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The Volt's gasoline capacity is being cut back

The Chevy Volt plug-in electric car from GM is one of the most desired new cars coming to the market.  Everyone is talking about the car's stylish design and relatively affordable price tag of around $40,000; not bad compared to past electric cars totaling over $100,000 like the Tesla Roadster.  With sales planned to commence in 2010 and with a production model possibly being unveiled later this year, the buzz surrounding the new vehicle is intense.

One fact many people didn't know is that while the Volt is an electric car, relying first on charge, it also sports hybrid capabilities.  It features a 12 gallon gas tank, which will only kick in after the lithium-ion battery charge is depleted.  This could take the car 600 miles, thanks to an impressive 50 MPG projected fuel economy.

However, recent reports have revealed that GM, in a surprising development, has decided to cut down the fuel tank for the Volt.  They won't say what the new capacity will be, with the source only saying, "We're working on that." 

The original goal for the Volt was to equip it to drive 40 miles on a charge, without using any gas.  This goal remains, and appears to be within GM's reach.  Additionally, since 40 miles isn't long enough for road trips or longer business travels, GM planned on adding the gas tank.  The gas does not power a traditional engine, but rather a generator, which provides enough charge to keep going, and actually performs more efficiently than most gas-engines.

GM has revised the target range to 360 miles, which would seem to indicate a fuel tank of 7.2 gallons.  The reasoning behind the cut is research that cars, on average, travel less than 40 miles a day.  While GM wants to provide a comfortable extension to this range, it decided that 600 miles was a bit excessive.  Many older sedans don't get much more than 300 miles on a 12 gallon tank, so the new range seems relatively reasonable.

Jim Hossack, vice president of AutoPacific, an automotive research and consulting firm states, "Most cars today have a range of more than 300 miles and less than 400 miles before refueling.  GM didn't need a longer range because most bladders can't go 600 miles.  By going with a smaller tank it means GM can take weight and price out and make Volt a little lighter and a little cheaper, and that's what you call making an improvement."

While GM's move should help it cut costs and cut down slightly on the weight of the vehicle, it may come as a disappointment for fans of ultra-long treks across the country.  Still, it is dubious that such minor gripes will be able to do anything to quell the PR frenzy surrounding the Volt.

At its price tag, even with possible subsidies, the Volt will likely fall into the luxury car class.  However, with its wild popularity and sleek looks, it seems likely to thrive in this class, or whatever class it may enter as prices drop.

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Somewhat understandable
By Brandon Hill on 7/9/2008 10:26:53 AM , Rating: 5
I can somewhat see GM's point -- but I've got another point to add.

By removing 5 gallons of gasoline, you're removing dead weight that likely wouldn't be used. If most people that would be purchasing a Volt aren't driving more than 40 miles per day (I would fit into this category), and then plug in the vehicle at night to recharge it, the gasoline wouldn't even be touched.

So you could end up going weeks or a month or so not even using any gasoline and you'd be dragging around $50 worth of gas.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By JasonMick on 7/9/2008 10:35:08 AM , Rating: 5
Definitely. That's what I was hinting at with the weight cuts. It may not seem like much, but shedding 5 gallons of gas will shed around 30-40 lb.

Driving year round with an extra 30-40 of weight will effect your fuel economy, be it needing to charge more frequently or needing to fill up your tank more often.

Smart move from GM.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By 67STANG on 7/9/08, Rating: -1
RE: Somewhat understandable
By JasonMick on 7/9/2008 11:12:33 AM , Rating: 5
You'd like this article:

Through the 1990s, the average weight of Americans increased by 10 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The extra weight caused airlines to spend $275 million to burn 350 million more gallons of fuel in 2000 just to carry the additional weight of Americans, the federal agency estimated in a recent issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

But in all seriousness, 360 mi +40 miles =400 mi range. That means if you were traveling at 60 mph, a pretty standard highway speed, you could drive for 6+ hours without refueling. To put that in context, that means if you leave at 6 AM, you have to stop at noon. Most people would anyways for lunch. Sure you could road warrior it with the former design and go for 10 hours (6 am till 4 pm) ... but how many people are really going to do that??

