gasoline, thus giving you a rating of 250 miles per gallon of gasoline. In other words the fuel economy will depend on the range of your drive and will decrease towards 48 mpg as the range you travel without plugging in increases.

Other source not linked:

General Motors Powertrain Headquarters

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “GM Scheduled to Launch Chevy Volt in Novemeber

  1. bhgully

    Interesting, I was not aware the Volt was a series hybrid, although I never looked into it much I had thought it was pure electric.

    But you bring up a good point with regard to fuel efficiency representation. If we take as fact that the automotive industry is moving to electric propulsion, we (the public) must acknowledge that mpg over a drive cycle isn’t an appropriate measure of efficiency. Maybe a separate measure of electric drive efficiency (battery, motor, inertia, aerodynamics) and liquid fuel efficiency (engine, inertia, aerodynamics) is in order. Perhaps this should be done in such a way to emphasize the poor conversion efficiencies of internal combustion motors, or the relative environmental impacts of each of the energy sources…

    Obviously it is a difficult problem and those certainly fall short of a full, practical solution, but hopefully are enough to spur more input & ideas…

  2. rmdengineer

    After reading this post the wonder of why we don’t all go to electric cars popped into my head; I mean the environmental picture is rosy and the fuel economy of the Volt is supposedly fantastic.
    But as you mentioned, and the more I think about it, I realize it all has to do with cost, and really that seems to be the only thing the masses consider. Yep, it’s all about markets, pricing, supply, and demand, good ole economics.
    As you pointed out, if gasoline prices aren’t sky high, people won’t want to spend the money on electricity to power their vehicles, no matter how great the environmental benefits. Furthermore, even though buyers of the Volt may receive the $7500 tax credit, they still have to buy a $40,o00 car (maybe more than that) just to get, well…a Chevy. (I used to have one…let’s just say people didn’t go out of their way to tell me how wonderful or sexy my car was).

    Although still excited about the idea of an electric car and the possibility of this Volt, I have to bring yet another negative aspect to consider. Yes, going electric could help the US to decrease its dependence on foreign oil, however, what about our lithium resources for the lithium battery needed to run the car? Are our resources abundant enough here in the US to go at it alone, or will going electric just put the US in a position in which we are trading one dependency (on oil) for another (on lithium)?

    Also, more electricity needed for electric cars means more coal to run power plants, thus more GHG emissions. And as soon as someone forgets to charge their car, or doesn’t charge it for the 8 hour period as recommended, or drives over 40 miles, and the gas powered engine kicks in we have even more GHG emissions on our hands…so is the problem really solved?

    Sigh…the more I think about this, the more I realize how complicated this all is. Oh electric car, I am still rooting for you.

  3. Alan DeLaRosa

    I consider myself a car enthusiast and a relatively environmentally conscious person but rmdengineer brings up a good point, I don’t think that many people would be willing to pay for this car despite the tax credit and other incentives. Also, there are many other factors that would affect a consumers decision to invest the Chevy Volt.

    An electric car can only be successful in certain regions of the country. For example, a lot of Texans like big vehicles, so I don’t see many of them jumping at the chance to buy a smaller electric car to save money from raising gas prices unless a drastic increase occurs. And even then, how long would it take to pay off the cost of purchasing the electric vehicle and begin benefiting from the savings? Also, what is the life span of this type of vehicle relative to the current average vehicle? Only assumptions can be made to calculate such values, since tests can only show so much real life data.

    An electric vehicle is a great idea to free us from our oil dependency but is it really doing that or is it just changing the location of the fossil fuel consumption? Until more nuclear power plants are constructed, electricity will have be generated by power plants. Currently, electricity is being generated by five main sources: Petroleum, Natural Gas, Coal, Renewable Energy, and Nuclear which provide 3, 15, 52, 9, and 20 percent respectively. Because only three percent of the electricity currently being generated in the US is by petroleum but I think that if there is an increase in the demand for electricity then that will be the sector that increases in percentage. This just shifts the consumption of petroleum from consumers with internal combustion engines to the power plants that use petroleum as a fuel.

    These are just a couple of the many issues surrounding the discussion of the electric car that I feel needed to be included with this blog. Thanks for your time.

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