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Detroit Auto Show: It's here. GM's plug-in hybrid is the Chevy Volt Concept

September 2008 Update: To see the production version of the Volt, click here.

For several months now rumors have been rampant about an electric vehicle that General Motors would unveil at the Detroit Auto Show. That vehicle is now real, in the form of the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt is the first vehicle application of the GM's new E-Flex platform. Volt is a C-Class sized four door sedan roughly the size of a Cobalt.

In spite of the presence of an internal combustion engine, GM does not call this vehicle a hybrid. In fact, they consider it an EV with range extending capability. The engine is a turbocharged, 1.0L three cylinder engine with 71 hp that has no mechanical connection to the wheels. The ICE runs at about 1800 rpm and drives a 53 kW generator that charges the lithium ion battery pack. The engine starts and stops automatically as needed to charge the battery.

All the detailed information you've been waiting for on the Volt is after the jump. Click on the photo above of the small images below to enter the high-resolution gallery with 27 pics.

The battery pack provides power to a 161 hp (120 kW) electric motor that's connected to the front wheels to provide the motive force. It's the same motor that's used in the fuel cell Equinox. The LiIon battery has a peak output of 136 kW and a total capacity of 16 kWh. The battery can be charged by plugging it in to any standard 110 V outlet and is fully charged in about 6-6.5 hours. There are two plugs, one on each side of the car, to facilitate home charging.

The Volt has a range of about 40 miles on the battery alone which might not seem like much. But, considering that most people drive fewer miles than that per day, it should mean that a lot of drivers will never use a drop of gas on their daily commute. However, when the fuel tank is filled to it's capacity of 12 US gallons of gas, the Volt has a range of 640 miles. In addition, the Volt ICE is fully flex fuel capable and can run on any combination of gasoline or ethanol up to E85. The power-train is sized to achieve 0-60 mph acceleration of about 8.5 seconds.

The styling of the Volt is intended to give aesthetically pleasing proportions, with short overhangs and a sporty look. With the small motor sitting low between the front wheels and ICE sitting above and behind that, there is virtually nothing mechanical extending ahead the wheels. That leaves just the front bumper and radiator sitting there and the body almost shrink wrapped around the cooling system and wheels. The short overhang and front mid-engine layout give the impression of a classical sporty long hood appearance even on a relatively short car.

The roofline of the car is cut low, giving a tiny slit of a windshield, but the innovative door glass treatment helps avoid the sitting in a bathtub feeling of cars like the Chrysler Crossfire or Audi TT. The sides of the Volt have a definite shoulder, flowing out from the base of the windows and the down the sides. The windows themselves are relatively short, but the top part of the outer door skin including the shoulder is glass, allowing for and airy feel and much better visibility. Whether this look is practical for production is debatable, but it sure looks unique. The wheel wells bulge out over the tires which combined with the almost non-existent overhangs gives a powerful, aggressive stance.

The Volt has a lot of nice looking details like the shiny trim panels on the trailing edge of each of the front fenders which open to expose the standard 110V plugs, leaving behind the inductive charging padels of the EV1. The door handles are hidden in the chrome trim strips along the lower edge of the shoulder glass on the doors. Based on the CG images available at the time of writing it looks like there is also glass in the back panel below the tail-lights. Actual evaluation of visibility will have to wait until GM shows us the actual car at the show.

For a customer driving about 40 miles a day or about 15,000 miles a year, compared to a 30 mpg car, the Volt would save about 500 gallons of gasoline per year. If the car is charged every night, the driver should be able to achieve that mileage using virtually no gasoline. That same example would also save 4.4 metric tonnes of CO2 every year from each car. Another example of a driver commuting 60 miles a day would achieve an equivalent mileage of 150 mpg based on the engine running for the last 20 miles in a charge sustaining mode. As the driver's mileage drops down toward that 40 mile threshold, the equivalent mileage rises toward infinity. The ICE/generator combo has enough power to keep the car going when cruising at 70 mph and after the 30 minutes of running, the battery will be completely topped up.

GM's goal was to create an electric car that would not force users to plan their travel around the next charging session, while still providing all the capabilities of a standard four door, standard compact car and produce it in quantities of 100,000+ per year. They seem to have succeeded at the first part of this. Now the big question is when can we buy one? Here things get decidedly murky.

