For a full preview, head over to our model-intro page for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, where you'll also find the latest photos.
Much is riding on the gas-electric Volt, which appeared as a concept at the 2007 Detroit auto show, and is being teased and shown off in tantalizing bits by GM's PR department as it heads to an on-sale date by 2010. General Motors has had experience before with electric vehicles and hybrids; it killed off its first attempt at a pure EV, the EV1, after a few years of leasing them to the general public. The outcry at the EV1's cancellation was strong enough to spark a film, "Who Killed the Electric Car?"
The Volt is, in a way, GM's response to that negative publicity and to the perception that the lead in green cars has been grabbed by Toyota. Toyota introduced the Prius to the U.S. as GM was killing off the EV1--and in its second generation, the Prius is one of the best-selling vehicles in America, and has helped spawn a whole fleet of Toyota and Lexus hybrids.
GM is now catching up with two-mode Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon hybrids, as well as less complex hybrid versions of the Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Malibu. But it's the Volt on which GM is pinning its future reputation for innovation.
The Volt, as seen in the first production pictures obtained by TheCarConnection.com and now in full production form, is a four-door sedan that shares many cues with mid-size sedans from other automakers (commentors on our site have compared it to everything from the Prius to the last-generation Chrysler Cirrus). While photos of the exterior surfaced--blocked somewhat by executives charged with its development--a photo floating around the interior purports to show its center console, free of disguise. That interior photo turned out to be accurate--and the interior itself is remarkably influenced by consumer electronics like Apple's iconic iPod.
The theory and practice underpinning the Volt isn't remarkably different from other hybrids, but for one detail: The Volt's engine only powers its batteries. Unlike the Prius, the Volt uses only its lithium-ion batteries and electric motor to power the vehicle. When the Volt uses up its estimated 40 miles of range on battery power alone, the gas engine kicks in to produce the power to regenerate battery power. GM said of the concept version, owners could recharge the vehicle through a household outlet, and estimated the Volt could attain as much as 150 mpg. GM now confirms the top speed of the Volt will be 100 mph, and that it can be quick-charged on a 240-volt line.
Along with the Volt, there are murmurings that GM will also use the same powertrain to produce hybrid vehicles for its Opel, Cadillac, and Pontiac brands. The Volt is likely to draw attention no matter who's elected president in the fall, but we've blogged about the Volt doing particularly well under a McCain administration, since the Arizona senator is in favor of renewed tax credits for all sorts of hybrid vehicles.
GM isn't alone in working on plug-in hybrids: Toyota is planning a plug-in Prius, and a range of pure EVs like the Tesla Roadster and the Fisker Karma are in the works, emerging from back channels of venture-capital funding and Silicon Valley engineers completely outside the usual Detroit norm.
Stay with TheCarConnection.com as we keep in touch with the Volt today, with more photos and details.