By on January 13, 2010

unrealistic expectations

It had to happen eventually: Bob Lutz, the father of the Volt, admits his last but not least automotive child is not going to reliably meet his lofty expectations. ABC reports that in an interview at the NIAS,  Lutz let the air out of the Volt’s 40 mile EV range that has been predicted to be as reliable as the sun rising on a new day, and perpetuated by GM even more religiously than the 230 mpg claim: Sounding as if he had just read our recent post on EV range, ABC quotes Mr. Volt:

Lutz said that electric vehicles may not get the stated range on fully electric power because of weather, atmospheric conditions, terrain and driving habits. He said he had a Volt during the Thanksgiving weekend and got only 28 miles on full-electric power because of the cold weather.

Here’s the line we’ve been waiting for:

“It varies a lot more than the range variation with a gasoline-powered car depending on your driving style,” Lutz said.

We’re going to try to avoid sounding sanctimonious (and probably fail), but that’s exactly what we’ve been saying since the since the Volt was announced almost three years ago. Sooner or later the truth about EV range had to come out of the GM closet.

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42 Comments on “Volt Birth Watch 181: Lutz Finally Comes Clean On EV Range; His Volt Gets 28 Miles Instead Of 40 Miles...”


  • avatar
    criminalenterprise

    I’ve been listening to Bloomberg’s Tom Keene from NAIAS these past two days and must say the level of sycophantic deference to CEOs and failed corporate structures, and the continuing arrogance of auto executives is disgusting.  These guys still don’t get it, no matter who they work for.
     
    They have no respect for their customers at all.  They think we’re all stupid and it comes across so clearly in how they skirt the important and obvious shortcomings and difficulties in the industry, their companies, their recent products and their future products.  It’s all so instantly &  nauseatingly familiar because these guys sound so much like the typical slimeball grandma-robbing dealership salesmen we’ve all dealt with (or avoided).  I’d ride a moped on the expressway before I bought a new car from this breed.
     
    Note to auto execs: we see your problems.  We’re not stupid.  We understand you’re falliable humans running large companies and have a difficult set of tasks. We know you can’t make a $60,000 car and sell it for $20,000, but we also know when your $20,000 cars are not as good as the competition. We know cars have flaws. But we know too when they’re glaring and when a particular example is remarkably substandard.
     
    Acting like problems are not there or quickly changing the subject when you’re asked directly doesn’t make me forget the issue, it makes me think you’re a pack of lying conmen with something to hide.  That “cat-piss smell” Deadwood‘s Al Swearengen was always talking about whenever a palpitating liar was before him?  Yeah, I smell it on you: Mark Reuss, Ian Robertson, Thomas Weber, Mark Fields, Ed Whitacre, Thomas Stephens and Bob Lutz.  You reek of it.
     
    What a breath of fresh air it is to have an exec who is willing to talk frankly (though coming from spin-master Bob I’m sure it was a lapse of judgment) about his shitty product.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      Indeed.  We somehow glamorize people like Lutz and Musk who just ask people to do something.
       
      I simply don’t think putting stakes in the ground is that impressive.  I think the engineers who figure out how to accomplish that thing, or get close, are impressive.

  • avatar
    lawstud

    To be fair that was in cold weather, more like worst case scenario. Ford’s hybrid fusion also ate sh*t when the weather dropped, something like from 40 to 23mpg. The review explained it had to use extra gas to warm up the emissions system. I’m sure the volt had to use electric heater to warm up the car so the 78 yr old Lutz could feel warm.

    • 0 avatar
      criminalenterprise

      I thought the whiskey kept him warm.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      He has tons of money… I figured he had a babe in his lap for that.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

       
      The Fusion hybrid loses that much to cold weather?
      I don’t really understand that, because the coldest weather I see in the Prius only seems to knock about 10% off the mileage, slogging through snow and ice, teens single digits, what have have you.
      http://www.axcessmypics.com/photos/photo05/be/50/5293b34c33a4.jpg
       

    • 0 avatar
      lawstud

      LectroByte,
      27.2mpg  for 300 miles.
      http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/reviews/healey/2009-02-05-2010-ford-fusion-hybrid_N.htm
      “29.4 mpg with the first several days actually barely managing to crack 27 mpg.”
      http://green.autoblog.com/2009/08/19/review-2010-ford-fusion-hybrid-what-a-difference-60-degrees-m/
      – I checked GM’s  SEC 8-k filing awhile back. Bob Lutz lost around $200,000 with the old GM. He had some 10-15,000 or some other large amount of shares of stock which that eventually became worthless in bankruptcy. For a guy that has a jet 200K loss might not register, but for me it is a lot to lose in 2 years outside the housing roulette wheel that the economy has been.

