The Truth About Cars » range The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 28 Jul 2014 21:27:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » range AAA: Extreme Temps Hurt EV Range Fri, 21 Mar 2014 14:06:03 +0000 550x366xIMG_6417-550x366.jpg.pagespeed.ic.H6TYJJxGdw

Yes, we know water is wet too, but this study from the AAA provides some interesting findings regarding how extreme temperatures affect the driving range of electric vehicles.

Apparently, the extreme temperature problem cuts both ways

Vehicles were tested for city driving to mimic stop-and-go traffic, and to better compare with EPA ratings listed on the window sticker. The average EV battery range in AAA’s test was 105 miles at 75°F, but dropped 57 percent to 43 miles when the temperature was held steady at 20°F. Warm temperatures were less stressful on battery range, but still delivered a lower average of 69 miles per full charge at 95°F. 

AAA performed testing between December 2013 and January 2014. Each vehicle completed a driving cycle for moderate, hot and cold climates following standard EPA-DOE test procedures. The vehicles were fully charged and then “driven” on a dynamometer in a climate-controlled room until the battery was fully exhausted.

Anyone who has spent time in Texas in the summer knows that high temperatures are sufficient to render your phone too hot to use, and the cold is notoriously harsh on battery life for any electronic device, let alone an electric car. But how about the use of wipers, HVAC systems and other essentials for winter (and well, summer) driving, all of which requires battery power when used in an EV.

In temperate climates like Southern California, EVs will always be a viable, 365-day proposition. In cold countries like Norway, where driving distances are short, fuel is astronomically expense and taxes are high for gasoline and diesel cars, EVs can make sense. But given the drops in range when the temperatures hit either end of the scale, it’s tough to see how they can become a viable, mass-market proposition in the near future for much of the United States and Canada.

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Software Update Barely Makes Dent In Tesla Model S “Vampire” Issue Tue, 26 Nov 2013 16:02:18 +0000 Tesla S at Seattle Auto Show 2013

Standby power — or vampire draw — allows consumer goods such as smartphones, cloud-enabled laptops and PS4s to wake up immediately to do whatever it is you need them to do. There are drawbacks, of course, such as the wasting of resources (money, electricity, the things that make electricity happen) and fires.

Speaking of fires, Tesla may need to cast more sunlight upon the S’s vampire draw issues, as it would appear their latest software update hasn’t done much to drive the stake into its heart if one owner’s experience is to be believed.

The cause for the vampire drain overall was a software update that fixed a number of issues found in the original version of the sedan’s operating system when the latter was put into sleep mode. By “fixed,” of course, the automaker merely disabled sleeping altogether.

What happened next? The standby power went from 1 percent every 24 hours to as much as 8 percent in the same time period, depending on what model one owned.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk addressed this issue in March of this year, promising a new sleep mode update in July would bring the draw down to a much more reasonable 0.2 percent.

While the update would ultimately arrive in late fall, the owner found his S drained 15 miles of indicated range every 24 hours, down from a peak of 23 miles when the S was first tested earlier this year. Not quite 0.2 percent, though the Best & Brightest are questioning the owner’s methodology in the comments.

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The Truth About Battery Life Wed, 20 Feb 2013 21:07:32 +0000

The drama circling around the New York Times test of the Tesla Model S doesn’t surprise me one bit. Why? Because I understand, perhaps at a deeper level than most of the motoring press, how batteries work. Perhaps that has to do with growing up in a family of engineers and scientists, but battery technology has always interested me. So when people from Phoenix came to me crying in their soup about their LEAFs in the heat and friends started wagging fingers at Tesla and the New York Times, I figured it was time for a battery reality check.

What’s the problem (this time)?

Consumer Reports says their Tesla’s power gauge dropped to “zero” at the 173-mile mark on a 176-mile trip. At the beginning of the trip the range indicator said 240 miles while the “projected range” indicator which takes driving style into account said 188 miles. On first glance this sounds like some horrific range issue. “OMG, the Model S missed its 240 mile range by 64 miles.” But did it?


What was the problem last time?

