The Chevy Volt has been in the news for what seems like a long time (before GM's big crash). For quite awhile we have been only casually following its development, preferring to focus our attention on pure electric vehicles.
We have felt from the beginning that the current hybrid vehicles are too much compromise with too little mileage improvement and no EV advantages. From an engineering standpoint, some of the designs are mechanically clever (e.g. the Prius), but still an "ugly" marriage of an electric motor with an old tech gasoline engine. Especially since most of the available hybrids today have extremely short electric-only range and cannot be charged externally, they are essentially slightly higher mileage gasoline cars which do not impress us at all (Jean was already getting 55 mpg in a Honda CRX in the early 90's). On commutes which occur mostly on the freeway, the existing hybrids are just gasoline cars and they offer a very marginal advantage over a properly designed gas-only vehicle.
But a recent chance to actually drive a Chevy Volt has made us sit up and pay attention! First of all, it contains an all-electric drive train with enough battery capacity to allow up to 40 miles of travel without using any gas. Second, it allows (even encourages) plugging in for charging overnight. And third, it gives you all the electric vehicle power performance and instant response without being dependent on an undersized gasoline engine.
What Chevy has done is to design the first serious (i.e. for production) series-hybrid vehicle. In this design, batteries and and electric motor are the only things which propel the car. The gasoline engine is only used to run a generator to charge the batteries. Chevy calls this a range-extended electric vehicle, which I think is an appropriate description. This is what we have been waiting for!
Long-time EV enthusiasts will recall that the series-hybrid design is essentially what AC Propulsion created by towing their "Long Ranger" generator unit behind their TZero EV sports car. What Chevy has done is to integrate it into a single package and greatly refine it (The Long Ranger was incredibly loud!).
In late November, 2009, as former EV-1 drivers, we were invited to participate in a status update meeting and test drive of a pre-production prototype vehicle. Naturally we immediately accepted and on December 1st, we got our chance to actually drive the car. Note that at this point, the design is still a year or so away from production, but 80 of the prototypes have been built for testing and demonstrations. Nevertheless, the prototype was nicely finished and one could easily believe it was ready for delivery to customers.
Below are some links to some slide shows from our Volt test drive. More details can be found on our Test Drive Impressions pages.
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