Volt Birth Watch 145: Another Meaningless Test Drive

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

The Chevrolet Volt’s engineering team has given journos seat time in development mules. While this proves that the Volt exists, no car hack has been allowed to put the most important metrics to the test: range and recharge times. In fact, the makers of GM’s plug-in hybrid Hail Mary haven’t allowed a single scribe to drive the car in “range-extended mode.” For the euphemistically averse, that’s the bit where the Volt switches from battery operation to gasoline-powered battery operation. Writing in the Irish Times, automotive correspondent Chelsea Sexton (I’m female!) tried to rectify this sin of omission. She encountered little of CEO Fritz Henderson’s stack-o-bibles promise of transparency. In fact, this is genuinely funny stuff, in a “there goes a billion dollars of my tax money despite the PTFOA’s pre-C11 assertion that the Volt is a waste of money” kinda way.

I also failed to talk the guys into letting me drive the Volt in range-extended mode—I’d hoped to put to rest all the conjecture that because no one’s been allowed drive it that way, there must be something wrong.

Alas, Weber was typically insistent that it just wasn’t ready. I finally pinned him down: “What is so wrong with this car that you won’t let anyone drive it with the engine on?” He paused and admitted: “Well, when the engine comes on, you can hear it.” I kept waiting for more, but that was it—the big mystery.

In terms of investigative journalism, that’s your lot. The rest adheres to the TSWCOT (The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow) meme that we’ve read until our eyes began to bleed.

Eventually I was chastened by my own admiration for the position he took. While there’s a point where you have to stop engineering and start building, Weber’s statement is indicative of the attention to detail being paid to the Volt.

That said, some of the other folks working with the other Volt mules “happened” to drive by a few times in range extended mode—the thing is already Prius quiet. And because the generator operates within certain distinct “power bands” depending on the driver’s right foot (more power requested, higher the band—if the request is at the lower end of any band, the extra energy is fed back into the batteries), any detectable sound should directly correlate with attendant ambient and road noise. I can’t speak firsthand on the power of the generator but time, and my next test drive, will tell.

As I’m still typing, I must not be holding my breath.

[Thanks to PaulieWalnut for the link.]

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Jun 24, 2009

    Allowing a test drive of the range extended mode before it's fully developed would be suicidal. Everything on the Volt has to work and work like a normal car. Assuming they get the bugs worked out, I still think the genius PR move would be to offer the first test drive to Farago. As for "power bands", the generator must spin at an rpm necessary to produce enough current for demand. While three distinct power bands may not yield as high fuel efficiency as running the ICE at a single optimum RPM, I'm sure that one of the three power bands is the optimized RPM, and the other two are still benefiting from running at a steady RPM when in each band.

  • Greg Locock Greg Locock on Jun 25, 2009

    "Wouldn’t it be most effective to set up the engine for a single power setting and, when power is needed, start, idle for however long necessary and then to got full power? If it’s tuned across several power ranges, is there any efficiency advantage over the way the Prius uses its ICE? And the Prius sends power directly to the wheels, so the Prius doesn’t have power conversion/storage losses." No, because the loop efficiency of storing energy into the battery and then using it later in the motor is typically only 60% (Prius claim) to 80% efficient overall, so you really want to power match reasonably well. Idling the engine is the worst possible thing to do.

  • Ronin The very asking of the question "Are Plug-In Hybrids the Future?" is an interesting one. Because just 2 or 3 years ago we'd be asking- no, asserting- that E cars are the future. We're no longer asking that question.
  • Peter Benn There apparently were some K-code 4-dr sedan Fairlanes. Collectible Automobile Apr 2024 has found a '63 500 with HD 3/spd.
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  • Rust-MyEnemy Whoa, what the hell is wrong with Jalop1991 and his condescension? It's as if he's employed by Big Plug-In or something."I've seen plenty of your types on the forums....."Dunno what that means, but I'm not dead keen on being regarded as "A type" by a complete stranger"" I'm guessing you've never actually calculated by hand the miles you've driven against the quantity of gas used--which is your actual miles per gallon."Guess again. Why the hell would you even say that? Yes, I worked it out. Fill-to-fill, based on gas station receipts. And it showed me that a Vauxhall Astra PHEV, starting out with a fully charged PHEV battery, in Hybrid mode, on my long (234-mile) daily motorway daily commute, never, over several months, ever matched or beat the economy of the regular hybrid Honda Civic that I ran for a similar amount of time (circa 5000 miles)."You don't use gasoline at all for 30-40 miles as you use exclusively battery power, then your vehicle is a pure hybrid. Over 234 miles, you will have used whatever gas the engine used for 200 of those miles."At least you're right on that. In hybrid mode, though, the Astra was using battery power when it wasn't at all appropriate. The petrol engine very rarely chimed in when battery power was on tap, and as a result, the EV-mode range quickly disappeared. The regular hybrid Civic, though, deployed its very small electric reserves (which are used up quickly but restore themselves promptly), much more wisely. Such as when on a trailing throttle or on a downward grade, or when in stop-start traffic. As a result, at the end of my 234 miles, the Civic had used less gas than the Astra. Moreover, I hadn't had to pay for the electricity in its battery.I look forward to you arguing that what actually happened isn't what actually happened, but I was there and you were not."Regardless, that you don't understand it appears not to have stopped you from pontificating on it. Please, do us all a favor--don't vote."You really are quite unpleasant, aren't you. But thanks for the advice.
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