And if you don't want to stop for long, it takes about 5 or less minutes to fuel up, so what's the big deal?

Hopefully GM using the space savings wisely, though.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By othercents on 7/9/2008 11:39:15 AM , Rating: 2
Personally I would only put one or two gallons of gas into a Volt if I had one and rely on charging it every night. I also don't expect this vehicle to be the one I would use to drive across country. The only choice GM could make is allow for both tank options. Even without filling the tank up you still have the added weight of the metal for a larger tank. GM is working on making the dry weight of the vehicle as light as possible.


RE: Somewhat understandable
By Oregonian2 on 7/9/2008 2:23:51 PM , Rating: 3
GM is working on making the dry weight of the vehicle as light as possible.

Alternatively it gives a bit more room for the batteries (or whatever as they try to design a production version).

RE: Somewhat understandable
By 67STANG on 7/9/2008 12:05:07 PM , Rating: 2
Nice I was downrated for calling Americans chubby I suppose?

In all reality, who drives 60mph on the highway? In California, our highways are 70mph, and unless you do 80-85... you'll get run over. So, at 80mph you can drive at the most, 5 hours (assuming the 360mi isn't already including the 40mi electric range and that economy doesn't fall drastically at a speedier pace).

Not that big of a deal, but take my commute for example. I drive a Honda Accord 170mi per day round trip. I have to fill up every 1.5 days because the tank doesn't hold much fuel. On the weekends I put maybe 30mi putt putting around town.

I am no fan of GM, but I was actually hoping to get one of these specifically for their range. I could fill up twice a week instead of 3 or 4 times and run on electric all weekend around town. Now, the Volt is barely an upgrade in range over my Honda...

RE: Somewhat understandable
By Suomynona on 7/9/2008 12:19:58 PM , Rating: 5
A 170-mile commute is extremely rare. For the vast majority of people, this will be a benefit.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By Spuke on 7/9/2008 1:02:32 PM , Rating: 3
That is a fairly rare length of commute even for Californians. My commute is 60 miles so I would be running the gas engine on the way home. At 360 miles, it's not much more than my present car (330-350 miles) but I imagine that 40 miles of that is on electric.

At 7.2 gallons, it would only cost me $33 to fill up versus $55 now. I wouldn't buy it for me but my wife could sure use a car like that. The only problem is the car costs ~$40k and, at that price, my truck would be cheaper to operate even at the present price of gas.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By Jedi2155 on 7/10/2008 12:25:19 AM , Rating: 2
A lot more people than you think nowadays. I drive in SoCal for my commute (typically the 5,10,22,57,60,91,210 freeways) and I've noticed that pretty much all of them except for the 57 and more eastern parts of the 91 drive more less around 60-75.

I'm starting to notice a lot more drivers being more conscious of their speed as they've probably heard that speed affects their gas consumption and as result is slowing down. On the other hand....most drivers in the LA area don't really have choice with all the traffic....

I've spent a lot of my time on the road just examining the habits of drivers and I would wager that maybe 20% of the drivers at most consistently drive faster than 75 MPH, while most would just follow the speed of traffic than go significantly faster than it.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By kmmatney on 7/10/2008 2:19:02 AM , Rating: 2
That's pretty much why I don't want to live in Califrnia now, even though I grew up there for 25 years. Who wants to commute that far - I have a reasonable 8 mile commute in Colorado, as do many other people who live in other states.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By RU482 on 7/13/2008 2:48:42 AM , Rating: 2
So you want GM to design the car to accommodate the 5% (170mi/day commute) of the market you reside in? This will add cost and decrease electric range for the other 95% of us that have sub 50 mile/day commutes

