Translogic episode 5.3 takes a look at the 2011 Chevy Volt and what makes it tick, and next week we'll get behind the wheel to tear up GM's Milford Proving Grounds in our in-depth road test. But first, let's clear up a few issues. With the Volt just months away from going on sale late this year, consumers still have plenty of questions about how it works and why General Motors built it the way it did. Q: Why does the production Volt look different from the concept that was shown several years ago?
A: The more conservative look of the production car has drawn some criticism for not looking super cool like the concept. But Chevy said the original design presented a few packaging problems with regard to the amount of interior space buyers would expect. Another problem was that the concept car's layout made for an unacceptably large turning radius.

Q: Is the Volt a plug-in hybrid?
A: Chevy reps are quick to point out that they don't consider it a hybrid at all. They say hybrids use two sources of power to drive the wheels of the car. But the Volt uses only electricity to drive the wheels; the on-board, 1.4-liter gasoline engine serves only as a generator and never actually moves the car. Since Volt runs on electricity at all times, but with a gasoline engine that can generate that electricity, Chevy considers the Volt an electric car with a range extending gas generator. We think it might be more accurate to call the Volt a "series hybrid," similar in operation to a diesel-electric locomotive or a large cargo ship.

Q: So how do you charge the Volt?
A: You can plug the Volt in to a standard 110-volt outlet with the included household-style power cord and a full charge on its 16 killowatt-hour, lithium-ion battery pack will take 10-12 hours. Opt to have an extra-cost, 240-volt home charging station installed and that time is reduced to about 5 hours.

Q: How long will that battery pack last?
A: There's no way to know for sure but GM is standing behind the Volt's battery and related components with an 8 year / 100,000 mile warranty. To protect the expensive battery pack, GM engineers developed a complex, on-board battery management system. Lithium-ion batteries work best if they're never fully depleted or fully charged so the Volt's on board monitor always keeps the charge level between 30 and 85 percent of total capacity. Also, there's an automatic thermal management system that uses liquid to heat or cool the battery. Chevy says the battery will work in temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 122 degrees. The thermal system works primarily when the car is plugged in but can also be powered by the battery or gas engine while the car is on the road.

Q: How far can the Volt go on a charge?
A: With the battery fully charged, the Volt can travel 40 miles on the electricity stored in the battery. If you're lucky enough to have a daily commute that's less than 20 miles each way, then you could drive all week without burning even a drop of gasoline. Once the batteries are 70 percent discharged, the gasoline engine comes on and creates more electricity. Chevy says you can then drive another 300 miles this way, so the total range is about 340 before you need to plug it in or fill up the gas tank. When you fill up, you'll need to grab the premium nozzle. You can run regular unleaded without causing any harm but Chevy says premium is "recommended."

Q: What kind of fuel economy does the Volt get?
A: The simple answer is we don't know and it will likely vary for each owner. You may remember last year GM was touting the Volt as getting 230 miles per gallon, but it has since backed away from that claim. The EPA hasn't yet given the Volt a rating. Recently, GM engineer Andrew Farah told the Detroit News the target for the Volt once the gas engine kicks in is 50 miles per gallon.

Q: How much does the Volt cost?
A: The price of the 2011 Chevy Volt is not exactly clear, so here's the bottom line: The retail price is $41,000. However, many buyers will qualify for a federal tax credit of $7,500, depending on income. The tax credits are good for the first 200,000 vehicles sold by each manufacturer and will gradually be phased out over a year. There's also a leasing option: $350 per month for 36 months with a $2,500 down payment. But don't go looking for a Volt at your local auto mall, as initially the Volt will only be sold in California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Washington, D.C. Chevrolet plans to build just 10,000 Volts for the 2011 model year.


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