The launch of the Chevrolet Volt has, for the most part, gone off without a public hitch. Well, it was until Motor Trend discovered that the Volt is not exactly what it was promised to be: a vehicle powered solely by electricity with no ability for its gasoline engine to provide assist in motivation. After that revelation, the Volt became the subject of much controversy. To electric car purists, the Volt's ability to use it gas-fed engine to assist in motivation earned it a black mark. On the flip side of things, General Motors claims that the Volt's unique powertrain arrangement allows it to achieve higher overall efficiency. The real controversy, it seems, centers on whether or not the increased efficiency of that gas-assist setup outweighs the fact that the Volt is not a vehicle motivated solely by battery power. The real question, though, is does it matter?
Automotive News (sub. req.) describes the Volt dilemma like this:
We tend to agree with AN's assessment. We don't cry ourselves to sleep at night because the Volt makes use of its gasoline engine for motivation. Yeah, we admit that being duped by GM caused some initial pain, but from the beginning, we knew that the Volt was never a pure electric vehicle. In the end, we're okay with The General's decision to weave in some gas assist. Are you?We at Automotive News have persisted in calling the Volt a "plug-in hybrid." Our authority has been SAE's definition of a hybrid as a vehicle with two propulsion power sources. Interestingly, GM first referred to the Volt as a "series hybrid." That's one in which the internal combustion engine feeds power to the electric system, as opposed to a "parallel hybrid," in which the two systems run the wheels.
But GM dropped "series hybrid"... and came up with a new pitch: The Volt is an EV because the gasoline engine doesn't drive the wheels. If that isn't true, it gives GM a black eye with EV fans. But, really, the Volt's performance is what should matter. It's plug-in hybrid, range-extended, whatever-you-want-to-call-it system is one possible way around the range problem of EVs. When the battery is depleted, the Volt keeps going. If that appeals to enough consumers, the Volt could help cut petroleum use and CO2 emissions. The extent to which it does that will be its true measure.