The cars we loved.
It’s not everyday that one car can generate so much controversy and promise at the same time. The Chevrolet Volt is one such car. Controversy stems from the rapid development of the electric plug-in hybrid from 2007 concept car to 2012 market star. The star part comes from environmentalist who praised the new GM for making a true green car a top priority and increasingly more buyers who agree.
The Right Car, Wrong Time?
The flames of controversy were fanned by talk radio clowns like Rush Limbard, who were opposed to the ideal of the taxpayer propped company spending money on something the market did not want or need at a time when GM needed to make bank. The government sponsored bailout stipulated that GM develop an efficient hybrid car and bring it to market in five years or less. This point was overlooked by many opponents of the Volt. Opposition was more inline with the flawed reasoning of the old GM (emphisis on short term profit based on proven if not dated technology).
Both sides had good points, but in the end it seems GM’s big gamble may not have an emmideate payoff for it, but will benifit the industry as a whole. The Volt is sold as the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera in Europe and as the Holden Volt in Australia and New Zealand. The cars are identical except for their respective front ends, styled to resemble their native brands. Opel’s version is argubaly the best looking of the bunch. Differences are much less pronounced in the rear, with thin tail lights that look like they could have been modified from a discarded Camaro concept. The Volt/Ampera represents a research and development project of global proportions. Based on the Cruise platform, it would be unconventional in that it uses a backup gasoline engine to power batteries that power two electric motors. The 1.4L four cylinder engine only kicks in to charge the batteries after their normal range of 40 miles is exhausted.
A Different Approach
This cycle is in direct contrast to other hybrids like the Leaf or Prius that are either plug-in only or use an electric motor to assist a gasoline one. The Volt is designed for shorter commutes and can be plug-in like any other household appliance overnight. This versatility gives the Volt a small edge over the Prius and a much larger one over the Leaf for urban commuting. The Volts efficency dimminushes somewhat when its driven like a conventional car. Still at around 38 mpg, its more efficent than most cars because it would still use very little gas to reach its 640 mile range. It’s initial cost of around $40,000 is after a $7,000 government tax credit. The high cost of entry has not stopped GM from selling over 23,000 units in 2012. That’s over three times the 7,671 sales figure of 2011. Clearly, the Volt is catching on.
Early cars had some technical issues that reduced efficiency. Critics pounced on the expensive cost of replacing the lithium-ion batteries, said to cost as much as $10,000 to replace. Those issues were resolved for the most part. For 2012 a system of storing excess energy for up to an hour made a marked improvement in effecency. The previous system in 2011 models could only store energy for 5 minutes. Improvements like these have made the Volt the best-selling electric-hybrid in America. When it’s overseas cousins are figured into it, the Volt family of cars are easily the world’s best selling plug-in hybrid electrics.
Conventional Outside Radical Inside
The car itself is rather conventional looking. Compared to the rather ugly Nissan Leaf, the Volt leaves few clues to its electric heart, beyond its quietness. It easily slips into traffic like any other “normal”mid-sized sedan. Its quiet interior is comfortable and takes many cues from the Chevy Camaro. The styling of the door panels recalls the Camaro, curving into a very modern looking dash. It looks as if it could have been designed for Chevy’s ponycar had they decided not to go the retro route. There’s quite a bit of technology in the form of monitoring displays to alert the driver of engine and power status. The transitions in power delivery are inperceptable, like a good CVT transmission.
When it comes to performance the Volt is conventional also. A 0 to 60 time of 9 seconds is pretty much in line with GM’s other front wheel drive sedans. At more than 500lb heavier than a Cruise, the electric motors provide instant torque that would be un becoming of the typical Cruise. This willingness to be sprighty, comfortable and reasonably conventional looking has garnered the Volt more than its share of accolades from the automotive and environmental press. The Volt has won distinctions as varied as the North American Car of the Year (2011) to Green Car of the Year (2011).
Follow The Leader He’s Driving a…Chevy?
Although the Volt is a long way from being a high volume car. The production of such a vehicle communicates to the public that GM is serious about developing and furthering this technology. Even though the company is said to lose money on each car sold, it plants the seeds of trust and respect in younger would be car owners who are growing up with a green thumb. Proof of the Volt’s success can be seen in the growing number of imitators that include companies like Honda, who offered an electric –hybrid Accord for the 2013 model year.
At this point it’s quite possible that GM could not afford to cancel production of the Volt for the simple reason that it has some tech credibility that the old GM would have killed for. Now is the time for GM to leverage its technology with collaborations. The tighting restrictions on emissions and fuel economy will demand it. GM for once might actually be ahead of the game for the first time since the late 1970’s when it forsaw the wisdom of downsizing large cars years before the rest of the domestic auto industry.