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Volt gains "Sport" mode and works out some of its noise issues

The 2011 GM Volt is generating unprecedented hype as the highest profile upcoming mass-market electric vehicle.  With the U.S. government and automakers worldwide all betting big on electric vehicles, General Motors has done perhaps the best job at promoting its upcoming vehicle.

The vehicle is currently in the pre-production testing phase, in which the final bugs in the prototypes are ironed out via minor changes, largely to the vehicle's software and mechanical settings.  A fleet of prototype Volts completed a long test-drive journey and engineers are now using the data collected to tweak the Volt.  They hope to minimize its problems in the process.

James Riswick, an editor with, recently took one of the mules out for a test drive to measure their progress on this front.  He reports, "[The Volt] is sort of on the more fun to drive hybrid.  The suspension is a little firmer, than say, in the Prius, which is on the floaty, comfortable side.  This is not a sports car by any means, but actually the electric power steering is reasonably direct and well weighted."

In his opinion, the noise when driving under gasoline generator is minimal and seems like "white noise". However, when stopping, a more "rough" unpleasant sound was heard – GM says they're working on this issue.  Overall, Riswick says the car is "pretty darn normal" and that "It drives like a pretty nice car"

However, as many have noted a couple of pivotal unknowns remain -- the Volt's finalized real world gas mileage and cost.  The Volt will be available in all 50 states when it debuts, according to GM.  It will be available for around $40,000, plus a $7,500 federal tax credit, which brings it to approximately $32,500 (excluding additional hybrid tax breaks in certain states).  However, this price could be bumped significantly higher or lower still.

The vehicles will currently recharge in about 8 hours household 120-volt current, while special 240-volt charging stations can charge it in only 3 hours.  GM estimates the car's fuel economy to be 230 mpg, but this value has yet to be confirmed in real world independent testing.  One of GM's top priorities has been trying to tweak the gas mileage upwards during the testing cycle.

One detail that has not been widely publicized is the new vehicle's "sports mode".  Activated by a Sport button on the center stack, the feature makes the throttle more receptive and increases its ultimate limit, bumping 0 to 60 mph acceleration down to 9 seconds.  The Volt's urge to scoot increases in the mode, though.  Like most cars, the Volt also provides an electronic version of a "Low" gear similar to that found in normal cars, which allows faster deceleration.  GM recommends the Low mode for driving on slopes or in stop and go.

One disappointment is that the Volt and other Lithium-ion battery-powered electric vehicles may not be viable in hotter climates, such as some states in the American Southwest.  Despite the fact that Volts will be sold in these states, performance may be significantly undermined due to the heat.  Volt Chief Engineer Andrew Farah describes, "The Volt may not be right for everyone. If you live in the Southwest, depending on how you use your car, the Volt might not be right for you."

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RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By corduroygt on 11/30/2009 10:39:15 PM , Rating: 1
By contrast, a series hybrid, such as the volt, uses a more efficient, simpler and less expensive transmission.

A mechanical transmission is almost always more efficient than a generator+motor combo, this is a FACT.

One thing you seem to have forgotten - the electric traction motor in the volt will likely have a much longer service life than the gasoline engine in the Prius

Most IC engines today, unless they're total pieces of crap, easily go 200k miles with regular maintenance, IC engine life is not much different than the life of a battery pack.

One more thing you seem to have forgotten - battery technology is developing fairly rapidly.

Really? How often did you have to charge your cell phone 10 years ago compared to now? I bet it's either the same or you're charging more frequently today. You can argue today's smartphones are much more capable and power hungry compared to 10 years ago, but the same argument goes with cars of today having more features and being heavier compared to 10 years ago.

So, I don't know why all of you are salivating over the Volt, with its less efficient electric drivetrain and otto cycle engine. I guess it's the rooting for the underdog home team syndrome. The best GM cars are LSx powered, period.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By eddieroolz on 12/1/2009 3:50:52 AM , Rating: 4
The best GM cars are LSx powered, period.

That is an opinion, a fairly biased one, but I can live with that. But the next one is just so wrong on so many levels;

A mechanical transmission is almost always more efficient than a generator+motor combo, this is a FACT.

Where did you pull this one out of? An electric motor has more than double the efficiency of a conventional gasoline engine.


So, I don't know why all of you are salivating over the Volt, with its less efficient electric drivetrain and otto cycle engine.