RE: Somewhat understandable
By Some1ne on 7/9/2008 5:36:20 PM , Rating: 2
Through the 1990s, the average weight of Americans increased by 10 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The extra weight caused airlines to spend $275 million to burn 350 million more gallons of fuel in 2000 just to carry the additional weight of Americans, the federal agency estimated in a recent issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Those numbers are a bit sensationalist (and also they aren't adequately quantified, is it an extra 350 million gallons per year, or an extra 350 million gallons over the entire decade...I'm going to assume it's per year). To frame them in a different light, 350 million gallons of fuel is less than 2 gallons of gas per person in the U.S. (really it's closer to 1, but let's round up to 2 since not every person has their own car). So even at $5 per gallon, the smaller tanks are only saving each Volt owner $10 per year per 10 pounds of weight removed. Assuming each gallon of fuel weighs roughly 10 pounds, and that roughly 5 gallons are being removed, that's a net savings of < $50 per yer.

Personally, I'd rather have close to double the range than an extra $50. If you'd rather have the $50, you could always keep your 12 gallon tank only 7 gallons full.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By mvpx02 on 7/9/2008 3:26:10 PM , Rating: 2
Driving year round with an extra 30-40 of weight will effect your fuel economy, be it needing to charge more frequently or needing to fill up your tank more often.

While its not a terrible move, I think they should keep the larger tank and leave it up to the owner to choose how much to fill it. Living in the midwest, it does not snow enough for me to buy a car specifically for snow handling, but its nice to be able to fill up a large gas tank for the added traction that comes with the added weight. Again, 30-40lbs may not seem like much, but as you suggested, every bit helps.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By Jedi2155 on 7/10/2008 12:56:07 AM , Rating: 4
I think the problem here is that most owners wouldn't be bothered to consistently monitor their gas levels to achieve maximum efficiency. They'll just fill it up and leave it at that not really thinking much afterward.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By theapparition on 7/9/2008 11:24:40 AM , Rating: 2
Another take on this is that if indeed people drive for a month or more without touching the gasoline, water condensation and stale gas could also begin to cause problems.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By Master Kenobi on 7/9/2008 11:43:17 AM , Rating: 2
Heh, see what Ethanol(E85) or even 15% Ethanol gas does to your tank, and fuel lines if it sits untouched for a month.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By Alexvrb on 7/9/2008 10:03:15 PM , Rating: 2
Engines, fuel tanks, and fuel lines in 99.9% of vehicles on the road are ready for ~10% ethanol (which is what most states are using or preparing to use in place of pure gasoline). My 1987 Caprice Classic Brougham with a 305 and a 4bbl q-jet stated in the manual that 10% ethanol was no problem, and I know people who ran it without any issues.

Unless you mean that fuel with alcohol is going to do something bad by sitting that regular gasoline would not? How is it sitting there for a month going to cause any harm? It certainly won't varnish that fast, especially not with enough alcohol in it.

As for not using the gasoline for longer periods of time, there are ways to mitigate possible storage issues. Gas stabilizer will allow for long term storage without any problem. Regarding condensation, its almost a non-issue if you use E85. If you use regular gasoline, use a bottle of "dry gas" or whatever label they want to put on the bottle once in a while. Use the kind that is 99% isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol), its a lot more effective at removing water than methyl alcohol (methanol). Presumably you could let the battery run low once in a blue moon to burn some of the fuel off instead of or in addition to using additives to prolong the life of the fuel.

Oh, finally, 10% ethanol *can* produce bad results initially if a gas station doesn't properly clean out their tanks when they make the switch. The water that builds up at the bottom of the storage tanks just sits there when there's only gasoline. But if they don't remove it, the alcohol will mix with the water and you could then get a load of gasoline with an unacceptable amount of water that could cause your engine to run a little shitty until you put better gasoline in it.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By theapparition on 7/10/2008 11:56:59 AM , Rating: 2
While I somewhat agree with most of your points, here are some factors to consider:

1. My main point was: How was GM going to tackle old gas. We all know you can use stabilizer, and there's "gas dry" for water problems, etc. The average consumer knows nothing of these problems. GM must design for "least common denominator" (sad but true), and will have some sort of plan to tackle it. I'm curious what that plan is.