If you didn’t know about the Tesla / New York Times punch up, then click here for the article that started it all. (And a picture of a Tesla on a flatbed.) Basically John Broder took a Tesla out on the road for a long road trip and ran out of juice. Of course he also didn’t charge the battery fully at every opportunity he had, but that’s beside the point for the moment.

About those journalists

Our readers are no doubt familiar with Jack Baruth’s assertion that the vast majority of auto journalists are less than professional drivers. The same applies in this case, the majority of journalists know rather little about EVs, how they work, what’s going on in the battery pack and why it matters. Much like a novice on the track, a novice in an EV can result in unpredictable results.

How batteries work

Batteries are a means of storing electricity chemically. The fact that we’re talking about a chemical reaction is absolutely vital to keep in mind when anyone starts talking about range, battery degradation, heat, cold, charging, etc.

All batteries have three basic components: a cathode, an anode and an electrolyte between the two. Depending on what materials are used for each of these three components battery life, cost and power density will vary. At the low-end of the scale we have the zinc-potato-copper battery from school and at the high-end of consumer electronics we have the lithium iron phosphate-dimethyl carbonate-graphite battery known as the Lithium-ion battery, or the battery that powers modern cell phones, laptops, electric cars and is even used in the new Boeing 787. (Yea, the one getting the bad press.)

Every battery chemistry has its advantages and disadvantages. Lead-acid batteries (the one that starts your car) are heavy, cheap and can handle the high current draw of starter motors. Ni-Cad batteries that were popular in my child hood were relatively easy to manufacture and lower cost than other alternatives. Nickel-metal hydride batteries have been around for some time and thanks to their stability and energy density have been used in hybrid vehicles since the Prius and Insight. Lithium based batteries are the current star in the consumer electronics world because their power density and ability to charge rapidly are excellent for smartphones, tablets and laptops. The problem is Lithium batteries can be more “temperamental” than some of the older chemistries. If you want to know all there is to know about Lithium-ion batteries, click on over to

What does this have to do with the cold?

Because batteries store energy chemically, a chemical reaction has to occur when charging and when discharging. When batteries get cold, the internal resistance of the battery increases which decreases the amount of energy that you can get out of the pack. You can test this at home yourself if you have a camera flash at home. Drop the batteries into the freezer, put them in the flash and see how long it takes to recharge the flash. What does this mean in a car? Well, you are charging outside and it’s near freezing, then (A) you won’t be able to completely charge a battery and (B) after charging if the battery cools off to ambient you won’t be able to use a portion of those electrons you just stuffed in the battery. Think about your 12V car battery, remember that cranking amps vs cold cranking amps rating? Same thing.

To fix these problems many EVs (like the Model S) heat the battery to try to keep it at an optimum temperature. Doing so ensures that you can use the entire capacity for charging and discharging, but it of course consumes power, and the colder it is, the more power it takes to heat the battery. In hot weather the system cools the battery to preserve the lifetime of the battery chemistry.

What are the factors that decrease battery life?

There are many factors involved, but put simply, having your battery at a very low state of charge or a very high state of charge has a negative impact on battery life. The rate at which you take the battery from charged to discharged or discharged to charged also has an impact. While cold temperatures may keep you from getting the most out of your battery, it usually doesn’t impact longevity. Heat on the other hand has a severe impact on battery life and it gets worse the higher the state of charge.

Back to Consumer Reports

Without access to Elon’s creepy data logs of the CR test vehicle, I have two suggestions to what was going on. First off, the car was fairly close to reality with the projected range of 188 miles, but this needs explanation and education. The car was saying that if you drive gently the maximum range is 240.  Drive it like you’ve been driving it,  expect 188. Now we insert the cold weather into the mix. I assume he was heating the cabin on a chilly day and driving like normal. What wasn’t obvious is that the Model S may very well have also had the battery heater turned on, if so, there’s your 12 miles. Even if that wasn’t the case, any gasoline car that gets the range estimate within 7% scores in my book.

What about those LEAFs in Phoenix?