Read the source above and also do a simple search for "electric motor efficiency" and "internal combustion efficiency" and you'll see the difference. As long as everything else is kept identical (i.e. same drivetrain, wheel bearings, tire surface, etc.) to minimize variables, an electric vehicle is perhaps twice as efficient as any LSx powered vehicles, if not more.

Also: next time, try to quote sources before you say it's a FACT.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By cvmaas on 12/1/2009 8:59:24 AM , Rating: 3
As an engineer I can tell you that efficiency chart is a crock under real world conditions. If an electric motor was 90% efficient they wouldn't need thermal controllers to shut them down when the core windings start to get too hot. An electric motor has a sweet spot at its designed RPM and torque output. As you move away from that point the efficiency drops like a rock and the motor starts to heat quickly. Thats why the acceleration ramp of the electric motor is so important.

As a comparison a small turbocharged gasoline engine is far more efficient, reaching nearly 90%.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By Ragin69er on 12/1/2009 10:36:04 AM , Rating: 4
Well surely as a fellow engineer you must know that the thermal efficiency of an internal combustion engine is related only to the compression ratio, and that turbocharging has no effect on the engines thermal efficiency. Turbocharging increases the density of air entering the engine, that is all. The maximum thermal efficiency of current internal combustion engines is closer to 30% under full throttle, and less when throttled. If you were referring to mechanical efficiency then you are closer to being correct, as at speeds below 40 rev/s its able to transfer 90% of the energy it has converted into useful work, but that drops off to 75% or so at higher revs.
However what they are comparing is the amount of energy inputted and how much work you can get out for that energy, which is thermal efficiency and electric motors are roughly 90% in that case compared with 35% max for ICE's.

Heywood, John "Internal Combustion Engine fundamentals". McGraw-Hill Toronto. 1988.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By randomly on 12/1/2009 11:05:36 AM , Rating: 2
Actually a properly implemented turbocharger can increase the engine efficiency. This is because the back pressure that the exhaust turbine creates is not seen inside the engine due to critical flow conditions at the exhaust valves. The turbocharger recovers some energy from the exhaust stream that would otherwise be lost and feeds it back into the engine by raising the intake manifold pressure.

A reality check on this can be observed by the fact that the exhaust temperature is lower on the turbocharged engine than the normally aspirated engine. The difference in heat output of the exhaust is the energy recovered from the exhaust stream.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By randomly on 12/1/2009 10:56:24 AM , Rating: 2
1) In the case of the motor systems used in vehicles like the Tesla and Volt you are wrong.

The efficiency only drops rapidly if there is no motor controller that controls the current into the motor. Those 'peaky' motor efficiency curves are only valid for simple motors running on a fixed supply voltage.

If you control both the rotor and stator currents you can achieve high efficiency over a broad range of torque and rpm. You are effectively changing the whole torque, rpm, efficiency curves on the fly allowing you to put the peak efficiency point where you want.

2) You are wrong again.
You would have to violate the laws of physics to get 90% efficiency out of a turbocharge gas engine. The maximum efficiency attainable under optimum conditions currently is in the mid 30 percent range.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By corduroygt on 12/1/2009 10:55:49 AM , Rating: 1
Perhaps next time you learn to read properly before you post useless facts like an electric motor being more efficient than a gas engine which everyone knows.

My post says a mechanical TRANSMISSION (a.k.a. a bunch of gears) is more efficient than a generator+motor combo. BOTH are connected to a gas engine in the case of Prius vs. Volt. I never compared an ICE to an electric motor, which we all know is more efficient.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By eddieroolz on 12/1/2009 3:48:54 PM , Rating: 3
First, I'd like to correct your assertion that I went offtopic.

The best GM cars are LSx powered, period.

That was your statement. Pretty irrelevant, but it was mentioned. So I'm not entirely at fault for going off-topic here.

In my defence: My reason in bringing up the comparison of Internal Combustion vs. Electric motor was not just to screw around with others. It had everything to do with the comparison of the overall efficiencies of two said vehicle types.

Consider this: Say an electric motor is 70% efficient, and internal combustion is 25% (real value for internal combustion is <20% as you know). If you were to compare the overall efficiency of the vehicle, the "bottleneck" here is the internal combustion engine - it is ~45% less efficient than the motor. Hence, even if a motor/generator combo was 10, even 15% less efficient than a simple transmission, the <25% efficiency of the engine should ultimately prove to be the biggest source of inefficiency, outclassing every other component.

