• Oct 12th 2010 at 5:00PM
  • 104
All the controversy surrounding the Chevy Volt's unique drivetrain raises a bigger issue: Why would GM mislead the media for months about how it really works? Why does the company refuse to call the Volt a plug-in hybrid, the most obvious and accurate description of the car? Why, even now, having explained that the gas engine does indeed couple to the transaxle gearing that drives the wheels of the car, do Chevy PR people insist on making statements in their press materials like these?

  • "The Chevrolet Volt is not a hybrid."
  • "...it is the industry's only purely electrically driven vehicle with overall efficiency and range approaching traditional engine- or hybrid-driven models of its size."
  • "Unlike a conventional powertrain, there are no step gears within the unit, and no direct mechanical linkage from the engine to the wheels."

GM gave us at least two reasons for this snafu, and has posted a less-than-forthcoming clarification on its Volt blog. The first thing GM said was that it was concerned with protecting the secrecy of its transmission during the patent application process. Larry Nitz, GM's executive director of hybrid and electric powertrain engineering, told Translogic that until the patent was approved, GM did not want to reveal the details of how the Volt's drive system actually worked. While that may be true, it doesn't excuse GM spokespeople deliberately misleading the media (and therefore the public) about the way the Volt drivetrain works.

It also doesn't get to the heart of the matter, which is that GM desperately wants the Volt to be considered something other than a hybrid. Rob Peterson, the lead Chevy Volt communications spokesman, admitted to AOL Autos that the company does not want the Volt to get compared with the forthcoming plug-in version of the Toyota Prius. GM is concerned that a public unfamiliar with electric vehicles and generally unknowledgeable about how they work will be unable to grasp the dramatic differences between the two vehicles.

Those differences look to be substantial. Although Toyota has not yet released the production plug-in Prius scheduled for 2012, it has been showing its prototype (which we got a chance to drive in Translogic Episode 7.2). With a much shorter EV range of about 13 miles, and without the ability to lock into EV mode or drive in EV mode above 60 miles per hour, the Prius plug-in is a far less robust electric vehicle than the Volt. By comparison, the Volt can travel in EV mode for 25-50 miles, and can drive at its top speed of 100 mph under electric power alone.
Did GM lie about the Volt?
Yes, it's not a pure EV if the engine can power the wheels. 1494 (39.3%)
No, it's still fundamentally an electric vehicle. 524 (13.8%)
I don't care as long as GM engineers used the most efficient design. 1779 (46.9%)


Clearly GM is afraid that customers, buoyed the strong Prius brand, might decide that 13 miles of EV mode is enough. With the plug-in Prius expected to cost under $30,000, the Toyota competition could look like a bargain compared to the $40,280 Volt, even if you subtract the $7,500 Federal tax credit. Looking at the Prius' 50 mpg combined EPA rating, against the Volt's expected fuel economy in the upper 30's when its gasoline engine is running in extended range mode, isn't going to help that value proposition.

An even more important motivator for GM's steadfast refusal to allow the Volt to be regarded as a hybrid is that EV's have become the popular new frontier in alternative transportation. Hybrids may have been the green technology of the 2000's, but GM is perceptive enough to realize that by now they're decidedly last decade. If the Volt is able to convince consumers GM has the leading EV on the market, it could effectively become the Prius of electric cars. GM might wince at the connection, but it could do much worse.

Watch Bradley take the 2011 Chevy Volt for a spin at GM's secret proving grounds.


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  • 104 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      Tim, unfortunatly the very same people who push this technology are also the ones who rally against nuclear plants,maybe you can put up a giant windmill in your backyard, let us know how that works out with your neighbors.
      Tom
      • 4 Years Ago
      "They took alot from you" they took about 118 dollars from you get over it! it is this kind of technology that keeps this country free, support it, be optomistic, long live the industrial base of this country.
      CODY
      • 4 Years Ago
      Would you own a car that looks like it's smiling?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I leased a 2010 Prius 7 months ago after considering the most efficient vehicle and best value that would suit my needs. I like my 23K choice now even after not waiting for the availability of the Volt. I would have been even more disappointed if I had decided to wait for that car that was promoted differently than delivered. I also beleive the Technology for more efficient vehicles (and I would love to have an Electric Pick-up) is being suppressed. The whole structure of the auto Industry would obviousy be ruined. My guess is that the powers that be will have to trickle the new stuff gradually converting and I will continue to lease and turn in the old stuff for the new and not get stuck with vehicles that I believe will be soon Obsolete.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Government Motors issuing disinformation? What a newsflash. You all know who really runs the company now, right? 'Nuff said.........
      knowvne
      • 4 Years Ago
      GMC GOV. MOTOR CAR OR GIVE us MORE CASH enough said
      pete
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ok, that's all fine, but am I going to be able to afford one on my obama unemployment, or is obama going to give me one free and clear and free of charge?
      jaycrutch
      • 4 Years Ago
      The idiot here is you j hawes. You can't write a sentence correctly without using mindless profanity.
      Bernie
      • 4 Years Ago
      Machine Design magazine (read by engineers) ran a recent evaluation of the Volt, which clearly illustrates how the motion is achieved. The car will travel up to 50 miles on a single charge of 4 hours. Thereafter, the gas engine will run a generator, which delivers current to the electric power train. It definitely does not have transmission from the gas engine to the electricly powered motor. THEREFORE: Volt is an electricly powered vehicle.
      Why all you people choose to pick on industry and the integrity of the individuals who try their best to be objective and take pride in their efforts is a large part of our economic strife. I would bet that most of you critics have not done any hands on work in your life.
      bggoforth
      • 4 Years Ago
      No wonder GM doesn't the Volt to be compared to the Prius...Prius would win hands down.
      heyjude875
      • 4 Years Ago
      Why is everybody so deadset on electric hybrids? Seems to me that hydrogen-powered or natural gas-powered vehicles would be much more economical to build. I don't want a battery-powered vehicle that I can't get in and drive across country. Current electric cars are daily commuters for work as far as I am concerned. I would need a second vehicle for long drives. Given their cost and for that matter the cost of any decent vehicle; that's a lot of depreciating dollars in my garage. Then you gotta factor in the high cost of maintenance for any electric and you better have a savings account set up just to replace the batteries when it comes to that. The economical production car is still a long way off unless the big three start rethinking their direction to go for the future.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @heyjude875
        There are inherent problems with vehicles that use any type of gas as fuel, look up "Jacob" and "Charles" law (expansion vs. contraction of gases)and you'll find your answer. Think of walking out of a shopping mall surounded by 1000 mini Hindinburgs.Unless of course you're a brilliant engineer that can develope an onboard hydrogen separator.
      fs1982
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nick .. it takes more energy, coal / oil, to make ethanol than to make gasoline.
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