  • avatar
    calvin1234

    I’m waiting for an electric to get 500 miles per charge to equal what my ’09 Focus gets per tank @ 40 mpg highway.

    • 0 avatar
      isucorvette

      Because the range of a car on a single tank dictates whether or not you buy a car?  That doesn’t make a lot of sense since stopping to get gas off the highway takes 5 minutes max on a road trip.  250 miles out of a tank is inconvenient but anything with 350 or more is fine.  And there will never be an electric car with 500 mile range, maybe a gas electric hybrid, so keep on waiting.

    • 0 avatar

      “That doesn’t make a lot of sense since stopping to get gas off the highway takes 5 minutes max”
      Yeah, but stopping to fill up your EV takes 12 HOURS minimum. I’ll keep my trusty, reliable, runs -on-damn-near-anything-I-pour-in Diesel thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      calvin1234

      Of course range isn’t the only reason I buy a car. However, even if recharging stations become plentiful I (and most people) don’t have the time to wait for a charge every 50-100 miles on a trip, and whats the point of having an electric car if you have to use the gas engine all the time to charge the batteries.
      What people need to do is switch to something easy on gas. I really have no sympathy for people who can afford to buy something more economical & drive a pickup (who don’t need it for work) for 1 or 2 people and complain about gas prices. Let gas go to $5 a gallon…I don’t care.

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    Sorry but thats reality. Regardless of what Al Gore says we still have winters. Unless you drive in Panama. Then your range will still be bad because of running the AC. There still is no such thing as a free lunch, is there?

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      Umm… 2009 was in the top five years for global temperature since measuring began in 1880.  And all of the top ten years occurred since 1995.
       
      http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/
      http://climateprogress.org/2009/12/08/world-meteorological-organization-wmo-2000s-warmest-hottest-decade-on-record/
       
      Rising global temperatures do not mean you don’t have winter.  In fact, many places will get colder as weather patterns readjust.  And Al Gore never claimed any different.
       
      What do you think, because it snows in your back yard, global warming isn’t happening?

  • avatar
    shaker

    Oh well, there go the sales in their anticipated second release market – Michigan.
    I wonder how badly it would have done between New Years and now, where in Pittsburgh, PA,  it hasn’t gone above 30 degrees for almost two weeks…
    Maybe the EV industry ought to be asked kindly to engage in a little “truth in advertising” on such vital specifications, rather than the boilerplate: “YMMV”.

  • avatar
    Disaster

    Actually, that is just caused by the battery technology they chose.  If they had gone with Lithium chemistry batteries the cold wouldn’t be such a huge factor.  Anyone who has every used RC cars with Lithium batteries could tell you how much dramatically better they are than NiMh or NiCds.  Few EV manufacturers use Lithiums because of the added cost.  I suspect, eventually they will be competitive…or a new technology will be developed that performs similarly for much lower cost.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      They are using lithium.

    • 0 avatar
      Disaster

      My mistake.  I wonder which Lithium technology they are using that is so effected by cold?  When we use them in RC, there is very little effect (NiMh are horrible in comparison.)  This is the same reason my son’s replaced their airsoft batteries with LithiumIon.  The NiMh would lose so much potential that sometimes there wasn’t enough current to turn over the motors.

      On second thought, I suspect the reduced range Lutz experienced is more related to his driving style than the temperature. He has been known to a lead foot. Electric motors, have efficiency curves. Push them to the outside of the curve and the efficiency drops…as would the range. Driving at night is another factor. Headlights can suck a lot of juice. I wonder if he had the defogger on which might cycle the A/C? There are a lot of factors and it wouldn’t surprise me if the 40 mile range is calculated in more ideal conditions…as opposed to an average.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      The issue isn’t the battery. The issue is largely that the driver turns the little knob on the instrument panel that requests “heat”. Doesn’t matter what battery technology you use, that’s going to kill the range.
      With a combustion engine, doing that just diverts waste heat from the engine into the interior and there’s essentially no impact on fuel consumption. With an electric, there isn’t any waste heat, so it needs to use electricity to do something – like turn on a battery-killing resistance heater.
      This is on top of certain other things that will inherently increase energy usage: Plowing through snow eats more power than rolling on smooth pavement. Cold atmospheric air has a higher density, so there is proportionately greater aerodynamic drag. Snow build-up on wipers and on the outside of the body spoils that splendid drag coefficient.
      I’m thinking you don’t live in a place that gets a real winter. Electric vehicles have a long way to go before they are ever practical in any place that has a real winter.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It’s not just the battery.  There’s a lot more friction in the drivetrain when it’s cold, and a lot of thermal loss, more power lost to lack of traction, heavier use of accessories (heat, defogger).
       
