Chevy Volt: Only 40 miles?
I get questions:
Nick, what are your thoughts on this article in the NYT about the downside of electric vehicles? I thought that they more than a 40mpg range. We’re gonna have to develop cars that don’t need gas at all:
It’s a great question. As I mentioned in the past:
I see plug-in hybrids as a critical transitional component of the move toward sustainability because they offer the trust of being able to reliably cover some distance with the sustainability of electricity.
In other words, the gas-assist engine isn’t as much a range-extender as much as it is a confidence-extender. Getting stranded alongside the road is probably one of the greatest American fears specific to our culture. I believe that fear has by far been the biggest support the foreign car manufacturers ever had. American companies continued to turn out low-quality, unreliable crap while Americans increasingly turned to Hondas and Toyotas. So it’s not a fear to be taken lightly and it’s pure genius of Chevy to go with a small engine that simply recharges the batteries. (Traditional hybrids combine electric and gas engines for power.)
So this gas-assist concept is designed to create trust in the vehicle so you might consider buying it.
However, the real crux of your question relates to what you described as the “40mpg range”. And this is a common point of confusion.
Note the details from the NYT article:
G.M. engineers say that a fully charged Volt is capable of 40 miles of purely electric driving before the computer calls for the generator, which has an output of 53 kilowatts (about 71 horsepower), to start and sustain the battery’s minimum charge level — the “extended range” operating mode.
In other words, it can run for 40 miles on the battery, then the gas is used to recharge the batteries (while you’re driving). That’s different than mpg or miles per gallon. I’m not sure what they’re saying the total range of the car would be and a cursory search around the Internets didn’t turn up anything. In other words if you filled up the gas tank and took off down the road until it died, how many miles could you go? Not clear.
But maybe it’s somewhat irrelevant. It’s being sold as a commuter car and that should allow it to get most of us to work and back home every day and possible even some trips to the store before you’d need to plug in. That means the gas engine might never kick on for many of us.
Right now the main agenda for the U.S. is to build out an infrastructure that can support the Volt and cars like it. My commute is less than 10 miles. I could actually get by with a full electric car if there were currently some reasonable choices, something I’ll post about soon. Supporting electrics with plug-in stations along the highway, at work and along city streets will be desperately needed. If the Volt can help us reach the critical mass needed to force the building of that infrastructure then bring it on. Then, eventually, we may not need gas at all.
Tags: Chevy Volt