A while back I got a frantic call from a friend in the Phoenix area. “My LEAF’s batteries are dead!” So for the next 15 minutes he poured his heart out about the problem. Towards the end the usual comments from a person dealing with “automotive loss” came out “Nissan needs to give me a new battery.” After all his woes had been aired he asked me what I thought. I paused for a moment and said (as nicely as possible) “I’m not sure what your problem is. What you are describing to me is normal battery wear and tear.”

You see, unlike the Model S, the LEAF does not have an active cooling system for the battery pack. (This was done to save money and with the LEAF now dropping to $28,800 (less than half the Model S), you get what you pay for.) The lack of active cooling means that in the hot Arizona desert, parked in the sun at work or at the mall your battery is slowly dying. Why? It’s all back to the chemistry again. The optimum service life of Lithium-ion batteries is achieved when the cell is a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Baking in the sun for 8 hours a day while you’re at the office the inside of the car can easily go over 170 degrees when it’s 115 outside. Since he had to charge his car at the office in order to get back home, he was compounding the problem since batteries get hot as they charge. As the battery aged because of the long commute he started to drop by the local DC quick charge station. This made the battery age even faster because now the battery is hot and you are rapidly going from one state of charge to the other. Net result: 20% loss in capacity over 2 years and 33,000 miles. Case closed.

What about my Prius? (or other hybrids)

Right now the Prius, and most older hybrids like the Escape Hybrid and the first generation Fusion Hybrid use Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries. This chemistry is more stable but less power dense than lithium based batteries. In addition remember what I said about battery life? State of charge and charge/discharge rates are large factors. Hybrids extend their battery life deliberately by never fully charging nor fully discharging their batteries. In fact most non-plug-in hybrids use 60-70% of the rated capacity in the battery. Since they don’t depend on the battery for 100% of the propulsion like an EV does, charge and discharge rates are lower which also extends battery life. And lastly, it’s less obvious when your hybrid’s battery does age because it’s not your only source of propulsion. As hybrids move to lithium batteries they are retaining these life extending measures, but even still they may or may not have the same life span as the NiMH batteries, only time will tell. In the plug-in world, only GM seems to be operating in a cautious fashion by only using about 80% of the Volt and ELR’s battery pack vs nearly 95% of the capacity in Ford and Toyota models.

Who’s right and who’s wrong here? Who is to blame?

Everyone. The EV buyer who didn’t bother to do his homework, the dealer who didn’t help set expectations, and the manufacturer who promised all would be well. My inclination however is to place the burden on the EV buyer. If you’re going to buy a car of any description, you need to do your homework. You don’t buy a Mazda Miata and then get upset when you bend the frame trying to tow your 5th wheel. Likewise, don’t expect any EV to have some magical battery that runs on butterfly-farts and lasts 250,000 miles, it just won’t happen. Yet.


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QOTD: Is The EV Honeymoon Over? Thu, 17 Jan 2013 14:00:26 +0000  

Now that the Nissan Leaf is being made in Tennessee, Nissan has decided that a big price drop is in order. While the 2012 car retailed for $35,200, the 2013 Leaf starts at $28,800, thanks to a new base model. Anyone who bought a 2012 must be pretty ticked off at the resale-ruining price cut. Higher-end SV and SL trim levels will retail for $31,820 and $37,250 respectively.

The domestic production of the Leaf and its battery components undoubtedly help make the car cheaper, but one has to wonder how much of this is related to the Leaf’s slow sales and the general downward trend of EV enthusiasm. Past auto shows have featured a bounty of EVs in both concept and production form. This year’s NAIAS featured the Tesla Model X, which received far less fanfare than one would expect, and the Leaf was largely overshadowed by well, everything else, including Nissan’s own Versa Note subcompact.

One canard of the industry is that electric cars are still a decade out – and they always will be. Personally, I find it ironic that electric vehicles, derided as boring, appliance-like transportation for eco-weenies, deliver a very rewarding driving experience. They are fast, brilliantly packaged (look at the flat floor of a Nissan Leaf if you don’t believe me) and the ability to place the battery pack nearly anywhere can lead to excellent handling characteristics.

But issues like diminished performance in cold weather to a lack of charging infrastructure have confined EVs to playthings for affluent coastal dwellers. The question now is whether they will remain in this niche or not.