In GM's development process, a program isn't considered a real production intent vehicle until a vehicle line executive is assigned. The Volt has a VLE in the person of Tony Posawatz, so it is intended for showrooms, not just the show circuit. The only thing that isn't quite real at this point is the timing. The hold-up is that darned battery. At this point no car-maker in the world has yet publicly committed to building a car powered by Li-ion batteries in any significant quantities (Tesla has announced plans, but until they actual start delivering soem production roadsters, I'll withhold judgement). Regardless of the claims of battery makers, the technology to build an affordable battery that will last 100,000 miles, with minimal degradation of performance has yet to be demonstrated. GM is looking at a number of potential suppliers, but so far hasn't committed to any. No pricing is available at this point, but the base price is almost certain to be more than a comparable Cobalt or Focus. However, they want to price it so that total operating cost of the vehicle and fuel costs are comparable or less than current cars. Given, the efficiency of such a vehicle that should allow quite a bit of latitude, as long as customers buy into that concept.

The car on show here in Detroit is a runner, and hopefully GM will let AutoblogGreen behind the wheel before too long. GM made sure to emphasize that the Volt and E-Flex are not science fair projects or PR stunts. For the sake of GM and the domestic industry as a whole, they better bring something like this to market sooner rather than later.

Read all about the E-Flex system here and see a comparison of the Volt to the EV1 here.

UPDATE: All of the Volt's specifications can be found here.
LATER UPDATE: We now have pictures of the Volt from the NAIAS floor, including the interior of the vehicle. Click here to see them.
EVEN LATER UPDATES: "Who Killed The Electric Car?" director Chris Paine and Plug-in America founder Paul Scott speak out on the Volt. Also, GM's Dave Barthmuss talks to AutoblogGreen about the Chevy Volt

The following is GM's press release on the Volt:

Chevrolet Volt - GM's Concept Electric Vehicle - Could Nearly Eliminate Trips to the Gas Station

DETROIT, January 7/PRNewswire/ --

The Chevrolet Volt concept sedan, powered by the E-flex System - GM's next-generation electric propulsion system - and sporting an aggressive, athletic design, could nearly eliminate trips to the gas station.

The Chevrolet Volt is a battery-powered, four-passenger electric vehicle that uses a gas engine to create additional electricity to extend its range. The Volt draws from GM's previous experience in starting the modern electric vehicle market when it launched the EV1 in 1996, according to GM Vice Chairman Robert A. Lutz.

"The EV1 was the benchmark in battery technology and was a tremendous achievement," Lutz said. "Even so, electric vehicles, in general, had limitations. They had limited range, limited room for passengers or luggage, couldn't climb a hill or run the air conditioning without depleting the battery, and had no device to get you home when the battery's charge ran low.

"The Chevrolet Volt is a new type of electric vehicle. It addresses the range problem and has room for passengers and their stuff. You can climb a hill or turn on the air conditioning and not worry about it."

The Volt can be fully charged by plugging it into a 110-volt outlet for approximately six hours a day. When the lithium-ion battery is fully charged, the Volt can deliver more than 60 city kilometers of pure electric vehicle range. When the battery is depleted, a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged engine spins at a constant speed, or revolutions per minute (rpm), to create electricity and replenish the battery. According to Lutz, this increases the fuel economy and range.

"If you lived within 50 km from work (100 km round trip) and charged your vehicle every night when you came home or during the day at work, you would get fuel consumption of 1.6 liters per 100 km," Lutz said. "More than half of all Americans live within around 30 km of where they work (60 km round trip). In that case, you might never burn a drop of gas during the life of the car."

In the event a driver forgets to charge the vehicle or goes on a vacation far away, the Volt would still get 4.7 l/100 km by using the engine to convert gasoline into electricity and extending its range up to 1030 km, more than double that of today's conventional vehicles. In addition, the Chevrolet Volt is designed to run on E85, a fuel blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

A technological breakthrough required to make this concept a reality is a large lithium-ion battery. This type of electric car, which the technical community calls an "EV range-extender," would require a battery pack that weighs nearly 400 pounds (181 kg). Some experts predict that such a battery - or a similar battery - could be production-ready by 2010 to 2012.

Jon Lauckner, GM vice president of Global Program Management, said the Volt

is uniquely built to accommodate a number of advanced technology propulsion solutions that can give GM a competitive advantage.

"Today's vehicles were designed around mechanical propulsion systems that use petroleum as their primary source of fuel." Lauckner said. Tomorrow's vehicles need to be developed around a new propulsion architecture with electricity in mind. The Volt is the first vehicle designed around GM's E-flex System.

