GM unveiled the production version of the Chevy Volt, the first extended-range electric vehicle, and lit up the Internet with opinions from car lovers and tree-huggers everywhere. Here's a quick guide to everything you need to know about the car of the not-so-distant future.
First, a quick rundown on the car's stats:
- The car will go on sale in 2010.
- No price has been announced yet, but estimates place it in the region of $40,000.
- The car's energy comes from a large T-shaped lithium-ion battery pack running the length of the car.
- The Volt can run for up to 40 miles without gasoline. About 75 percent of Americans drive less than 40 miles a day, according to GM, so they will not need to depend on fuel.
- It will charge with a common household plug.
- If you drive beyond 40 miles, the car will run on gas and E85 ethanol.
- The car requires less energy annually than a refrigerator.
- The car will be able to reach a top speed of 100 miles per hour.
However, there are a few controversies over the car.
- Motor Trend reports that the EPA and GM are disputing whether the car should be defined as an electric car or a hybrid. This designation determines how the car's official fuel economy numbers will be calculated. Mike Connor reports:
Reports suggest the Volt can make it through the EPA test cycle—which from 2008 includes high-speed running, air-conditioning load, and cold-start tests in addition to the city and highway cycles—with the internal-combustion engine running about 15% of the time.
The straightforward calculation gives the Volt an EPA fuel-consumption rating somewhere north of 100 mpg. But the EPA apparently wants to certify the Volt differently, insisting it finishes the test with the batteries close to full charge. That drops the calculated fuel consumption to just under 48 mpg, because the internal-combustion engine would have to be run essentially all the time to keep the batteries near full charge.
If the EPA rating of the car is not significantly higher than a regular hybrid's, consumers may not find the price of the car worth it.
- The price of the Volt was originally estimated to be around $30,000 when plans for the car were first revealed. That number has crept up steadily, to "around $35,000" in February of this year, and then recently was upped to around $40,000. The first increase was due to the cost of designing energy-efficient stereo equipment, while the second reflected the expense in manufacturing the battery. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told the Seattle Times that the company would lose money on the first generation of the Volt. Despite this, some worry that the $40,000 price tag will turn consumers off. Others worry about the price of manufacturing the cars and what it will mean for a struggling GM; Bill Reinert, a national technology manager at Toyota, said he is on "death watch" for the Volt.
- The look of the Volt has left many car fanatics dissatisfied. When photos of the Volt were leaked last week, fans couldn't help but notice how the car looked different from the original design. Dave Burdick of the Huffington Post called it "not exactly innovative or sexy looking." Said Burdick: "The new design, unveiled this week, is rounder, as if to protect a 5-year-old from hurting himself while playing with it. It probably helps with aerodynamics, but the net result, I'm sure, will be lost when no new consumers buy it." Edmunds Inside Line titles a story about the Volt "Electrifyingly Bland" and goes on to dub the vehicle a "huge disappointment," "completely unacceptable," and "grandma's electric vehicle." Ouch. Some commenters on car blog Jalopnik spared it no mercy, saying, "Oh Chevy, you excite me as much as getting a new fridge," while others argued, "Who cares what the hood looks like? It's what's underneath that counts." Another commenter pointed out, accurately, "While the Volt may not be beautiful to look at, it will be really expensive—so expensive that people will ignore its blandness and bitch about the price."