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Chevy Volt: Ask the Men and Women Who Own Them Fri, 19 Aug 2011 18:06:15 +0000

Volt owners gather before their parade down Woodward

Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth

As part of the festivities surrounding the Woodward Dream Cruise, GM organized a parade down Woodward and back up again made up of 50 Chevy Volts driven to the event by their owners, at their own expense, from around the country. As far as car company promotional events go it was fairly low key (I was asked not to publicize the pre-parade reception for the owners) but it was clearly a high priority item for GM. The Volt marketing team was out in force and they brought in NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who are racing at Michigan International Speedway this weekend, to wave green flags at the start of the Volt parade. Gordon and Johnson both own Chevy dealerships and they both personally own Chevy Volts. They race for Rick Hendricks, who owns quite a few Chevy (and other GM) stores himself. There were news teams from at least two of the Detroit tv stations and a satellite truck that I believe was used for a national network or cable interview of the NASCAR drivers. GM also brought out a number of pace cars from their private stash of Camaros, Corvettes and even one Chevy SSR that paced races at Indianapolis and Daytona. There was also the ZR1 that set a lap record for production cars at the Nurburgring. Marketing being what it is, the parade also included 2 squadrons of Chevy’s most recent new product, the Camaro convertible and the subcompact Sonic. There were 100 cars in total, one for each year in Chevy’s current centennial.

There were t-shirts and baseball caps for the guests, and the Volt owners each got a nice die cast model of their car, but the Volt owners weren’t there for the swag or for autographs, though they eagerly accepted both. The Volt owners were there because they really, really, really like their cars.

Comments like “the best car I’ve ever owned” were not uncommon. Ear to ear grins were everywhere. These folks were bursting with pride. Sometimes people don’t want to talk to reporters and writers. Not in this case. These people were eager to tell all. I watched more than one Volt owner do more than one tv interview.  Understand, these are early adopters, and a number traveled across the country to buy a Volt and then drove the car home hundreds or thousands of miles after taking delivery. Likewise many drove hundreds of miles to come to this event. The chances of any of them driving to Detroit to complain were pretty small.

The sign on the side of that Volt reads "American Made - Solar Powered".

I don’t like to say I told you so, but I predicted that early adopters of the Volt would love it to pieces and want to tell everyone about it. That’s what early adopters do, isn’t it? There were a fair number of Apple enthusiasts in the crowd. iPhones and iPads aplenty. When I gave one owner my business card, which for this event had TTAC on one side and Cars In Depth, the 3D car culture site, on the other, he showed me his 3D HTC phone. If I were to make a snap judgment, the crowd was mostly white, about equally split male and female, well educated, and seemingly upper middle class. For some this was their first “green” car. One lady from Alabama traded in a Saab 9.5. Others were not new to alternative propulsion. One owner traded in a Prius. He said that his overall gas mileage with the Volt was higher than with the Prius and said that the even with the cost of recharging, it was still cheaper to run than his Toyota hybrid. It was not a homogeneous group of drivers in terms of how they were using there cars. Some were hypermilers, but most said they just drove their cars normally. Some had short commutes and could operate on battery power most of the time, others had 70 mile commutes or took their Volts on long trips. My favorite answer was the guy who had a 40 mile commute but couldn’t charge his car at work. Where does he work? The GM Tech Center in Warren. There are charging stations at the Tech Center, but not near his building and the shuttle buses don’t run on afternoon shift when he works.

With at least 50 Volts in attendance, this may be the largest gathering of privately owned Volts yet.

I asked each of the Volt owners that I spoke to the same questions: Do they hypermile or do they drive normally? How many gallons of gas have they used? What’s their overall gas mileage? What’s their gas mileage when on the range extender?

The satellite truck was for uplinking a network interview with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson

Most drove normally, but some had short commutes. The champion gas miser had used a total of 2 gallons of liquid fuel since March, but he’s self employed and works at home. Others reported using as little as 8, 22 and 25 gallons of gasoline over months of service. One person said that charging their Volt was costing them about $1 per full charge. I think that most drivers wouldn’t mind paying only $1 to drive 40 miles. At the price of gasoline today, $3.65/gallon, you would have to get something in the neighborhood of 150mpg to get the same fuel cost. It takes about 12Kw-Hrs to completely recharge a Volt to get an idea of the cost based on your local electricity rates.

