The Chevrolet Volt has probably been "coming soon" for longer than any vehicle in automotive history, but trust us, it's real. We know this because we were recently handed the keys to a preproduction version of GM's electric Prius-hunter for a test-drive in downtown San Francisco.
GM tells us that this preproduction model was hand-built late last year, and that substantial tweaks have been made to both the software driving the Volt and the fit and finish of the interior of newer versions being tested elsewhere--and that the production models that roll off assembly lines in November will be tweaked further still. However, the actual hardware of the vehicle's drivetrain is about as showroom-ready as it gets.
Extended range electric vehicle The hardware in question begins with a T-shaped lithium ion battery pack running the length of the vehicle's center tunnel and rear seats that provides power to a 120kW electric motor. The motor is connected to the front wheels through a single-speed transmission and handles all of the vehicle's motivational duties. Running in electric vehicle (EV) mode, the Volt has an estimated optimal range of 40 miles, more than enough--by GM's estimates--to handle commuter duties for the vast majority of drivers.
Also tucked under the Volt's hood is a 1.4-liter gasoline engine. This engine integrates a generator, producing juice to keep the Volt's batteries trickle-charged in extended range (ER) mode when trips exceed the vehicle's 40-mile EV range. This gasoline engine is not mechanically connected to the drive wheels or transmission, only the electric motor is. So don't go calling the Volt a hybrid around GM's people. The preferred term is extended range electric vehicle, or EREV.… Read more