2011 Chevrolet Volt – Click above for high-res image gallery

Until today, talking about whether the internal combustion engine (ICE) in the 2011 Chevrolet Volt should have a direct mechanical connection to the wheels was an interesting thought experiment. Sure, there were hints and patents that suggested that the ICE could drive the wheels, but General Motors kept saying its "extended range electric vehicle (ER-EV)" was just that: an electric car with a gasoline-powered generator on board. Guess what?

GM has now confirmed, late in the game, that the Volt can, in some situations, use the ICE to power the wheels. This came to light after Motor Trend was allowed to test the car for three long drives and discovered:

However of particular interest, when going above 70 mph in charge sustaining mode, and the generator gets coupled to the drivetrain, the gas engine participates in the motive force. GM says the engine never drives the wheels all by itself, but will participate in this particular situation in the name of efficiency, which is improved by 10 to 15 percent.

This is exactly the opposite of what GM has been saying for years – most recently in June, when GM spokesman Rob Peterson told AutoblogGreen that there was no mechanism in the Volt to drive the wheels even if the engineers wanted too. Or, at least, that's what we heard. Peterson told AutoblogGreen today that the "news":
is consistent with everything we've said to date. The new "news" is that we can tell the complete story as our key patent has been allowed by the US patent office. The Volt is an electric vehicle with extended range as the Volt has full battery electric performance at all speeds when there is charge in the battery.
Click past the jump for more.


  • Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman
  • Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman
  • The Chevrolet Volt "Freedom Drive" across the country concludes at Pier 92 during the annual Macy's Independence Day fireworks display over the Hudson River in New York, Sunday, July 4, 2010. The "Freedom Drive" began four days and 1.776 miles ago in Austin, Texas where Chevrolet announced New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas would join Michigan, California and Washington, D.C. as launch sites for the Volt later this year. (Photo by Emile Wamsteker for Chevrolet)
  • The Chevrolet Volt "Freedom Drive" across the country concludes at Pier 92 during the annual Macy's Independence Day fireworks display over the Hudson River in New York, Sunday, July 4, 2010. The "Freedom Drive" began four days and 1.776 miles ago in Austin, Texas where Chevrolet announced New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas would join Michigan, California and Washington, D.C. as launch sites for the Volt later this year. (Photo by Emile Wamsteker for Chevrolet)
  • Chevrolet announces Thursday, July 1, 2010 it is adding Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to the launch markets for the Volt electric vehicle. The retail launch in Texas and New York will begin with Austin and New York City in late 2010. The balance of Texas and New York, as well as New Jersey and Connecticut, are scheduled to begin receiving Volts in early 2011. The Chevrolet Volt (pictured here) in front of the Texas State Capital in Austiin, Texas Wednesday, June 30, 2010. (Photo by Steven Noreyko for Chevrolet)
  • Chevrolet announces Thursday, July 1, 2010 it is adding Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to the launch markets for the Volt electric vehicle. The retail launch in Texas and New York will begin with Austin and New York City in late 2010. The balance of Texas and New York, as well as New Jersey and Connecticut, are scheduled to begin receiving Volts in early 2011. The Chevrolet Volt (pictured here) in front of the Texas State Capital in Austiin, Texas Wednesday, June 30, 2010. (Photo by Steven Noreyko for Chevrolet)
  • A pre-production Chevrolet Volt passes a trolley while navigating the steep climbs of the San Francisco Bay area while on an engineering development drive Saturday, April 25, 2010 in San Francisco, California The Volt will be available in California during the last quarter of 2010. (Photo by Martin Klimek for Chevrolet)
  • A pre-production Chevrolet Volt drives near the Golden Gate Bridge while on an engineering development drive in San Francisco, California Saturday, April 25, 2010. The Volt will be available in California during the last quarter of 2010. (Photo by Martin Klimek for Chevrolet)
  • A pre-production Chevrolet Volt navigates the steep climbs of the San Francisco Bay area while on an engineering development drive Saturday, April 25, 2010 in San Francisco, California The Volt will be available in California during the last quarter of 2010. (Photo by Martin Klimek for Chevrolet)
  • The new Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range on display at Columbia University on Earth Day, Thursday, April 22, 2010 in New York, NY. (Photo by Todd Plitt for Chevrolet)
  • The new Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range drives through campus at Columbia University on Earth Day, Thursday, April 22, 2010 in New York, NY. (Photo by Todd Plitt for Chevrolet)
  • The new Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range drives through campus at Columbia University on Earth Day, Thursday, April 22, 2010 in New York, NY. (Photo by Todd Plitt for Chevrolet)
  • The Chevrolet Volt �Freedom Drive� across the country continues in Fairfax, Virginia Saturday, July 3, 2010 as the Volt participates in the annual Independence Day Parade. The Volt, an electric vehicle with extended range. will finish its four-day, 1,776 mile route in New York City on Sunday. (Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt for Chevrolet)
  • The Chevrolet Volt �Freedom Drive� across the country continues in Fairfax, Virginia Saturday, July 3, 2010 as the Volt participates in the annual Independence Day Parade. The Volt, an electric vehicle with extended range. will finish its four-day, 1,776 mile route in New York City on Sunday. (Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt for Chevrolet)
  • The Chevrolet Volt �Freedom Drive� across the country continues in Fairfax, Virginia Saturday, July 3, 2010 as the Volt participates in the annual Independence Day Parade. The Volt, an electric vehicle with extended range. will finish its four-day, 1,776 mile route in New York City on Sunday. (Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt for Chevrolet)
  • A pre-production Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range travels around Pier 92 during a media test drive in New York, NY on Monday, March 29, 2010. (Photo by Steve Fecht for Chevrolet) (3/29/2010)
  • A pre-production Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range travels around Pier 92 during a media test drive in New York, NY on Monday, March 29, 2010. (Photo by Steve Fecht for Chevrolet) (3/29/2010)
  • The first pre-production Chevrolet Volt rolls off the line at the Detroit-Hamtramck manufacturing plant Wednesday, March 31, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. The pre-production versions of the Volt will not be sold at dealerships, but will be used to assure all steps in the production system will meet the quality targets set by the Volt engineering team. (Photo by John F. Martin for Chevrolet) (04/01/2010)
  • A Chevrolet Volt battery at the General Motors Global Battery Systems Lab in Warren, Michigan Wednesday, June 30, 2010. The Chevrolet Volt will offer customers an unprecedented standard 8 year/100,000 mile warranty on its lithium-ion battery. GM engineers have completed more than 1 million miles and 4 million hours of validation battery testing since 2007. Each Volt battery pack has nine modules and 288 cells. GM designed and engineered 99 percent of the 155 components in each battery. (Photo by John F. Martin for Chevrolet)

[Sources: General Motors, Translogic, Motor Trend, Green Car Advisor, The Car Connection, Popular Mechanics]

So, from what we know now, the Voltec drivetrain has a single planetary gearset, a pair of electric motors and, of course, the gas engine. The systems central sun gear gets power from the 149 horsepower electric motor at all times, while an outer ring gear gets power from the engine or the smaller electric motor when needed. The planet carrier then sends power, from whatever source, to the wheels. GM global vehicle chief powertrain engineer Pamela Fletcher told The Car Connection that the two-motor powertrain gives the Volt three more miles of electric-only range than would otherwise be possible.

Like we've said before, it makes sense for the Volt's engineers to design the powertrain to be the most efficient they can, and if they think that some gasoline assistance will help buyers choose this partially electric car, then that's fine. Labels are just labels. But what will GM's marketing arm, that's been so preoccupied with saying the Volt is an ER-EV that's totally different from all other cars out there, do now that we know the Volt is pretty much a plug-in Prius with a bigger battery pack? For what it's worth, some of the first real-world Volt tests are showing around 33 miles in EV-only mode, compared to the plug-in Prius' 13 or so. Thanks to David M. for the tip!


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