A Volt owner admires a '63 split-window Corvette

All of the Volt owners reported getting at least 40 miles per charge. One guy said he can sometimes get 50. The Volt owners that used the range extender regularly reported overall gasoline mileage of at least 65 miles per gallon, but many reported much higher numbers, double and quadruple that 65mpg. The reports on gas mileage while on the range extender were impressively uniform. All but one said “42 miles to the gallon”, and the one outlier said “42 to 45 miles per gallon”. One said that it was “consistently 42. 42 miles of range on the battery and 42 mpg on the range extender”. All were pleased with the level of fuel economy when the ICE was running. I asked if there was anything that displeased them, and one owner reported being less than thrilled with the navigation system. That was about the only complaint.

Gordon and Johnson schmooze while waiting for their satellite interview. For all the talk of any feud, the men are in business together. Gordon is a part-owner of Johnson's #48 team. Other than personally winning the championship they share interests.

I did bring up the question of hybrids and EVs being a false economy. One of them, a businessman from Ann Arbor, said that a $40,000 car is a $40,000 car and you don’t buy a car for that much for the purposes of saving money. He said that when his friends raise the issue of the Volt’s (or any hybrid’s, for the matter) false economy, he points out that their $300 smartphone and $120/month data plan for it is costing, not saving, them money. I didn’t get the impression that any of these people were starry-eyed idealists. They also didn’t seem smug, which is nice.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who are Volt owners themselves (and Chevy dealers too) wave green flags to start the parade of Volts.

Obviously, this is not a crowd that is going to be hypercritical of the Volt. There’s a lot of selection and self-selection going on here, so they’re not going to be average drivers, no matter how average their use of the car may or may not be. A few days ago the notion of GM emulating Apple was bandied about. I’d say that most people outside of GM scoffed at the notion. I’ve been around personal computers since the early Altair and Sol days and I remember something from when Apple was rolling out the original Macintosh after the computer they branded as Lisa was a dud in the market. The Lisa was not a bad computer. A solid advance over the Apple IIe, it had some innovations that later became standard issue on Macs and PCs, but the Lisa didn’t sell. Then there was the Macintosh, which had evangelists, literally. Guy Kawasaki was given the title of Chief Evangelist to go out there and spread the good word about the Mac.

Chevy Volts parading on north Woodward Avenue

I think that GM has indeed taken a page from Apple’s book in terms of how they are cultivating the people who are buying the Volt, using them as evangelists for the brand. I mentioned swag above. When people were gathering around Johnson and Gordon to get the NASCAR stars’ autographs, I noticed that a number of them were having some kind of book signed. I asked one of them about it, and they said it had come as part of a thank you package from GM when they took delivery of the car. Obviously it was a gesture, like Hyundai giving away iPads with the Genesis sedan (and Hyundai discontinuing that practice is a different kind of gesture to consumers), but it appears that the gesture was appreciated with these Volt owners. The success of the Volt is an open question that won’t be answered until the dealer network is fully supplied and we see if those dealers sell enough Volts to match the annual production capacity of 60,000 units. I think in the case of the early Volt buyers, GM can rely on them to spread positive things about the car, to be their brand evangelists.

Like every hotel that GM uses for Volt events, the Kingsley Radisson has charging stations. Those are not manufacturer's plates so most likely, a private owner was topping off before the parade.

The Volt is a special case with special attention, special marketing, and a special group of consumers. It’s a cutting edge, high tech product that appeals to both tech geeks and people concerned about the environment so you’re already, again, doing some selection for people that tend to be good evangelists for the products they buy. I don’t know if this kind of marketing would work with more mass market cars like the Cruze, but it is possible. The name that GM gave the event, Volt Homecoming, evokes memories of the two Saturn Homecomings that GM sponsored in Spring Hill, TN. Before the Saturn brand was dissipated through badge engineering and poor product planning, the 1994 and 1999 Saturn Homecomings drew 30,000 and 44,000 people to Spring Hill, respectively. Now those homecomings may just have been part of ad genius Hal Rainey’s overall touchy feely promotional campaign but they do show that you can generate some brand loyalty to a mass market car with something that looks and feels like a personal touch. Meanwhile, based on the Volt owners who attended this event that I spoke to, they have both responded to that personal touch  and are willing to extend it to others on behalf of a car that clearly has charmed them.