      I can’t see this being a surprise to anyone who lives anywhere where the temperature drops below 4C.  Every car, and especially those who do a lot of urban driving, sees a measurable mileage drop at this time of year.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    I’m not sure about the range… but the Audi duo was sold to the public in 1997. I ‘d think it made 28 miles electric too. the 1990′s electric VW golf with lead -acid batteries had such range too. Where is the progress?
     
    28 miles will be the normal range. Actually more like 20 miles because the driver will get a heart attack nearing the last amps and not being home yet. there always is some non-normal condition. If it wasn’t cold, hot, humid we didn’t need buildings etc.  One always needs a radio, lights etc. Batteries also age. the 28 mile range in a new car will be 20 miles in a 5 year old car. Especially when they get drained all the time. A hybrid keeps the batteries charged, they live much longer.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    The energy density of batteries stinks, still. Gasoline has an energy density roughly two orders of magnitude greater than the best battery systems can provide. Batteries are not the answer, no matter how much money is thrown at them. You cannot overcome a two orders of magnitude problem with more engineering. The laws of physics are very uncompromising. Unfortunately, very few people have studied even rudimentary physics.

    The attractiveness of hybrid systems is that they use a relatively small amount of onboard battery storage to make up for some of the inefficiencies inherent in the way vehicles are actually used. If a vehicle were always simply driven at a fixed speed on level ground then a hybrid system would actually be less efficient than would an optimized conventional powertrain. In real life, cars start, stop, accelerate, decelerate and have to climb and descend hills. A hybrid is able to recapture some of the energy normally burned off by the brakes. People get the idea that just because “some is good”, then “more must be better”. But, the law of diminishing returns kicks in with a vengeance.

    Plug in all electric or hybrid vehicles are basically a dumb idea and a massive waste of effort for all but the shortest range applications. There are good reasons why golf cart type vehicles are the only all electric vehicles in common use.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      Excellent point. Physics and chemistry combine to bedevil batteries. While internal combustion engines too have to fight the second law of thermodynamics, the great energy density of liquid fuels lets them win the fight. Look for cars like the Prius to continue to be the cutting edge.

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      The gasoline substitute of batteries or fuel cells still is not capable of the task with today’s technology.  The best known modern substitute (with the infrastructure to most quicklyand efficiently adapt) is diesel powered cars that get near hybrid mileage (add the simple start / stop technology) without the need for parallel or serial hybrid applications.  Plus without the toxic battery packs to recycle in 7 years for thousands of dollars cancelling any benefit the owners of a hybrid got from the increase mileage.  Someone stated here ironically that the Hummer H2 used significantly less green house gasses to be produced over the Prius (another overlooked blemish by the hybrid community).  Efficiency be damned!

  • avatar
    Happy_Endings

    He said he had a Volt during the Thanksgiving weekend and got only 28 miles on full-electric power because of the cold weather.

    If I remember correctly, Thanksgiving wasn’t that cold.  Maybe 40-45 degrees.  What would it get when it actually is cold?

    • 0 avatar
      Disaster

      Now that I understand we are talking about Lithium batteries I wonder if his cold comment is a Red Herring.  Lutz is a bit of a lead foot and that is probably a bigger factor.  Electric motors have an ideal efficiency range…pushing them outside of that range can make a HUGE difference.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    At this point, why not just ditch the hybrid driveline for a traditional setup. You’ll probably gain room for a fifth passenger. The car itself is is sharp.

    • 0 avatar
      Disaster

      Isn’t that what the Cruze is?…though Chevy did their best to ugly it up in time for production.  It now looks too similar to the current Malibu.

      http://cache-06.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/12/2008/09/2010-Chevy-Cruze-Live.jpg

      http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_7LQxj656qB0/Swr5aKJYh_I/AAAAAAAAG1E/x9M8Ig1zhkA/s1600/2011+Chevy+Cruze.jpg

  • avatar
    mcs

    Cold temperatures aren’t the only problem, heat will be an issue too. Not only because of the air conditioning, but the battery needs to be cooled too.

