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How GM Didn't 'Lie' About The Volt, And Why The Press Is Wrong

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2011 Chevrolet Volt

You may have seen this morning's media frenzy about General Motors' "lie" about the Volt's ability to directly drive the wheels with its range-extending gasoline engine. What you may not know is that the publications screaming "lie!" are doing little more than running self-serving, tabloid-worthy headlines.

I'm not typically a fan of electric cars, at least in their current states of being. A car that can't go from one town to another across the desert Southwest, or which sees drastically reduced performance depending on the weather isn't really a car, in my book. It's a toy, a status symbol, a raised nose at the "gas guzzlers" that drive by on their way to some distant destination. But the 2011 Chevy Volt doesn't fall into that trap.

What the Volt isn't
In addition to driving 40 miles on nothing but electric power, it carries its own generator on board, making the non-existent national charging network irrelevant. And, as we learned today (though we had off-the-record hints several months ago from some of the Volt's top team members) it can also use the onboard engine to add some direct power to the wheels once the battery is depleted.

For a person that likes cars, appreciates efficiency, and couldn't care less about the definitional semantics the rest of the press is engaged in, that's fantastic. Is it a pure EV? Yes, for the first 40 miles. After that, no, it was never intended to be. Is it a hybrid? Not really, as it can run at highway speeds on nothing but electricity for its stated range of 40 miles, and falls back on mechanical drive power only under certain conditions, which is sort of the inverse of a typical mild hybrid. A plug-in hybrid? Sort of, if you don't mind blurring a few lines.

The question you might be asking now is, "What, then, IS the Volt?" There's an answer for that, but first we need some background.

The "lie"
Sampling the buff book testing, since they got their hands on it early and started the "GM lied" hysterics, the Volt is a family sedan that's capable of real-world mileage in the 30-40 mpg range over a week's period without any recharging. In other words, the first 40 miles aside, the range-extending system delivers performance about on par with real-world results from the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, Ford Fusion, and other comparable hybrids.

The problem the buff books (and a few online outlets parroting their stance) have with the newly-announced ability of the Volt to supplement power with mechanical energy directly from the on-board 1.4-liter four-cylinder, is that it's no longer purely electric power driving the wheels.

This is a distinction without a difference. You can burn gasoline to spin a generator to charge the batteries to power the electric motors, or you can partially skip the middle man and send some of that gas-generated power straight to the wheels. Either way, gas is burned to turn the wheels.

We've tried to contact the Volt team to clarify whether sending enough power from the range extender to the batteries to enable pure electric highway cruising would have necessitated more expensive circuitry, more elaborate cooling, or other elements that would put the car out of its target cost range, but they're understandably swamped at the moment. We think it's a reasonable assertion, but we'll update you with the official word from GM as soon as we can.

Let's take a look at some of GM's statements that are ostensibly the source of the "lie." Inside Line cites lines like "The Chevrolet Volt is not a hybrid. It is a one-of-akind, all-electrically driven vehicle designed and engineered to operate in all climates." This statement, in light of the ability of the Volt to add direct drive from the onboard engine, isn't strictly speaking, true. But is it a lie? The Volt is all-electric at any speed for the first 40 or so miles. It's all-electric in charge-sustaining mode at speeds below 70 mph. In only one circumstance (speed-limit or higher highway driving) does it augment electric drive with mechanical. And even when the mechancial engine is kicking in some power the wheels are simultaneously being driven by the electric motors. If it's a lie, it's not one of omission, but of addition.

Jalopnik goes on to construct a quotation from Volt chief engineer Andrew Farah with a strictness that would set even Antonin Scalia's teeth on edge. Quoting Farah saying, "you're correct that the electric motor is always powering the wheels, whereas in a typical hybrid vehicle the electric motor and the gasoline engine can power the wheels. The greatest advantage of an extended-range electric vehicle like the Volt is the increased all electric range and the significant total vehicle range combined," Jalopnik responded with "This meant that the gasoline engine was nothing more than a 'range extender' designed to charge the batteries which would allow the electric drivetrain to continue to move the car — and allow GM to claim that the Volt was something different, something new and something worthy of taxpayer dollars. It turns out that's not correct."