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The EV Expectation Gap Sun, 22 May 2011 16:16:04 +0000

Though an global Accenture study [via Green Car Congress] found that up to 68% of respondents would consider a plug-in electric vehicle for their next purchase, the issue of range continues to be the great unknown. And unfortunately for all the models and predictions of future EV sales, the issue of range points to some severely irrational consumer behavior. Namely, there’s a giant disconnect (nearly ten-fold in fact) between the actual number of kilometers driven each day and the range expectations for future EV purchases. Meanwhile, 62% of respondents rejected battery swapping, the most credible current solution for range anxiety, for reasons that are not immediately clear. In short, Energy Secretary Chu had beeter be right when he says EV range will triple and costs will be reduced over the next six years… otherwise, EVs will die a quick death at the hand of consumers’ outsized range expectations.

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DOE: The Cheap, Effective, Unsubdsidized Electric Car Is Coming Sun, 22 May 2011 15:37:49 +0000

Though The Department of Energy has offered only the flimsiest of evidence for the practicability of President Obama’s electric vehicle goals, Energy Secretary Steven Chu is out writing checks about the future of EVs that the industry may not be able to cash. Speaking at the installation of the 500th ChargePointAmerica charging station in Southern California, Chu explained his vision for the future to the LA Times.

“Because of increased demand, we’ve got to think of all the other things we can do in transportation. The best is efficiency,” Chu said.

Batteries are the “heart” of electric vehicles, he said, adding that the Department of Energy is funding research that will drop the cost of electric-vehicle batteries 50% in the next three or four years and double or triple their energy density within six years so “you can go from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on a single charge,” he said. “These are magical distances. To buy a car that will cost $20,000 to $25,000 without a subsidy where you can go 350 miles is our goal.”

So, a 300+ mile car costing less than $25k without a subsidy, within the the 2017 time frame. Which essentially means that within six years, the Nissan Leaf would have to triple its range and lose the equivalent of the government subsidy’s $7,500 in costs. That’s not a wholly unreasonable goal, but what’s not clear is how it will be reached. After all, the Leaf is already behind on the government’s volume predictions, and starting next year the Volt will be too. A tripling of range in one long product cycle (or two short ones) seems as optimistic as the government’s EV volume projections, which imagine 120k Volts being produced next year, as well as 5,000 of the nonexistant Fisker “Nina” PHEV. Chu’s vision is commendable, but at this point the DOE’s credibility is more than a little strained when it comes to the future of EVs.

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Video Hints At Volt Performance: Just Over 40 Miles Of EV Range, Under 30 MPG Thereafter Tue, 24 Aug 2010 16:33:07 +0000

TTAC has a long, proud tradition of tearing into puffy automotive journalism, so it was not without a little trepidation that I wrote in the comments section of Michael Karesh’s excellent review of Zero To Sixty that

Toothless reporters put execs at their ease… which allows them to say naive or revealing things that toothy bloggers can then rip into. In a weird way, the worse the reporter, the better the reporting (as long as the quotes are then duly digested). As time goes on, I find myself more and more at peace with this evolving media food chain… and TTAC’s place in it.

To be clear, this is not an endorsement of toothless coverage per se, it’s just a pragmatic response to the reality that auto industry coverage will continue to be dominated by PR-approved puff. And this video provides yet more proof that non-threatening journalists are actually the most effective at snagging scoops, even if they’re totally unaware of said scoop. Which is where the bloggers come in.