2. 15% ethanol can be very caustic to fuel systems. The OP's point of it sitting for longer periods of time in vehicles that weren't specifically designed for it is valid.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By Alexvrb on 7/10/2008 6:59:39 PM , Rating: 2
Just like with any maintenence issue, they tell you what to do and when to do it. ;) Failure to perform required maintenence on any vehicle can void the warranty. They will probably only demand that you do something once in a long while, like once every year. Sounds like a good time to coincide with an oil change or other service. If you can't do it yourself, take it to the dealer or a good shop that can performance the service at the required intervals. Heck, for all we know the engine will pop up with a little "change gasoline" light every year. :D It would only come on for those who don't use any/much fuel.

As for 15% ethanol being caustic to fuel systems, there's a couple of points. For one, we're talking about a 2010 model. He seemed to imply that leaving an ethanol blend in this vehicle would cause harm by sitting for a little while. I assure you the Volt will be ready for a 10, 15 or maybe even higher % of ethanol in the fuel. The turbocharged inline 3 cylinder might even come as an E85-capable motor - as a modern turbocharged engine, it could adjust valve timing and boost levels on the fly depending on the ratio of alcohol to gasoline, allowing it to extract the most energy from any blend.

Second, where are all these stations in the USA pumping 15% ethanol? o.O I see 10% ethanol blends all over. I'm sorry for those being forced to use 15%, more ethanol means less energy (by volume), especially in a regular gas engine. But as far as ir damaging fuel systems goes? I haven't seen any evidence of that outside of very old vehicles with old rotten fuel lines. I'd say 99% of cars should be fine with 10-15%. Lines and seals which come into contact with fuel are (and have been for many years) constructed from materials which are ethanol-safe such as but not limited to: Steel, stainless steel, neoprene, nylon, nitrile, viton, and teflon.

Oh! I did think of one other issue which can occur when switching to ethanol blends. Your fuel tank accumulates filth/water/debris over time (particularly at the bottom), and the ethanol may dissolve some of it and it could get pumped into your fuel lines. The filter will catch it, but it could plug the filter.

So even if you do have a really old vehicle that isn't happy with the 10 or 15% ethanol, you can usually replace what is problematic with compatible materials such as modern hoses and lines. Or scrap the vehicle, or retrofit it with a newer engine. You might have an older carbureted vehicle and the seals in the carb just don't like it, and the replacement seals aren't worth a damn either. In that case, sorry bout your bad luck. :(

If I ever get to talk to the SMP rep again, I'll ask him about the seals in the carb rebuild kits and 15% ethanol. Maybe I can get ahold of Dayco as well, since most stores carry their hoses.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By mles1551 on 7/9/2008 12:31:41 PM , Rating: 2
Are the EPA mpg tests conducted with a full tank?
If so, would GM see an increase in the Volt's mpg rating as a result of lowering the weight carried?

I would think that GM is doing whatever they can to increase the number that will be seen on the window sticker b/c that is what most people will use to judge this car.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By Visual on 7/9/2008 12:43:58 PM , Rating: 2
The user can simply not fill their tank to the top if they know they will not be using it, and get the same improved efficiency. There is no need for the manufacturer to take this decision on behalf of the user.

I doubt there are any noticeable material or manufacturing savings from this move, so the price wouldn't be affected.

I would understand lowering the tank capacity if that room was needed for something else - a larger battery pack, or a larger trunk space, or something. But doing it just because they thing most people won't be using it seems unnecessary to me. There is nothing gained from that.

RE: Somewhat understandable
By Jim28 on 7/10/2008 10:41:52 PM , Rating: 2
It is most likely a just in case manuever for more room for the batteries, and their stated reason for making the tank smaller is simply spin.

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