 
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Comments (57)
  1. Oh dear. A GM apologist that chucks in the long tailpipe as well as a bit of range anxiety.
    Maybe we will find out it's different, but Vauxhall explicitly stated "Therefore Ampera will do 40 miles electric from being charged and then to 350 with on-board electricity generation. Ampera's front wheel drive wheels are only powered directly by electricity."
    This was the day after the direct drive rumour broke in the summer, so I'm afraid that unless Opel/Vauxhall's Voltec is different, GM was telling porkies.
     
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  2. What in the world are you babbling about? It was pretty clear that the Volt was described as only moving via the electric motors. The engine would be small and efficient, running at 1 speed, its most efficient speed, to eek our more efficiency than the traditional hybrid. What patents are there for Honda, Toyota, and the others to steal, they've had hybrids like what GM is now creating out on the road for years. Search the web if you'd like to find quotes, you limit the length of comments too much for me to post them.
     
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  3. Sorry Nelson, no matter how you turn it, it just doesn't stand up. Volt is not competitive with anything currently on the market, not to talk about new vehicles coming out within a year. GM really handed a nightmare to themselves.
     
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  4. is this author for real? how does he think the crux of the issue is the car's ability power the wheels with the gas engine? the crux of the problem is that in order to fund the volt, chevy basically lied to the government and the US people in order to get grants for development. i'd like to know how much money this author gets from chevy. this is pathetic.
     
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  5. Great piece, Nelson. I thought the Jalopnik article and the subsequent "Me-too-ing" was frankly disgusting.
     
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  6. Thanks for this article, it's glad to see that someone actually knows about the Volt and it's all electric cruising range. It's disgusting to see all the bashers coming out to try and destroy this revolutionary car before the general public can get in it. Shameful.
     
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  7. I agree with Nelson, GM handled the PR poorly, and they overpriced the Volt knowing that the first 10,000 will sell at any price, but the Volt is the real deal for most drivers whereas the Leaf and the Tesla Roadster are niche vehicles. If GM gets the MSRP down to $37,490 in 2012, the net price will be just $3300 more than the Prius IV. With my driving pattern at 12,000 miles a year, I would only need 4 or 5 gallons a gas a month if I get 36 miles AER and get 40 mpg in CS mode, both of which are likely in the real world. This is a no-brainer, GM has built a great car that bridges the gap between EV and ICE until the price of a battery pack comes down enough for BEV's to work at a price most of us can afford. In 10 years BEV's will be inexpensive enough and the fast charging infrastructure will be in place to make BEV's work. Til then, it won't happen without EREV's like the Volt for most drivers.
    The hullabaloo over the Volt direct linkage and the supposedly low CS mpg figures is a tempest in a teacup.
     
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  8. "[Volt's] front wheel drive wheels are only powered directly by electricity."
    Clearly the peanut gallery doesn't know what "powered" means. The engine "assists" the electric motor after 70 MPH, that's ASSISTS not POWERS. The motor cannot, and does not power the car. If you look at the very good writeup of how the Volt "transmission" works you see that the motor spinning only unlocks one of the gears in the planetary gear set allowing it to use a more efficient ratio.
    Journalists are not Engineers, Greenies are not Engineers, and most Engineers don't understand a planetary gear set so I'll excuse the aforementioned people their ignorance.
     
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  9. Dear author,
    So you decide to completely disregard what GM has said in the past. Six months ago, GM engineers said the on board ICE was a "generator, that's it."
    Investors and consumers will look at this differently, no matter the implementation.
    GM still lied/misled. YOUR title is wrong... it should read: The GM VOLT: But wait, there's more!
     
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  10. If the ICE has anything to do with actually driving the wheels at *any* speed, it is not a 'range extended EV' as has been plainly claimed. It's nothing more than a better numbers version of existing hybrids. (That costs significantly more)
    .
    That said, what the Volt and the Prius suffer from is that when the battery does give out, the car is not drivable *at all*. By making an EV, you lose the maintenance costs associated with the gas engine and transmission. This trades the cost of replacing the battery every 6-8 years.
    .
    My 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid, while lesser in tech than the Prius and Volt, can continue to drive with the hybrid battery basically dead; the Prius/Volt simply cannot. This is a serious plus for someone who drives cars as long as possible like myself.
     