AOL Autos’ TransLogic was invited to Milford Proving Grounds for a PR-guided tour of the Volt, and in the process accidentally reveals one of the few still-guarded secrets about the Volt’s performance: post-EV-range, or “Charge Sustaining Mode” (CS Mode) efficiency. Speculation has been rampant about what kind of mileage the Volt gets after exhausting its 40-mile electric range, with guesses ranging from 30 MPG to 50 MPG. And though the video shows that TransLogic was able to get the Volt to 43 miles on electric range, it also shows that, as reports,

The car then traveled an additional 16.1 miles using .59 gallons of gas for an average real-world MPG of 27.3 MPG.

Now, 16 miles isn’t exactly a definitive test, nor do we know exactly how the 16 miles was driven. Besides, GM would surely argue that the Volt tested was not a true production model, and that drawing inferences from this inadvertent information nuglet is premature. Still, they’re the ones concealing the Volt’s CS Mode performance, and if sub 30 MPG performance is what we can expect, the decision to keep the number under wraps is completely understandable. After all, that’s hardly an eco-friendly number coming from the Volt’s main claimed competitive advantage over the Nissan Leaf, namely its gas range-extender. With the “230 MPG” fiasco still festering, and GM and the EPA “negotiating” a fuel economy window sticker that is likely to be unique to the Volt (at least for now), we have to wonder how truthful GM plans on being about the Volt’s CS Mode efficiency.

Here’s hoping we learn more soon via a tough question honestly answered, rather than through an inadvertent leak by way of a breathless video report… but who’s holding their breath for that?

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Volt Birth Watch 174: Enough With The Prius Comparisons! Tue, 24 Nov 2009 22:55:09 +0000 Is anyone else seeing GM's business plans in this chart? (

As we saw in the last VBW, the Volt’s range-extender still needs some software work. But efforts to to keep the gas engine from acting like a thrashing, disembodied dervish will have to balance the desire for smooth operation and maximum efficiency.  And it’s looking like efficiency in charge sustaining (CS) mode won’t match the hybrid standard-setters. Volt chief powertrain engineer Alex Cattelan breaks the news gently to the true believers at

You’ve got to understand that all of the decisions that we’ve made around this product are made because its an EV. That is the first and foremost thing that it needs to be. So because it is an EV some of the decisions that we’ve made around engine operation will be different than what Toyota makes in its parallel hybrid. For them they are always operating in hybrid mode so they need to optimize everything for engine operation.

In our case we’re optimizing everything for EV operation and the secondary is certainly going to be better than conventional vehicles, but were not necessarily totally optimizing the system for charge sustaining mode because we don’t want to compromise electric vehicle mode.

Cattelan goes on to describe the sophistication of the Volt’s constantly-updating efficiency software, sourced from the abortive Two-Mode hybrid system. And as the chart above shows, the plan for charge-sustaining mode is an interesting one. Essentially, it involves keeping the battery state of charge between 30 and 35 percent, once the 40 miles of (estimated) EV range is tapped. Which is a fine idea as long as the engine on-off improves. Otherwise, drivers might just find themselves nervously counting down the five percent charge range before the 1.4 liter range extender thrashes to life again. Hoping for an answer to that question, Gm-volt notes “I’ve driven the 2-mode and notice you can see the switched in mode of operation without feeling it in the car.” Cattelan’s response reveals the trade-off that’s in play:

Which is the goal, you don’t want you to feel it in the car, we don’t want the customer to know these transitions are taking place, but we need to be able to enable them for efficiency.

Later, when Cattelan has explained the efficiency benefits of having a range-extending engine that’s independent of the drive axle, Gm-volt pushes again on the charge sustaining-mode efficiency question, saying “It seems to me then you should make CS mode even more efficient then in a car where the engine always has to turn the axle?” Cattelan’s answer once again downplays the notion, saying

Right and it is more efficient than a conventional vehicle because they do have to have that engine coupled. Again were optimizing some of those efficiency point puts we are really doing is focusing on the optimization of the EV. There are trade offs because we absolutely consider this product an EV by nature.

It’s not a hybrid! We’re focusing on EV mode! More efficient than a “conventional vehicle” in CS mode! Which means, what, 35 MPG? As Paul Niedermeyer explained some 18 months ago, the Volt is going to have a hell of a time beating the Prius on a mass-market basis. Which is what happens when you come up with the marketing line (“40 miles without burning a drop of gasoline”) before you develop the car.

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