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Chevy Volt's Drivetrain: A Big Lie From GM, Or A Last-Second Desperate Measure?


Politicians lie, husbands lie, wives lie, even your local grocer lies about something, sometimes, to get his merchandise sold. If everybody lies, why shouldn’t GM? The fact is, if you haven’t already heard, that GM promised for years that they’ll have an electric car coming with the Chevy Volt.

The principle is simple: a 1.4L internal combustion engine charges the batteries that drive two electric motors, and that’s it.

The drivetrain should have thus been entirely electric, with no mechanical part of the combustion engine touching the wheels. Well, it turns out they lied. There WILL be a mechanical connection between the ICE and the wheels, “sometimes”, at speeds higher than 70 mph, when the battery is depleted (how can it get depleted, I don’t understand).

So all the fuss about the Volt is no big deal after all. It is an electric vehicle, indeed, but it’s not more electric than the Prius is, using a series-parallel drivetrain.

The problem is all about advertising. There would have been no issue with the mechanical linkage if, from the beginning, they would have told the future buyers about its eventual occurrence. In fact, the car is what it is. I wouldn’t mind if they made the wheels spin this way, but lying to the consumer has always been punished by the market, and proof of that is all around.

Actually, there is nothing wrong with the Volt having a shortcut to its wheels, imho. Maybe it’s more efficient that way, I guess, since charging the battery inevitably results in power losses and the 1.4 engine couldn’t cope with charging the battery properly so it can support speeds higher than 70 mph with dignity.

A general fact is that I like the car I saw at the Paris Motor Show a couple of weeks ago. It’s nicely built, looks good both on the outside and the inside, and promises a lot. It even has a higher range than the Nissan Leaf, that despite the fact it’s electric, is still the newborn of the electric car movement. There are lots of promises, true of false, from all of the vehicle manufacturers, and GM is a part of that pack.

I say let’s first see how the Volt behaves and if the direct mechanical connection is a plus, let’s not get ourselves drunk by pipe dreams and face the reality: this is the car. You like the way it rides, you buy it. You don’t, that’s it – buy a pure electric vehicle. They’ll conquer the world sooner or later, so what a big deal is that GM put a rod between the engine and the wheels? Maybe it’s greener this way, and they were wrong in the first place. At this point, I also agree with gas2.

Take a look at the pictures I took in Paris of Opel Ampera and Chevy Volt. I personally like the car. How about you? Waiting for comments…

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  1. Unless your brother owns a towing company, or you want the car to do groceries within the city, or unless you live in a country with moderate climates 0 to 25 degrees celcius, you better have a back up system. I dislike GM with a passion, however they have experience with building cars for the North American market and i think they may be very realistic with this Volt version of an electric car. You don’t have to use any Gasoline if you follow the speed and distance rules, or get stuck in traffic.
    Don’t expect any marketing for any of the all electric cars to tell the whole truth either.

  2. Some time ago I wondered why the internal combustion is so big. Now we know. May be if sale figures will drop the car will have no real battery at all, saving on cost….
    The real enthusiast are working on 15KW gensets for serial hybrid power trains.

  3. It was a lofty goal to jump into a purely electric car with a generator backup for a first generation car. I thought it seemed like a very inefficient way to burn the gasoline (15% efficiency for the gas engine + 70% efficient generator/charging system, and then an 80% energy return from the battery to motors; just move the car first and charge the battery with what is left over). The Volt shoult at least have a flex fuel or diesel drivetrain so it can at least use more environmentally friendly fuel if it is available. I think that GM was just trying to incorporate redundancy should the electrical system fail. If the Volt is not smashed like the EV 1, in 2 or 3 generations it may be a very economical choice.


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