"That's why we are also showing a variant of the Chevrolet Volt with a hydrogen-powered fuel cell, instead of a gasoline engine EV range-extender," said Lauckner. "Or, you might have a diesel engine driving the generator to create electricity, using bio-diesel. Finally, an engine using 100-percent ethanol might be factored into the mix. The point is, all of these alternatives are possible with the E-Flex System."

The Volt concept car is built on a modified future architecture, Lauckner said, similar to the one GM uses for current small cars, such as the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR.

According to Larry Burns, GM vice president for research and development and strategic planning, the world's growing demand for energy and its dependence on oil for transportation is the common theme behind today's headlines.

"Whether your concern is energy security, global climate change, natural disasters, the high price of gas, the volatile pricing of a barrel of oil and the effect that unpredictability has on Wall Street - all of these issues point to a need for energy diversity," said Burns. "Today, there are more than 800 million cars and trucks in the world. In 15 years, that will grow to 1.1 billion vehicles. We can't continue to be 98-percent dependent on oil to meet our transportation needs. Something has to give. We think the Chevrolet Volt helps bring about the diversity that is needed. If electricity met only 10 percent of the world's transportation needs, the impact would be huge."

GM's E-flex System moves automobile toward new electric age

GM's E-flex System enables multiple propulsion systems to fit into a common chassis, using electric drive to help the world diversify energy sources and establish electricity from the grid as one of those sources.

"The DNA of the automobile has not changed in more than 100 years," said Burns. "Vehicles still operate in pretty much the same fashion as when Karl Benz introduced the 'horseless carriage' in 1886.

"While mechanical propulsion will be with us for many decades to come, GM sees a market for various forms of electric vehicles, including fuel cells and electric vehicles using gas and diesel engines to extend the range. With our new E-flex concept, we can produce electricity from gasoline, ethanol, bio-diesel or hydrogen.

"We can tailor the propulsion to meet the specific needs and infrastructure of a given market. For example, somebody in Brazil might use 100-percent ethanol (E100)

to power an engine generator and battery. A customer in Shanghai might get hydrogen from the sun and create electricity in a fuel cell. Meanwhile, a customer in Sweden might use wood to create bio-diesel."

The Chevrolet Volt is just the first variant of the E-flex System. The Volt uses a large battery and a small, 1.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine to produce enough electricity to go up to 1030 km and provide triple-digit fuel economy. GM will show other variations of the propulsion systems at future auto shows.

"GM is building a fuel cell variant that mirrors the propulsion system in the Chevrolet Sequel (fuel cell concept)," Burns said. "Instead of a big battery and a small engine generator used in the Volt, we would use a fuel cell propulsion system with a small battery to capture energy when the vehicle brakes. Because the Volt is so small and lightweight, we would need only about half of the hydrogen storage as the Sequel to get around 480 km of range."

Future concepts might incorporate diesel generators, bio-diesel and E-100.

Environmentally conscious vehicles can be aesthetically appealing

With exterior proportions associated more with classic sports cars, the Chevrolet Volt conveys an immediate message of agility and sophistication. Twenty-one-inch wheels and sheer, taut surface relationships reiterate the statement. The Volt's athletic design challenges the notion that an environmentally conscious vehicle can't be beautiful and possess an aesthetic spirit that matches its driving characteristics.

"We leveraged our resources around the globe to develop the design aesthetic for the Volt," said Ed Welburn, vice president, GM Global Design. "It was important that the design capture the face of the Chevrolet as it's recognized around the world."

True to the heritage of its Chevrolet bowtie, the Volt's exterior design suggests spirited performance and is wrapped in a stylish package, with classic Chevrolet performance cues that hint at both Camaro and Corvette. On the inside, near-term technologies and innovative materials combine with ingenious use of ambient light for an interior environment that's light, airy and thoughtful.

"First and foremost, this is an advanced technology vehicle that uses little to no fuel at all. But we didn't see any reason why that should compromise its design," said Anne Asensio, executive director, GM Design. Asensio led the design team that created the Volt concept, with designs solicited from GM's studios around the world.

"We wanted a size that connected with everyone, so we designed a small car," said Asensio. "In the end, the interior design team from England inspired the final interior execution, and the exterior is the work of the Michigan advanced design team.

"Our job was to design a vehicle people could easily imagine," said Asensio. "It couldn't be a 'science project,' because that's not what this car is all about. It had to be realistic, executable and carry the essence of the Chevrolet brand."

Source: General Motors (GM Europe)

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