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  11. We've had elec vehicles since what? The 30's? They suck then and they suck now. Stripmining rare earth metals is better than drilling for oil? Oh and what percent of Teslas catch fire? 40 percent? Nice. So glad after almost a century of elec we finally have The Volt. Wow! Planet Saved!!! Bravo.
     
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  12. Great article. I would rather the Volt never used the ICE to drive the wheel. However, I can appreciate the difference between having an all EV all the time mode, and a backup mode that aims for efficiency (and not dogma).
     
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  13. The "Lie" isn't about purely technical driveline dynamics. The lie is that, when GM needed bailing out by the Americaln taxpayer, they trotted out the Volt as a technilogical powerhouse that would lead them to future market success in this exciting sector. The "Truth" is that it is only slightly different, technically speaking, from a Prius or the other hybrids, while offering about the same fuel economy. It lied in order to justify the bailout & make it appear more attractive, and the American people are getting tired of being lied to (the ones smart enough to notice, anyway. You know, the ones who watch the Daily Show)
     
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  14. Look, overall the Volt is a great vehicle. But we have a case here of over_promising and under_delivering.
    1) Range, may be less, now 25-50 miles
    2) Electricity used is more, actually 9KWH not 8KWH
    3) MPG may disappoint, sorry not the 50 MPG of a Prius, not the 230 MPG GM stupidly announced
    4) Charging inefficient, C&D says only 67% of wall socket electricity is getting to the battery.
    5) E-REV a little less than promised (though it really does not matter).
    We will see how GM gets along as time goes forward.
    Later
    John C. Briggs
     
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  15. GM also said they paid off all the government loans "early, with interest." Oh wait. Well, sort of. They used bailout money they don't have to pay back to pay off the relatively tiny portion they do.
    And now, in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression, they play word games trying to spin their over-priced, under-performing, brand new mediocrity as being something it clearly is not.
    Either they're liars or the very definition of stupid.
     
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  16. It's hard to be the star of "Revenge of the Electric Car" when there is a mechanical connection from the wheels to the motor. Lie? No, but convenience of omission.
    Seems more now than ever the Honda Clarity fuel cell electric car should play a starring role in the "revenge" movie... with it's all EV, all the time propulsion system.
     
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  17. The author makes no mention of the drastic drop in the stated fuel economy. GM originally stated that the Volt would get 240 mpg because the gas motor was only a generator. All the sudden it gets 30 MPG. The original quoted fuel effiecency was attainable with a small gas generator. 240 is 8 times the actual mpg. That is the lie.
     
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  18. If Chevy sold this car to Obama on it being purely electric and it isn't then this was fraud. It is really quite simple. The technology required by Chevy to use the engine only to charge the battery either is too sophisticated or too expensive and that's why it wasn't used.
    I think the writer's real issue is the linking of GM to Obama's cash giveaway.
     
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  19. Could someone please provide a link to some free online anger management courses. I think some folks here have issues. I got the point of the article and don't feel like breaking anything...geeze.
    Also, the car is going to be terrible, don't buy one.
    Signed, Joe @ Asian rivals.tokyo
     
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  20. Yeah.. see the thing is GM claimed the ICE would be used as a generator NOT for propulsion.
    This car is NOT a true electric.
     
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  21. Your article is far too rational and reasonable.You will never make it in today's media world.
     
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  22. The marketing on this has always been misleading. if you read stuff on hybrids from the 90's they describe the setup in the volt as a "series hybrid". Also, look at Diesel electric locomotives they use the Volt powertrain (sans batteries) for 100 years. I'm surprised there's anything patentable about the Volt. The overall setup is obvious and has been talked about for decades. It's just been waiting on battery technology.
     
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  23. Generally when you make a statement that isn't true, it's a lie. What planet are you from to say that when GM says that the car is "Not a Hybrid" but then it turns out that it is, that that isn't a lie or a misrepresentation of the truth? The Volt is a more advanced hybrid, sure, but it's still a hybrid. That is all they had to say, really. Had they better explained how it worked from the beginning it would have not been an issue. It's still better then a Prius.
     