  • avatar
    TheJonesBoy

    I think people are being too critical of the estimated mileage numbers.   One would expect that the vehicle was driving in the winter with the possibility of snow on the ground and the heater running full blast.   It only reduced the electric-only range by a dozen miles.  This was a worst case scenario from a typical driver’s point of view, and the only consequence was the on-board generator had to fire up.   Who hasn’t seen a +/- 30% variation in mileage with a gas/diesel car?
    What would you guys prefer?   Mileage going up pikes peak in 3 feet of snow with flat tires?    Mileage going back down in the summer?   A plot of all the scenarios between?   At some point you will have to pick a number that is a wild-arse-guess of typical usage to compare between similar vehicles.   It may not be perfect, but it does offer a pretty good rough estimate comparison.
    There are similar problems with horsepower ratings.   A vehicle with a lower peak HP could be faster than a higher HP vehicle, if its power is greater over a wider range.   Or if the gearing is wacky…  Yet people still quote and compare peak HP ratings.    If we didn’t pick peak hp and just run with it, accepting the limitations of the metric, it just gets too complex to compare things quickly.   Yeah, there are 0-60 times and the like, but they have similar issues too.
     

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      I think reduced range is something to be very critical about. We’re not talking about 30% reductions in power or mileage. We’re talking the difference between making it back home or not. That uncertainty will make for some uneasy journeys among early adopters of plug-in EVs. Today, I’m driving a 40 mpg+ vehicle with a 600 mile range. I wouldn’t even be willing to trade for a car with a 60 mile range. Drop that to half, and I question whether the Volt  buyer wouldn’t be better off getting an electric bicycle instead. The best of them sell for a tenth of the Volt’s price. Their electric-only range approaches the Volt’s claims, and can be stretched to infinity if you’re willing to pedal. Chinese bought these by the tens of millions last year. I think they’re the only plug-in EVs that are ready for implementation today, but in our market, they’re ignored by commuters and despised by the lycra-clad, pain ‘n gain crowd of traditionalist bikers. If this interests anyone, check out forums like http://www.endless-sphere.com for more…

    • 0 avatar

      I’m one of those lycra-clad bikers. The reason while electric bicycles have been rejected by serious cyclists is that the benefit from the power assist is offset by having to carry around the weight of the batteries and the motor the rest of the time. In other words, they aren’t very good bicycles.
       
       
      I suspect that some kind of hydraulic or pneumatic energy system for recovering energy from downhills and braking might be more effective than electricity, at least for bikes.
       

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    I guess the EV hypermiling crowd will need to invest in down jackets and  long underwear. And scrapers for the inside of their windshields. Nobody, even in the jumbo RV crowd, relies on batteries to power electric heaters.  Air conditioners aren’t much less greedy in their consumption of electric power. Nobody relies on batteries to power them, either, AFAIK. I suspect that it’s easier to design a battery-powered propulsion system than a battery-powered HVAC system.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I believe  the Prius (and the other HSD hybrids, and possibly the Insight) either use the motor to run the accessory belt, or have electric A/C and fans, though not electric heater coils.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      In the current hybrid production cars, if the driver requests interior heat, the combustion engine runs in order to generate it. Another consideration is the catalytic converter … they run the engine enough to get it up to temperature and keep it there. Some of them have electric A/C, but in these applications, the battery only needs to be able to power it for a short time. Whole different story when you try to operate the whole car electrically.

    • 0 avatar
      TheJonesBoy

      Way back when, when VW made their engines air cooled, they had this problem. The answer was a secondary diesel burning heater for the cabin. Made things relatively warm, but did have some fire issues.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      Actually, the old VWs used a GASOLINE powered supplementary heater.  Horrors!  Small twin engined airplanes also use these because it is impractical to route exhaust heat all the way from the wings to the pax compartment.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      If laptops are any indication, lithium batteries produce plenty of heat themselves. Maybe that heat can be routed to the HVAC system in future EVs.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      There’s coolant lines running through the Volt battery pack.  Whether they are there to heat the battery or cool it, I can’t recall.  However, much as I am not a fan of GM, I’m pretty sure their engineers are bright enough that they aren’t going to leave a useful source of heat untapped; they all know what it will cost in kWh to heat the cabin and they all know how few kWh there are in the battery.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Irvine

    How about a hybrid-hybrid? Use batteries to run the car and lights, gas to recharge the batteries and a small propane or LPG or CNG tank for the heater/demister.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Countries with a searing hatred for importing oil, a fierce desire to produce a fully electric vehicle larger than golf cart, and an almost unlimited budget to try, have failed to do so.
     
