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Eight 2011 Chevy Volts took the 1200-mile roadtrip.  (Source: Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)
The Volt is withstanding the rigors of road testing admirably

The first preproduction models of the 2011 Chevy Volt hybrid electric plug-in vehicle were built earlier this year.  Since then, the vehicle has been put through a number of rigorous tests.  Starting yesterday, a fleet of eight Volts launched on the most ambitious test of the vehicle to date: a 1,200 mile road trip.

Chevrolet Volt chief engineer Andrew Farah is among those making the round trip from the Milford Proving Ground through Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, before returning home.  The drive will take a few days and will require approximately 4 tanks of gas.

The drive is dubbed the "65-Percent Drive" according to Autoblog, which in GM-speak means the test drive made when 65 percent of the vehicle's hardware and software is done.  Reportedly, GM is actually about 90 percent done, but is just sticking to its traditional naming.  GM will complete 70, 80, 90 and 100 percent drives in coming months.

One thing GM is still tweaking is how much power from the gas-engine generator to put directly to the electric drive motor, versus using the generator power to charge the batteries.  GM is finding that frequently putting the power directly to the motor improves performance.  However, the generator will still charge the batteries in some cases, as well.

The engine will be run between 1,200 and 4,000 rpm, using factors like speed and power load requirements to decide on the necessary speed.  GM wants to keep the engine between 30 to 100 percent load, as higher loads reduce pumping losses.  GM was tight lipped about fuel economy under the old method (sustained charge) or the new method (variable speed, some power going directly to the electric motor). 

The company did say that the prototypes are getting good mileage -- over 300 miles on a tank of gas -- when operating in generator mode.  This is in addition to the vehicle's 40 mile all-electric range.  Another interesting test will be when GM runs the car's gas engine on E85 ethanol fuel.  The vehicles are FlexFuel designs, so they can enjoy both gas and ethanol.

As to the battery mode, the batteries are performing well and aren't getting too cold or too hot, both conditions which can degrade performance.  The cars aren't yet reaching the 40 mile target on a charge, but GM expects to pass that milestone on the next test, with tweaking.  On the trip, GM is testing vehicles both running on a depleted battery charge, and a full charge.

GM is also looking to fine tune and minimize noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH).  Currently, the gas engine typically won't turn on until the car is moving, at which point the noise will be drowned out by the wind and road noises.  GM, nonetheless, is pleased with the performance, and plans to further reduce NVH by tweaking vehicle parameters that effect the road and wind noise.

Other GM engineers were off testing Volts at Pikes Peak in Colorado.  One key concern is whether the Volt will reach a "tipping point", where the gas engine can't sustain battery charging, and the battery becomes depleted below the typical minimum of 30 percent charge.  Even a strenuous 14-mile trip to the 14,000-foot summit was unable to overwhelm the 100 hp generator, though, so it appears that the "tipping point" will never be reached in real world situations  -- if GM's claims hold true.

A critical test to come will be how the vehicle performs in cold weather.  In cold weather, the Volt starts with the generator running, to help heat up vehicle and jump-start performance.  Battery performance typically suffers incrementally worse degradation, the colder it gets (this is a major argument for ultracapacitors which perform favorably, but are more expensive).

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RE: looks
By Hiawa23 on 10/16/2009 10:06:04 AM , Rating: -1
Looks similiar to the Toyota Honda Hybrids, which is less sportier than what I would expect. I guess we can get over our dream of 40-50mpgs from a gas powered(not diesel)auto engine. Since this vehicle will be out of the price range of mostly everyone I guess it's another fantasy that someone will find a way to keep gas prices down cause for most, gas powered vehicles is it.

RE: looks
By Keeir on 10/16/2009 2:09:03 PM , Rating: 2
Since this vehicle will be out of the price range of mostly everyone I guess it's another fantasy that someone will find a way to keep gas prices down cause for most, gas powered vehicles is it.

You know...

Average purchase price of a GM Auto in Sept 2009? 35,069!
Average purchase price of all Autos in Sept. 2009? 30,327!