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  24. If the currently reported numbers are true, this is NOT Prius-like MPG, hell it is not even Ford Fusion Hybrid-like MPG (at least in the city).
    32 mpg city 36 mpg highway in extended range mode http://tinyurl.com/25xu3hg
     
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  25. Does this revelation disqualify the Volt from the $7500 tax break? Also, it appears that any Insight (classic or 4-door) or Prius gets way better gas mileage than the post-battery Volt, so retract that claim of equality, please.
     
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  26. GM should just stop talking to the media. Cut 'em off and maybe they'll treat you a little better. The Volt IS a game changer. How many miles per gallon will I get if I drive 15 miles to work and back each work day and then drive 60 miles on saturday and 100 miles on sunday?
     
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  27. Wow, much ado about nothing. D3 haters and media sensationalization, nothing more...
    Great article! I agree with a previous poster that it is far too reasonable to be accepted in main-stream media.
     
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  28. This article is just that - a click bait. It turns everything on its head. GM technically didn't lie - so does Clinton - he just expanded on his definition of what is not considered sex.
    The engine is not powerful enough to power the electric motor - REALLY !!!??? Do you know that the diesel trains ARE operating in that mode: they have a diesel engine that generates electricity which powers an electric motor. How come the train engine is powerful enough to propel 100ts of wagons but GM's engine is not powerful to propel a meager car?
    Don't tell me that someone will spend billions before ensuring that they have their patents filed. Doing what you said will only open them for lawsuits. You have no Idea how an engineering business operates.
     
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  29. 'Does that mean it's not an all-electric car the rest of the time?'
    The car is either all-electric, or it it not. Up until recently everything I have read said it was all-electric, and now they say it is not. Maybe it isn't a big deal to some consumers who were already considering a Prius. For me however, there was a good chance I would have bought the volt Chevy has told us about, and 0 chance I will ever buy this car.
     
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  30. You people are idiots.
    As long as you plug in the Volt when you get home in the evenings, IT ABSOLUTELY WILL ACHIEVE an mpg figure in the hundreds. YES, IT WILL. and OF COURSE it's going to run gas when the battery is dead. Maybe you should go back to a middle school science class if you hadn't figured that out.
    However, the vast majority of people usually drive less than 40 miles per day. If you fall into that category and, again, charge your Volt when you get home in the evenings, you will get a few hundred miles per gallon of gasoline on average.
     
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  31. Hogwashed by GM again.
    This is old tech being sold as new.
    That's what you get for hoarding patents instead of getting us off dinosaur juice. Ran off to China and took stimulus money and paid bonuses only to bring yesterday's tech to market? The first car was designed to run on hydrogen, not gasoline but GM liked cheap oil. Still in OPEC's pocket I see.
     
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  32. There are plenty of reasons to dislike GM without inventing tests designed to make the product fail. It must have been a very, very slow week. Simply put, use the product as intended and get the intended results, duh.
     
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  33. Hearing that the Volt has nothing but a hybrid drive train is EXTREMELY disappointing. This makes the Volt nothing but a hybrid in the class of Toyota and Honda hybrids, even though it is a plug-in hybrid, making it the first of its kind in the commercial market. Why the VERY POOR gas mileage? Look no further than to the IC engine and to the transmission for loss of efficiency. A fully electric drive train would be substantially more efficient than a hybrid one. My 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid gets 34/37 highway/city MPG and is a roomier, more versatile vehicle than the Volt. Other than for plug-in capability, why buy a Volt?
     
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  34. "A car that can't go from one town to another across the desert Southwest...isn't a car."
    Yes it is. Damn that's small minded and non-logical. That's like saying since a SUV can't haul the same as a 18 wheeler or carry as many as a school bus it's not a "truck" or "passenger" vehicle. Get over it.
    The vast vast vast vast majority of daily car use is WELL within the range of electric cars and would make our cities MUCH better places to live. Yes, when you want to drive those RARE long distances (like I love to) then you need a gasoline powered car (for now). For that small percentage of people and uses they make more sense. But for the 70% of car use that is 10 miles or less a day, electric cars are PERFECTLY absolutely 100% completely functional and workable.
     
