Chevy Volt: Truth And Consequences

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
chevy volt truth and consequences

The autoblogosphere is agog at the revelation that the Volt’s gas engine occasionally powers its wheels. The GM-created “category” of Extended-Range Electric Vehicles (EREV, or E-REV) as uniquely epitomized by the Volt is suddenly revealed [by Motor Trend via GM] to

[have] more in common with a Prius (and other Toyota, Ford, or Nissan Altima hybrids) than anyone suspected.

So, why did the putative “Father of the Volt” (aka “Maximum” Bob Lutz) tell the car’s primary fan site that the Volt was born because

My desire was to put an electric car concept out there to show the world that unlike the press reports that painted GM as an unfeeling uncaring squanderer of petroleum resources while wonderful Toyota was reinventing the automobile, I just wanted something on the show stand that would show that hey we’re not just thinking of a Prius hybrid here, we’re trying to get gasoline out of the equation entirely.


OK, so MaxBob made frequent “off-reservation” appearances. Let’s not take his word for it. Once and for all, what is the GM position on the Volt powertrain?

– The Volt has an innovative electric drive system which can deliver power in both pure electric and extended range driving. The Voltec Electric Drive cannot operate without power from the electric motors. If the traction motor is disabled, the range-extending internal combustion engine cannot drive the vehicle by itself.

– There is no direct mechanical connection (fixed gear ratio) between the Volt’s extended-range 1.4L engine and the drive wheels. In extended-range driving, the engine generates power that is fed through the drive unit and is balanced by the generator and traction motor. The resulting power flow provides a 10 to 15 percent improvement in highway fuel economy.

Our overriding objective in developing the Voltec Electric Drive was to deliver the most efficient, yet fun-to-drive experience in both pure electric and extended-range driving. We think our unique technology lives up to its most important promise: delivering our customers with the only EV that can be their primary vehicle, with EV operation for normal daily driving, and extended range driving for weekends, holidays, longer trips, all with no range anxiety.

That’s from an official GM post titled “ Clearing Up Myths About the Chevrolet Volt.” The post links to friendly pieces from Motor Trend, Automobile and TheCarConnection, none of which ever question GM’s reason for hiding the fact the Volt’s gas engine does power its wheels in range-extended mode. The excuse:

We did not share all the details on how the system works until now because the information was competitive as we awaited patent approvals. Based on a small number of inaccurate media reports, we want to set the record straight.

Or, as Motor Trend masterfully dissects the newly GM-approved “party line”:

“It’s not a hybrid! It’s an electric car with a range-extending, gas-powered generator onboard.” That was the party line during most of the masterfully orchestrated press rollout of what we’ve been promised will be the most thoroughly new car since, what, the Chrysler Turbine? The Lunar Rover? Well, the cat is now out of the bag, and guess what? It is a hybrid, after all. Yes, Virginia, the Chevy Volt’s gas engine does turn the wheels. Sometimes.The MT boys have the right attitude towards automotive journalism: when the industry you cover lies, it won and it’s your turn to play the sad clown. TheCarConnection, on the other hand, has the wrong approach: pieces titledHow GM Didn’t ‘Lie’ About The Volt, And Why The Press Is Wrongdon’t inspire respect or credibility. Nobody likes the angry clown. TCC’s Nelson Ireson has a tough go at explaining how exactly GM didn’t mislead the public , settling instead to make a stand on the assertion that critics were making a “distinction without a difference.” Ireson sums up in his most reasonable “they’re not PR guys, they’re my friends” toneThe “GM lied” fanatics can build their semantic sand castles and kick down GM’s own all day long, but at the end of the day, this “lie” means the Volt is more capable than any other vehicle in its class. Is a flashy headline really worth dragging what may be the best EV/hybrid/futuremobile/whatever through the mud over a case of dubitable nomenclature? Apparently, to some, it is.But the Volt has too much history to be worth Ireson’s Dudley Do-Right impression. From Bob Lutz’s (and Ed Whitacre’s) numerous pricing and production “announcement” gaffes, to Fritz Henderson’s “230 (MPG)” stunt, to an original concept car that flunked its aero test by a mile, the Volt’s storyline couldn’t be more PR-nightmare-laden. At this point there are only three questions left: A) is the Volt a good car, B) does GM have credibility issues, and C) how does the answer to B) change the answer to A)?The first question (A) needs a road test (TTAC’s is scheduled for next week) and more long-term reporting to answer. Just because GM wasn’t forthcoming about its technical details doesn’t mean the Volt is necessarily a bad car. On the other hand, GM’s latest credibility question simply adds to the stack of issues that have been piling up against the Volt as the years of its hype campaign have worn on. And as interesting as the Volt’s more-complex-than-we-thought innards are shaping out to be, the comedy of errors surrounding the car’s history is proving to be the more compelling story. Conception in a pique of anti-Prius Lutzian rage, government intervention, a $41k pricetag, and now this? With the storyline already overtaking the reality of the Volt, whatever “competitive” benefits GM was able to protect in this latest round of Volt PR flailing, probably weren’t worth the downsides of keeping this spectacle going.
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  • Blobinski Blobinski on Oct 12, 2010

    For those who criticize us for taking issue with the Volt, please understand we have seen GM repeat huge failures for YEARS. Now they are doing it with my money. What are the chances, what are the CHANCES the Volt is cost effective, has high quality, good performance, and a strong resale value? There is no way that I am rolling the dice and taking that bet. Who of you would bet on the Volt? I say we come up with a vote on TTAC and track it as the Volt is deployed and sold. Place your bets.....

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    • Blobinski Blobinski on Oct 12, 2010

      I agree with you that the Volt may not be the right car for GM, but some large number of people at GM said "Wow, this is a great idea". Let's be honest - what vehicle would you (TTAC readers) create if someone gave you a huge pile of money, a bunch of great American engineers and some slick PR folks......would you come up with the Volt?

  • Steven02 Steven02 on Oct 12, 2010

    The amount of misinformation on here is astounding. First, there is no direct mechanical link between the engine and wheels. I love the fact that this is flat out IGNORED by the press reporting this so called "LIE." It is all electrically powered. That part has NEVER changed. Do a lot of reading on this subject. There is no direct link. There is an indirect link. This indirect link cannot drive the car on its own. It helps spin the outer ring of a planetary gear to help change a final drive ratio. Without the power from the generator, the car is going no where. GM omitting this is not big deal out all. The ICE doesn't drive the car. The car is more complicated than previous thought. The car is more efficient because of this design change. GM doesn't want to let the competition know what it is doing, so it doesn't deliver all of the details before launch. Seriously, what is the problem with this incident?

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    • Greg Locock Greg Locock on Oct 15, 2010

      sure 20090082171 or might still work