First Drive: Chevrolet Volt powertrain mule w/VIDEO

Chevy Volt powertrain mule - click above for a high res gallery

It's been 28 months since we watched Bob Lutz drive onto the stage at Cobo Hall in Detroit and step out of the Chevrolet Volt concept. In the intervening period, a corporate drama of epic proportions has transpired as Lutz has gone into semi-retirement, Rick Wagoner has been ousted as CEO and the U.S. government and the UAW are about to take a 90% ownership stake in General Motors.

In the midst of this corporate chaos, a dedicated group of hundreds of engineers, scientists, designers, technicians and drivers have tried to keep their heads down and out of the line of fire as they worked to make the Volt a production reality. From the time we first saw the original concept, GM has selected a battery supplier ( LG Chem), defined the final powertrain configuration and released the production design, among countless other tasks. After more than a year of pestering GM, the call finally to get behind the wheel of a Volt prototype. Read the results after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

We arrived at the design building on GM's tech center campus in the middle of a torrential downpour where we were escorted to the executive garage. There we found two of the 30+ second-generation Volt mules that are running around in Warren, Milford and other locations undergoing testing and development. Like their four-legged namesakes, mules are a cross-breed of different vehicles, and because of the lead times and testing required to bring a mass production vehicle to market, development is done in parallel on multiple paths. Automakers build these prototypes by taking an existing vehicle and adapting new components to road test the systems before the complete vehicle is ready for production.

For the Volt program, the first-generation powertrain mules were built using previous-generation Malibu body shells with the Voltec (E-Flex) powertrain -- the so-called Mali-Volts we first saw about a year ago. Those vehicles originally ran in late 2007, with the engine-generator and electric motor as well as a small hybrid battery to start development of the powertrain control system. Later, the full Volt T-shaped battery pack was installed and in 2008, the second-generation mules were built using the body of the new Chevy Cruze. Unlike the larger mid-size Malibu, the Cruze is based on the same Delta global compact platform as GM's plug-in savior, which is closer in size and weight to the Volt and was used throughout winter testing in 2008-2009.

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