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  35. "all-electrically driven" is a lie unless its ALL ELECTRIC, which its definitely not. At some speeds many hybrids are all of a sudden "all-electrically driven," they turn off the gas...and I don't see the author of this opinion going out of his way to redefine all of -those- hybrids. If GM hasn't been paying attention to the press, and lacked complete understanding of how everyone expected this to be a fully electric vehicle with a backup generator, not a gas driven with a 40 mile electric surpluss, then fine. Yet GM is on this planet, and knows when its statements are taken as meaning "electric" and not "gas driven after 40 miles range and battery depletion."
     
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  36. Great innovation on GM's part. Batteries fail people. good backup and power-assist solution.
     
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  37. Your article misses the point. I agree that the "look at me" headlines could have only gotten more hits by including "Erin Andrews" but what everyone is pissed about is that we were deceived. Blame the patent office if you want, but this "not a hybrid" is actually a hybrid.
    It DRIVES the WHEELS with a GAS motor. It also uses Electric ones. So it uses both depending on conditions. So it's a hybrid.
     
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  38. I love how the uninformed digress to SHOUTING in order to make points. This was a big pile of lies, nothing else, perpetrated on the Canadian and American people.. period..big corporations lie, governments lie, get used to it.. enough said.
     
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  39. Hey Canucker: Am I uninformed?
    Please shout your response. Thanks.
     
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  40. "And unlike any mass-market hybrid, you can simply charge it each night and go about your 40-miles-or-less daily business without ever dipping into the world's diminishing supply of dinosaur juice."
    Ah, only if you are in the 30.7% of the population that gets its electricity from non-dinosaur juice generators. And this after all the transmission losses added. Powered from the grid EV are far worse for burning fossil fuels in the US then gasoline or diesel powered vehicles.
     
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  41. NERD RAGE!!!
    That is all.
     
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  42. I really like the Volt, it IS the best performing hybid widely available {others mentioned off the wall cars yet really can't get}. And on top of that, just look at it! It's kinda hot compared to the eyesore prius and the boring civic.
     
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  43. @Jack: "Powered from the grid EV are far worse for burning fossil fuels in the US then gasoline or diesel powered vehicles."
    This is simply not true. A landmark 2007 study done jointly by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that the wells-to-wheels carbon impact of driving 1 mile using wall current is lower than a 25-mpg gasoline car on ANY grid in the U.S. Once you compare to a 50-mpg car (how many of us drive those, hmmm?), then the gasoline car wins out for a couple of the dirtiest grids in the U.S. like North Dakota, which is more than 90% coal.
    However, to get to carbon parity with the *average* U.S. grid, the entire country would have to average something like 80 mpg. When do we see THAT happening, hmmmm?
     
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  44. I am so sick of all this you are not telling the truth.It is a good step forward.I have bought G.M.since 1969,Chevy Buick and Olds,never having a bad car.If G.M.came out with a solarpowered car you would tare it down just becouse it is G M.Well you foget that all the aoutomakers had some real duds in the past,evem Toyota.You care about our econamy give all the auto makers the chance to rebiuld,stop your nitpicking.
     
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  45. It's gonna be funny if dealers decide to charge a $20K premium for this hybrid car that requires premium gas. Early adopters will have to be very eager, indeed, as they seek to rationalize the total cost of ownership compared with a Prius or an Insight. "I'm in electric mode, I'm in electric mode, I'm in electric mode...it's not a hybrid right now."
     
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  46. Honestly my concern with a partial direct drive gas engine is it will make to power plant more difficult to modify for those of us that wanted to look at more effiecent batteries or other alternative sources to provide the electicity for the range boasting. If the eletric motors can still fully drive the vehicle it ill still be possible but it may require reconfiguring the engine arragement or modifying the drive system when you remove the gas generator to replace it with something else rather than when they originally suggested the gas generator would be a self contained swapable unit.
    For 99.99% of people no significant difference, for the 0.01% of modders, BIG difference. All depends on your plans for the vehicle.
     
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  47. RE @John Voelcker "Powered from the grid EV are far worse for burning fossil fuels in the US then gasoline or diesel powered vehicles." Not True
    Amen to that brother. In addition to EVs being less polluting, we can make the electricity right here in the USA, which is also a great step in the right direction. At my house, I have reduced my electricity usage by 75%, more than enough to power an EV.
     
