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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 Fenixgoon on 10/16/2009 11:37:31 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Amazingly similar look to a Prius right there.


the laws of aerodynamics apply to all cars.

the "egg shape" for a small car is basically the most optimal shape people have found for reducing drag. that's why the volt, prius, and insight look the way they do.


RE: looks
By Spuke on 10/16/2009 12:03:08 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
the "egg shape" for a small car is basically the most optimal shape people have found for reducing drag.
Yawn. It's the most optimal shape for good aero, interior room, and other compromises. The new E350 Coupe is nearly the same CD as a Prius and doesn't look butt ugly.

2010 Toyota Prius: .25
2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe: .24


RE: looks
By theapparition on 10/16/2009 1:06:44 PM , Rating: 4
While true, Cd does not equal drag. You have to multiply by cross-sectional area. That's why some cars can have lower Cd's and yet still have higher drag.

Too much emphasis put on Cd.


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