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Engineers have started to hand assemble the first "real" Chevy Volts -- the finalized pre-production test models.  (Source: General Motors)
Newly built car will be used for critical testing

The Chevy Volt, General Motors' pride and great hope for the future, has entered the pre-production phase, with engineers assembling a vehicle that looks identical to the design that is planned to be coming off the assembly  line late this year.  After months and years of waiting, GM's launch of the first mainstream electric vehicle is almost at hand.

GM Executive Director for Research and Development Dr. Alan Taub, speaking at a conference at the North Carolina Solar Center at NCSU, says that he believes the Volt will be integral to GM's turnaround.  He stated, "The key is to be ready when the market rebounds with technologies and vehicles that people got to have.  We really think the Volt represents the next generation in propulsion technology around what we are calling the reinvention of the vehicle.  It's going to be electrified drive. It's going to be connected to the world through electronics."

The new pre-production models will be play a critical role in preparing for the vehicles deployment.  They will be used as integration models, tweaking minor parameters to help lower wind resistance.  They will also be battered and bruised to make sure the vehicle is road-worthy.

Previous "test drives" by the press in "Volts" were not really a Chevy Volt -- rather, they were a similarly designed Chevy Malibu or Cruze-based test mule.  The current production marks the first Volt of the finalized design to be produced.  The cars are being built at the Technical Center in Detroit, MI.  It takes two weeks for engineers to hand-assemble one of the cars.

GM spokesman Rob Peterson cheered the news, stating, "The purpose for the integration vehicle builds is two-fold.  First, they validate our production design, vehicle safety and performance capabilities. Just as important, the build activity provides valuable insight into the final vehicle assembly process to ensure a high-level of build quality and manufacturing efficiency when production begins in November 2010."

By mid-July, GM will have ramped up the pre-production to a rate of 10 vehicles per week.  GM will have a fleet of 80 pre-production Volts by the fall.  The Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly will start mass producing pre-production models next spring, providing "several hundred" vehicles to invade showrooms across the country.

Automotive industry experts say that vehicles like the Volt face a tough road ahead, but may offer solutions to critical environmental and national security problems.  States, Anne Tazewell, of the North Carolina Solar Center at NCSU, "There are a lot of variables, and one is our will to continue investing in this.  We have an environmental imperative and we really do have an economic imperative because of our reliance on imported oil. But we're also kind of battling the more immediate economic situation.”

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By bildan on 5/28/2009 10:01:21 AM , Rating: -1
I sincerely hope it works for GM, but I worry that once the main battery is discharged at around 40 miles, the tiny IC engine will just provide a "limp home" mode.

RE: Performance?
By mdogs444 on 5/28/09, Rating: -1
RE: Performance?
By VashHT on 5/28/2009 10:23:43 AM , Rating: 2
Kind of depends how they implement it. Considering the engine is just used to recharge the battery I would think it would kick on when the battery got below a certain point, say 20% or something.

RE: Performance?
By bildan on 5/28/2009 7:57:18 PM , Rating: 2
There's no free lunch.

The energy to propel the car comes from the battery and ultimately from the engine/generator (genset). If the genset is providing current for charging the battery AND propelling the car, then the car's a slug in limp home mode.

If you pull more energy from the battery than the genset can make up, you further discharge the battery.

Ultimately, at some range, the battery is discharged and the car is totally propelled by energy from the genset and is a slug in limp home mode.

I suspect GM will set up the software so performance slowly degrades the further you drive it so the driver isn't surprised by a sudden loss of performance.

You MAY be able to drive it 400 miles but I'll bet few owners will have the patience to do so.

If I were selling a Tesla against this thing, I'd have a field day. The Volt is neither fish nor foul but probably the worst of both.

RE: Performance?
By rcabor on 5/28/2009 10:23:49 AM , Rating: 3
I dont see how it would limp home. The same powertrain is still moving the car, just the source of electricity changes.

RE: Performance?
By GWD5318 on 5/28/2009 10:26:42 AM , Rating: 3
There is no "limp home" mode. The batteries are never allowed to be fully discharged. They are kept charged by the on-board generator once they reach they are drained to a predetermined threshold. The gas engine is solely a power source for the on-board generator.

RE: Performance?
By Bateluer on 5/28/09, Rating: 0
RE: Performance?
By rcabor on 5/28/2009 10:46:55 AM , Rating: 2
The car will go over 300 miles on one tank of gas(7gals if i remember correctly). I would say its intended to be like any other car, just with an advantage of using no gas on regular work days for many people.

RE: Performance?
By omnicronx on 5/28/2009 11:02:25 AM , Rating: 2
Actually it is suppose to hit around 400 miles on one tank, giving it an average of 50MPG. That is more than the gasoline car I currently drive, which gets maybe 350.

While the pricetag certainly does not warrant buying this car if you do not intend to use it for short trips at all, it still gets better mileage for a midsized 'hybrid' than comparable models like the camry, and is still up there with the Prius.(and its not nearly as ugly).

RE: Performance?
By FITCamaro on 5/28/2009 1:38:06 PM , Rating: 1
My GTO will do 400+ miles to a tank. :)
A tank is just about 17 gallons.

And it'll get better mileage than a Prius if you just drive it around town < 40 miles a day. Since it won't use any gas.

RE: Performance?
By clovell on 5/28/2009 10:55:58 AM , Rating: 2
You do understand that the engine does not provide any power directly to the wheels, right? This is a series hybrid - you don't have to worry about torque or power curves - the ICE on this thing will run at peak horsepower and efficiency in the powerband 100% of the time - as a generator.

RE: Performance?
By matt0401 on 5/28/2009 2:56:43 PM , Rating: 2
I used to think of parallel hybrids as being superior... you could use both power sources at the same time for more power when you need it (Prius works this way), but I see now the advantage with series hybrids. They use a CVT in parallel hybrids to get the gasoline engine as efficient as possible but nothing beats the engine simply running at one speed when it runs. It can be infinitely tuned to be quiet, stable, reliable, and fuel efficient. They can maximize the power you get from it too. I see this being the dominant technology for hybrids in the coming years before the switch to electrics.

I just wish GM would have chose a diesel to be the generator rather than gasoline! The higher amount of torque available must help out some, it'd be even more fuel efficient when you need to go 40+ miles! GM ought to partner with VW for their clean diesel technology. With Nissan-Renault Chrysler-Fiat and the multitude of other partnerships out there this must be possible.

RE: Performance?
By clovell on 5/28/2009 4:29:36 PM , Rating: 2
Well, the additional torque would translate into mor power only if the 'flywheel' (I use quotes because I don't know the equivalent of a flywheel in a generator) was heavier. Energy is going to be created by the motion of the generator. The advantage of most diesel engines is that the low end torque essentially gives a deeper powerband. Since generators will be functioning at peak horsepower, I'm not certain you'd see the type of gains with diesel in series hybrids that you see in current conventional vehicles.

RE: Performance?
By matt0401 on 5/29/2009 12:53:10 AM , Rating: 2
Good point. I always assumed the fuel efficiency advantages of diesel engines were due solely to its higher lower-band power. I see now there are other factors. I guess when you are running an engine at peak power it doesn't matter where that peak power lies on the band. Therefore they could use anything as a generator for the Volt. Methane, propane, hydrogen fuel cells, and now that I think of it isn't that what the Volt developers described as being an advantage for the platform? That in the future they can integrate anything as a generator?

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