    Critics claim trying to recover stored energy by electrolysis, at one-one hundredth the efficiency, instead of just burning the damn stuff and using the energy in the form of heat in an internal combustion engine, is a fantasy buoyed by a lack of knowledge of physics.
     
    It’s beginning to sound like the physicists may be right.

  • avatar
    T2

    All of the above discourse supposes that an electric vehicle needs to have a battery of some sort in the first place. An electric vehicle does not need to have chemical storage on board for traction purposes.The usual 72 Amp-hr Pb acid battery will still be extant for the hotel loads same as in other vehicles since its low self – discharge rate when left unattended is superior to the more exotic chemistries.
    As well the regeneration of electrical energy while braking can be accomplished at much lower expense by having it dissipated in a resistor bank mounted under the vehicle if that is your bag else consider this part of the system as merely a brake pad extender package !
    Experience has shown that in the case of the Prius system which allows just 10Kw of regen, a level which probably makes little difference to mileage anyways, the rotor and pad wear are found to be significantly reduced. If you push me on this I could tell you that the battery isn’t even that good for this purpose since it won’t be force fed that 10kw unless its temperature lies between certain hi and lo cutoffs. Nor will it be on the receiving end either if its state of charge approaches 80%. So much for regen with the current crop of hybrids.
    Only a vehicle with a battery of 16kw-hr storage the so-called pure electric, that is until the Volt arrives, can absorb 50kw or more and thus be able to recuperate almost all the braking energy. Only that case will show the expected benefit in driving range.
    The Prius geartrain is exceedingly lossy. The chain drive takeoff and the further double reduction to the wheel differential (MY2004-2009) are estimated at an overall 83% efficiency. Things get even worse when the losses from power churning in the HSD planetary are factored in. So how can the Prius be so good ?
    Well the answer is certainly not in the efficiency of the HSD system itself. The answer lies in the efficacy of the HSD system instead. This shows up as the ability to make its diminutive 1.5L 76 Hp engine provide the maximum power profile of a 2.4L 140 Hp engine when accelerating, along with the ability to have the engine run at its lowest rpm when cruising.
    OK in the Prius there is the battery assist of 21Kw (28Hp) but consider this that the un Atkinsonised version of that 1.5L engine, found in the Yaris and Echo (1NZ-FE), is rated at 108Hp. In this application I prefer to see it as the electric motor compensating for the emasculation of that Prius engine brought down to 76 Hp with its Atkinson camming.
    Some would argue to increase the battery power and size of the traction motor then downsize the engine even further and emulate a V6. But this is not my argument.
    My first argument is in line with other posters stating that gasoline should be the storage medium of choice. Complicating any powertrain with chemical storage batteries is an unnecesary design thrust until other options have been utilised.
    My second argument is to do with mechanical efficiency. Manipulating power with mechanical devices such as geartrains should be avoided. Guiding torque from the engine to the wheels requires robust castings and bearings every step of the way in order to handle and counter the reactionary forces that are set up at each stage.
    Also to be avoided is manipulating mechanical power between electromechanical devices in order to provide a high torque low rpm load to the engine. The HSD does this by having MG2 the main traction motor providing some 30Kw of electrical power to MG1 the generator so that it can (by acting as a motor) assist the engine to drive the planetary ring. This churning of power while cruising is the reason why highway mileage is not significantly better than the Yaris with the same engine. Though it must be allowed that the Prius is mid-sized against the Yaris, a subcompact.
    Avoiding these problems first needs twin motors on the rear wheels. Each motor having a single reduction planetary built into the bell housing on one side with the output shaft going straight to its wheel. They were fitted to the front wheels on Impact, the early 1990 EV-1 prototype but there was problem with turning radius.
    Second the engine needs perhaps to be a big bore 2-cylinder coupled to a high speed alternator. Alternator needs to be 12000rpm peak NOT 6000rpm. Lightness is key here not efficiency. Boeing 747′s don’t have diesel engines for same reason.
    Third someone needs to invent a constant current to constant voltage bridge converter to provide the same high torque load as the Prius engine sees. In other words do whatever the HSD does but electronically instead of the back to back method of those two electrical machines known as MG1 and MG2.
    Sadly the chance of the VOLT is doing any  of the above is zilch to nada.

  • avatar
    Kyle Schellenberg

    Much of what I’ve read about EVs highlights the exhilarating rush of acceleration produced by the electric motor.  That plus the guilt-free feeling drivers will likely feel while they’re at it will make it commonplace.
     
    We’ll see how range pans out then.


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