Chevy Volt Basics
What is the Chevrolet Volt?
When people ask me – What so special about the Chevrolet Volt? I typically answer that The Chevy Volt is a series electric – gasoline plug-in hybrid vehicle, also known as an extended range – electric vehicle (ER-EV).
Of course, the most common response I get to that answer is a blank stare – so I’ve decided to describe it in plain English.
The Chevrolet Volt is a battery powered electric car with an on board gasoline generator. You can plug it into your home outlet to charge it. The Volt will drive roughly 40 miles on a charge (updated 1/12/2011: I have been getting between 28 worse case to 43 best case miles per charge). Once you run low on batteries, the on board gasoline generator will automatically turn on (much like a generator at home does when your power is out). The on board generator has enough power to keep your car running just like it was running straight off the battery.
What this means is that if you drive less than 40 miles a day, you can drive completely electrically without using a drop of gasoline! If however you need to go on a longer trip – there are no range limitations to the Chevy Volt as it can run indefinitely on the gasoline generator (though you would not be taking full advantage of the car’s unique technology if you never plug it in!
How is the Volt different from other Hybrid Cars like the Prius?
In technical terms, the Chevy Volt is a Series Gasoline Electric Hybrid while other modern hybrids like the Prius, Insight, and Fusion are Parallel Gasoline Electric Hybrids. While they are all hybrids (using a combination or electric and gasoline power) A Parallel Hybrid works by supplementing the gasoline engine’s power with an electric motor, while in a series hybrid – all of the torque used to turn the wheels is created by the electric motor only. Parallel hybrids for the most part cannot drive solely on electric power (though with the newest parallel hybrids you can do so if you accelerate very gradually)
For more information on the differences between a car like the Volt and the Prius, I encourage you to check out HowStuffWorks How Hybrids Work for a very cool animated representation of this concept!
(updated 1/12/2011: Actually the Voltec System is a very cool Planetary Gearset Transmission with clutches! Check out Motor Trend’s excellent description here)
I’ve heard the term “Range Anxiety” What does it mean?
Range Anxiety is what you think it might be – concern that you won’t have enough batteries to drive all the way home. This is a problem on many pure electric cars today as their maximum range varies between 60-120 miles typically depending on model. (Excluding the $100,000 Telsa Roadster). Since there is not a fast and easy way to charge your car on the road right now, if you were to run out of batteries, essentially you would need to be towed. What’s worse is that during very cold weather, batteries are less efficient, giving them less range – and if you use the battery power to warm the car – you can be easily cutting your electric range in half. One comment that was dropped by a Volt Engineer was that during a below freezing day “It takes as much energy to heat the car as it does to drive it”. The Volt model solves the problem by having an on board “backup” generator essentially so that you can drive as far as you would like on gasoline, but take advantage of the battery recharge most days.