Chevrolet Volt
Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge

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By Jim Kerr

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Chevrolet Volt

What seems like the world’s longest public automobile introduction has finally ended: the Chevy Volt has been designed, engineered, built and delivered to customers in 29 months, but only in the U.S. so far.

Actually, twenty-nine months is not a long time for a vehicle to go through design to delivery, especially one with new unconventional technology such as found in the Volt. In comparison, some manufacturers are now bringing cars to market in 24 months, but not while undergoing public scrutiny. The development of the Volt has been debated from its inception and now the production version is here, along with the production specifications.

The Volt is a four-passenger front-wheel drive extended-range electric vehicle. Extended range is a new term for many; rather than call it an electric car or a hybrid, which it is in some ways, the extended range Volt is a combination of electric and gasoline power. It always operates on electric power just as electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf does, but that power in the Volt can come from two sources. It can come from the battery or it can come from a gasoline-powered generator that charges the battery.

The battery is made up of 288 lithium-ion cells arranged in a 5.5-foot-long T-shaped module that fits into the bottom of the body, with the stem of the T running in a tunnel between the seats and the top of the T across the rear in front of the rear axle. Placing the 198-kg battery module in this position keeps the centre of gravity low and it is protected by the body around it.

The battery can supply 16 kilowatt hours of energy, which means we will have to start thinking of power in different terms when it comes to vehicles of the future. In practical terms the battery can supply a range of 40 to 80 kilometres, which is about the range of many daily commutes. When the battery becomes discharged, it can be recharged either with the onboard gas engine generator or it can be plugged in to a normal electrical outlet. If plugged into a 120 volt outlet, the battery will recharge in about 10 to 12 hours. Connect it to a 240 volt outlet and charge times are about four hours.

If you are out on the road when the battery becomes discharged, the 1.4-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine will fire up and use its 84 horsepower to charge the battery (or run the generator to power the electric motors, at speeds over 110 km/h) so you can keep driving. With a fully charged battery and a full tank of gas, the Volt will have a range of up to 560 kilometres; hence the extended range capability over an electric-only vehicle.

This front-wheel drive vehicle uses two electric motors that both drive the wheels and act as generators during deceleration to recapture most of the energy. Power output is 149 horsepower and torque, a strong suit of electric motors, is 273 lb-ft. It gives the Volt a top speed of 160 km/h.

For many commuters, the Volt will be operating on electric power most of the time. It is designed so that the interior can be heated or cooled while still connected to external power so when you start your commute you have full battery power. You can plug in at work or wait till you return home. The battery can be recharged at any time.

A new innovative feature is the OnStar Mobile app. Using your mobile smart phone (only select ones so far) or online with a computer or a mobile phone browser, you’ll be able to remotely unlock doors, monitor battery charge, check the electric and total range and warm up or cool down the interior. It will even text or e-mail you if the Volt is unplugged. The app will also allow you to select the time periods each day so you can take advantage of reduced power rates available in some areas of the country for non-peak electrical use.

If you are concerned about the cost of electricity, fully charging the Volt battery five days a week for a year will use about 2,730 kWh of electricity, less than a quarter of an average U.S. household annual electrical consumption. And if you just want to listen to tunes rather than drive, the Volt battery will power an iPod Nano nonstop for 112 years. Happy listening!

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