Expected Price of Volt post rebate? 32,500-35,000 or less.

So please explain to me how a good 40%+ of the car buyers today are willing to plunk down more than the cost of the Volt. Yet the "Volt is out of the price range of mostly everyone".

Keep in mind that with the dramatically lower cost for Electricity, the Volt will easily save a 25-30 MPG car driver 5,000+ USD over 100,000 miles. Know someone who purchased a car worth more than 27,000? That person can afford a Volt! Know a person with a Truck/SUV more than 20,000? That person can afford a Volt!

Car buyers buy based on precieved value. Some drivers will significantly value the electric drive and preception of zero emissions and flexibility. Of course, not everyone will or should.

The Volt is not the cheapest Compact Car. It is also not the most expensive. Here is a quick list of more expensive cars in the same size range: BMW 3 Series (All), Audi A3/A4, Anything with a V6, Impreza (All but the base model), Volvo C30, Most Mini S types, Acura TSX, MazdaSpeed3... well the list goes on and on and on. GM must deliever a value package that meets the cost, but end price does indeed give them a chance at it.

RE: looks
By mcnabney on 10/16/09, Rating: 0
RE: looks
By Spuke on 10/16/2009 2:40:49 PM , Rating: 3
The Volt is a compact car that offer neither high performance nor luxury features, so comparing it to BMWs, Cadillacs, and Acuras just isn't comparing apples to apples.
Can you post a link to the final specs of the Volt? I'm interested in seeing them. Thanks.

RE: looks
By mcnabney on 10/16/2009 3:51:48 PM , Rating: 2

The peak output from the motors turning the wheels is 160hp. That doesn't sound like V6 power to me since this car isn't going to be terribly light. Because these are electic motors I imagine that the torque will be good, but I have never driven an electric car before. The Tesla Roadster provides 248hp at the wheels, but that is a much lighter vehicle.

RE: looks
By Keeir on 10/16/2009 7:03:06 PM , Rating: 3

I think your trying to look at one number and come to a conclusion about driving experience from just that one number.

Here's another number
273 lb-ft of torque

Yow! Thats alot of twist for a family sedan, even one at 3,500 lbs.

As to the Roadster. Somehow, it achieves a sub 4 0-60 time with only ~100 hp/1000 lbs. Most gasoline cars in the same zone require ~130 hp/1000 lbs...

Conclusion- In the Segment of cars that include Prius and Insight, it should be no contest for the Volt. No, its not going to do better than a WRX STi or MazdaSpeed3. However, the Volt should be better than almost all base model compact/midsize cars and power issues shouldn't be a concern for anyone driving a non-performance car today.

RE: looks
By Keeir on 10/16/2009 7:38:34 PM , Rating: 2
The Volt is a compact car that offer neither high performance nor luxury features, so comparing it to BMWs, Cadillacs, and Acuras just isn't comparing apples to apples.

Hrm. Define "Luxury Features". Only seen Leather Interior. Heated Seats are definately there. Dual Screens, so Nav/Fancy Electronics are there. Fog Lights too.

Volt will provide a feature that no other car on the road currently will offer. 40 miles Electric + Unlimited Range with current infrastructure. There is no Apples to Apples comparison.

People get caught up in the initial price of the Volt at ~32,000 (after rebate). This does not look at the long term. People also somehow think the Volt must be the Cheapest Car on the Road.

The Volt has to offer a reasonable value proposition to customers. The 10 year cost of owning a Volt for the end customer, (I estimate around 40,000) is close enough to Prius (38,000), Civic DX (34,000), Fusion Hybrid (43,000), Accord I4 (46,000) to give the Volt a shot at this mark. Other cars clearly offer the value in the same segments and same price. Cars the same size offer the value at significantly higher prices (328i is more like 53,000+ 10 year, A3 2.0T is close to 48,000+). Its possible for GM to get the value proposition right for the Volt. Its also possible for them to mess it up completely.

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