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  48. The real truth is that this an electric car with occasional ICE assist, much in the way the Honda mild hybrids are ICE cars with occasional electric assist. The electric motor is always driving the wheels. The ICE usually just charges the batteries, but can be unlocked to also put power into GM's version of Toyota's "power split device" to help push the wheels.
    Toyota's always had a similar compromise. Normally, you expect the ICE to push the Prius at high speeds, the electric or possibly both at lower speeds. But go beyond 60mph or so, and there's a problem... the gear ratio in the power split device is wrong. To hit high speeds, the Prius has to turn the large motor into a generator, powered by the ICE, in order to be able to use the small electric generator as a motor to change the gear ratios in the power split device. At that point, it's using the ICE for both forward motion and power generation.
    This seems to the same deal... allowing the ICE to unlock and advance the carrier is exactly the same effect as in the Prius, with the small motor advancing the sun gear. This changes the gear ratios, thus allowing the Volt, like the Prius, to live without a conventional transmission. For that to work, you always need two simultaneous power sources.
     
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  49. The Tesla has a single electric traction motor that can drive their car from 0 to 15,000 rpm. Very elegant, but very expensive. Chevy Volt uses two cheaper electric motors, a big traction motor that can rev to 6500 without losing too much efficiency, and a smaller assist motor that they combine with the planetary gearset. Slightly less elegant, but cheaper.
    The problem is, they reuse the assist motor as the generator for the gas engine. THIS is the reason they sometimes drive the wheels directly with the ICE - they need the generator, AND an assist motor. Not because direct drive is so efficient, but to save money on a 3rd motor.
     
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  50. I don't know what "buff books" you're talking about. Car and Driver, the largest circulation car magazine in the world, said no such thing. And the only reference I could find on Motor Trend, the second largest car magazine in the world, was a thoughtful (and flattering) description of the technology by Frank Markus. Please, if you're going to bag on more established media brands than your own, get your facts right. If the premise of this story is that some enthusiast blogs known for sensational headlines used sensational headlines, I'd suggest that you're the one making a mountain out of a mole hill.
     
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  51. GM did lie. Pure and simple. The Volt has a complex transmission with three clutches. A true hyrid (The Prius is not a hybrid) needs no transmission or clutch (much less three). GM took the low road here. They could have changed the world with the most logical arrangement there is. Instead, the VOLT will be nothing but a big fizzle.
     
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  52. There is only one Buff book that i know of. It is part of the IEEE colour series. It concernes protective relaying, and the coordination thereof, for industrial electrical power systems. Why the poster would be referring to this book is beyond me.
     
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  53. The original model look sold me .. now.. the prius looks better.. stupid Government motors... Look how the Camero is selling... The original volt look was great.. now it is just another brick in the wall...
     
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  54. WoW this is the most one sided story on anything GM I've seen in a long time. Be nice to once see a story where GM actually sits down with someone indifferent and gives complete and frank answers about the Volt.
     
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  55. From the current resident liar Obama, replacing the champion liar Clinton, comes the new corporate liar GM. They have to lie in order to keep the liars in office providing them with cash!
     
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  56. Ignore the idiocy! This is a break through technology vehicle. Every accessory from air conditions to power brakes are powered electrically.
    The Volt is a pure electric drive vehicle 100% of the time! The engine has no other purpose than to charge the battery when the state of charge falls to 35%. It is a new class of vehicle. Just as GM says, it is an "Extended Range Electric Vehicle". If there is miniscule torque transmission from the engine to the drive wheels through the generator it is simply happenstance, not design. The electric drive motor ALWAYS provides essentially ALL of the drive power to the wheels.
     
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  57. To correct more idiocy:
    GM has repaid ALL government loans early, with interest. ALL remaining return on the government investment to finance the bankruptcy will come from sales of government stock holdings to individuals and institutions that freely choose to invest, not from operations of the business. GM doe not owe the government one dime- government took ownership in the new company in exchange for their investment other than the loans which have been repaid.
    Most importantly, GM is generating plenty of free cash flow and making great profit in a still depressed U.S. market.
    It would be nice if commenters here took just a minute to learn the truth rather than spitting out the tired political psycho-babble!
     
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