• Apr 22, 2010
The 2011 Chevy Volt's MPG rating could suffer a serious... The 2011 Chevy Volt's MPG rating could suffer a serious blow (GM).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will soon draft a new regulation for the way it calculates fuel efficiency for electric cars, potentially deflating the stratospheric fuel economy numbers trumpeted by automakers in recent months.

In August 2009, GM announced that its new 2011 Chevy Volt hybrid would achieve a stratospheric 230 "miles per gallon," using a calculation that took into account how the vehicle would fare given its sometimes-battery, sometimes-gasoline engine power source. Nissan responded with its own number for its new Leaf electric car, 367 MPG, setting off something of an arms race for efficiency. Without actual guidelines from the EPA, however, the public will be left wondering where these numbers come from -- and whether they're believable. The EPA is unlikely to weigh in until after GM and Nissan launch their new vehicles, which has left the automakers to craft their own efficiency ratings.

"They're not going to have actual rules until model year 2012, which is a little late for the Volt," said Pete Savagian, GM's engineering director for hybrid powertrains. As far as how GM will tell consumers what sort of fuel economy they'll see on the Volt? "We're on our recognizance. I don't exactly know. We'll have to be real careful."

This ambiguity isn't the best for consumers. GM's calculation takes into account only the gasoline used, while Nissan's number was merely an equivalent since its Leaf only runs on electricity. Compounding the problem is that consumers aren't used to fuel economy figures for anything other than miles per gallon.

GM came up with the Volt's number using a guideline from the Society of Automotive Engineers, one that ran the car through a city driving simulation. GM did the same simple calculation for fuel economy that we use for traditional vehicle, dividing the total distance travelled by the amount of gasoline burned. But for a good portion of the test, the Volt was operating on battery power alone, having started the test with a full battery. This effectively adds the 40 miles of battery range to the distance travelled, hence the big mileage number.

"230 [MPG] is not a equivalent," said GM's Savagian. "It's just the gasoline. It does not include the electricity consumed. It only included the amount of gasoline used and the number of miles driven."

The fact that the Volt engine burns gasoline will come into play when the California Air Resources Board (CARB) determines its rating, as well. The Volt will likely not be labeled as a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV), but rather as a partial zero-emission vehicle (AT-PZEV) for using gasoline after the battery power is depleted.

For now, the company's focus on "230" has faded. GM pulled the plug on many of its media efforts that featured the infamous number. In August, the company had launched a television campaign that dovetailed with social media efforts on YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and a blog. All of those accounts have since been discontinued. The domain name "whatis230.com" is still registered to GM, but now redirects to a page about the Volt on Chevrolet.com.

No Current EPA Standard

Confusion over the issue isn't so much political as it is chemical. Gallons and kilowatts aren't easily compared. But political forces are also at play. Right now Nissan, GM and a host of other manufacturers continue to provide their recommendations to the EPA on how the new ratings should be calculated.

Nissan is pulling for a new standard that looks at electricity use not in terms of a miles-per-gallon equivalent (although the company admits it did do this with its 367 MPG claim), but something that takes into account grams of C02 or kilowatts.

"We believe it's probably going to be a new definition," said Tracy Woodard, Nissan's director of government affairs. "I don't know whether you're going to get into grams per mile or kilowatt hours per mile, but I think you're going to see a shift away from miles per gallon."

Last weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the EPA was "rethinking" the way they thought about fuel economy, but the agency disputed that claim.

"I think that threw some people off," said an EPA spokesperson in an interview with AOL Autos. "We're not 'rethinking' because we're still thinking. In August, we simply said we're developing it. We haven't yet published the new rule."

"We are waiting for the EPA to tell us how we're going to formulate that," said Nissan's Woodard. "We're all just kind of waiting."



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  • 204 Comments
      • 1 Day Ago
      Can not wait for these cars. http://www.hybridcarplace.com
      jsbseven
      • 1 Day Ago
      you no its a lie obama has some thing to due with it yes if you only go 50 miles a day just check it out if you want to go from ny to fla cost a lot to stay in motels and kind of rough if you only have 2 weeks off
      mark peterson
      • 1 Day Ago
      ford is also UAW and old henry hated jews
      mark peterson
      • 1 Day Ago
      hey tractorman, what union? you bought an HHR and don't know it's 100% mexico?
      kafienkarl
      • 1 Day Ago
      the auto bailout started on the bush administration watch and was passed on to obama. the notion thay the "union" was what brought down GM is short sighted/ridiculous. GM had too many brands and too many dealerships. their advertising was very expensive. GM went into the "Hummer' market a vehicle that got a boost if you will from the war(s) and bush tax credits, instead of working on/manufacturing fuel efficient vehicles. strictly blaming the "unions" is the linguistic path of least resistance for simpletons.
      • 1 Day Ago
      I saw a volt at a auto show!! They are nice, but at 40,000 dollars it's a little pricey for me!! And then we don't know how reliable they will be!! Especially if their lights goes a pooffing and a popping, and a blinking, and a sputtering!!! The Nissan leaf, will be interesting, depending on price!! But nissan says it will go 100 miles on a charge, that will give most commuters who travel 50 miles a day for their commute enough range!! And can be charged at night when electricity is cheaper!! But for someone who likes to travel, it won't be so good!!!! One more thing GM is paying back 5.2 billion to the government, but the government gave them, 52 billion, so they have 47 billion to go!!! highly unlikely the taxpayers will see it all payed back!!!
      DAN
      • 1 Day Ago
      the parts for toyotas come from japan , they are put together here , that is it , lets keep our people working please is that to much to ask
      cugar65
      • 1 Day Ago
      dont u thinks how mnay people can afford for over $40 grand of GM volt . i dont have kind of money for that. i would tell dealership my 2003 chevy venture LS on gasoline engine and 102 grand miles worth for trade 15 grand . u thinks delaer would be except that before tax credit up to $6 grand, ????????
      • 1 Day Ago
      Oh, and to add to my comment most new vehicles are only good for 8 years and 150k with a small minority lasting to 250k+. If the Volt does not deviate from that pattern it will not be economical to own, it will only make you feel better about the environment.
      Annika
      • 1 Day Ago
      The biggest obstacle for me is not whether it really gets 230 mpg or not, but the price. Upwards of $40,000 just isn't feasible for me, and if the Nissan Leaf sells for $25,000, guess which one will sell more. I see some people on here complaining that in order to charge an EV you have to burn fossil fuel in order to make electricity, but that's not true. First of all, not all power plants are coal-fired; in my state over 85% of electricity comes from hydropower. Second, instead of burning coal, states, especially those rich in sun, need to build power plants that use the sun'd energy (through solar panels or heat-generating mirrors) to provide true clean power. And lastly, why not be proactive yourself and install a solar panel on your garage's roof? Not only do you get tax breaks for it, but you can create all the power your car needs for free. Let's stop this pessimistic "it won't work" outlook and start looking for solutions that will keep us on the road. Europe is ahead of the US in this department by miles, and when have Americans become so complacent that they will let everybody else beat them?
      • 1 Day Ago
      What gets me about these electric cars is the big cost of recharge! If you were to look at your monthly electric bill and compare it to gasoline savings with an economy car, it would cost more to own the all electric car by far especially if you do a lot of commuting. There is definitely a major electrical drawdown in the day light hours. I can see the power plants going into overtime trying to keep up with the car charge drawdown in the night hours! Where are we going to get all this oil and other forms of power to keep these millions of cars charged up?
      • 1 Day Ago
      charge your battery from home solar panels and save all around
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