In fact, I'm sure you'll agree that most cars out there - even the LSx powered ones - have an efficiency of <25% simply because it's limited by the inherently inefficient nature of the ICE. On the other hand, electric cars like the Volt can achieve perhaps double the efficiency of a traditional vehicle thanks to its motor-assisted drivetrain.


At low or mixed speeds this could result in ~50% increase in overall efficiency (19% vs 29%).

Now I do realize that a mechanical transmission is ~98% efficient according to the source, and the motor/engine combination. So in that aspect, you do have a point.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By randomly on 12/1/2009 12:12:17 PM , Rating: 3
You have lost sight of the overall picture.

This argument between the Parallel hybrid and Serial hybrid camps is silly. It's devolving into a religious argument and not a rational discussion.

Mechanical transmission can be more efficient than a generator+motor combo. But they can also be less efficient. The more stages in the mechanical transmission the more efficiency losses. It all depends on the application and implementation.
In the case of something like a prius a mechanical transmission is going to be more efficient on average than a generator+motor combo. It will also weigh less, and be cheaper.
On the other hand a generator+motor combo will allow you to optimize your ICE engine for efficiency since you can run it at constant RPM/Load. This is a huge advantage that can more than make up for the difference in efficiency in the 'transmissions'.
A big problem with gas engines is that although efficiency can be optimized into the mid 30% range this is only at a constant rpm/load. Under the varying load conditions required by car the average efficiency can drop to half that, in the mid teens.

One of the big advantages of serial hybrids like the Volt are the fact that they can take advantage of constant rpm/load optimization of the ICE. The other advantage is the large battery allows driving on electrical energy alone, and this energy can come from cheaper sources than gas, and also non-fossil fuel sources.

The disadvantages are a much higher cost than a parallel system, much of the cost being in the battery pack.

Which system is better? it depends on what your priorities are in terms of economics, alternative energy sources, etc.

Parallel hybrids win hands down on a cost basis. However if you want a car that can run on electric energy sources (which implies a large battery) then the serial hybrid is clearly the better approach, giving you a capability the parallel hybrid does not.

Which is the most efficient overall? It depends on the implementation. Both have the capability to be highly efficient. The difference is largely in the ICE technology. The constant rpm/load advantage of the serial hybrid gives it an advantage out of the gate but the use of diesel or gas engines with direct injection and compression ignition and other ICE advances can bring the parallel hybrid up to par or even beat out the serial hybrid.

Parallel hybrids bring high efficiency to cars at a reasonable cost.
Serial hybrids bring fairly similar high efficiency and also allow operation on electrical energy sources, but at a large price premium.

Anyone who says parallel hybrids are better than serial hybrids or vice versa is just chest thumping his party line. Both have pros and cons and it all depends on the specific implementation and what features are more important to you.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By corduroygt on 12/1/2009 1:12:59 PM , Rating: 1
Thank you for one of the few people who have the technical grasp in this discussion.

However, the prius transmission also always keeps the engine between 1000-4500 rpm depending on load, it ensures that the engine is running as efficiently as possible, along a curve that gives the maximum efficiency based on load. The transmission also doesn't have any gear ratios, i.e. it's single speed and very simple. The electric motors change their speeds instead of having gears or CVT's in the transmission so that the ICE can be kept at a speed range that's optimal.

I believe the new prius plugin will perform better than the volt in real world conditions and long road trips.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By randomly on 12/1/2009 5:38:43 PM , Rating: 3
I'm familiar with the Prius engine/transmission topology. It's quite clever. Running the engine in the 1000-4500 rpm power band helps but the engine still loses efficiency from partial throttle settings and rpm changes. There is still an efficiency advantage to running constant RPM/load.

If you are designing for an all electric capability with a large battery where you have to size your electric motors big enough to provide the total power required the serial hybrid approach tends to have advantages over the parallel hybrid. Which is precisely why the GM engineers chose that approach. It's just a better solution under those designs constraints.
The thermodynamic efficiencies of the Prius and the Volt will be fairly close to each other when running off gas. The differences will probably be important only to those concerned with specmanship.

The big difference will be in price, and the ability to run off electrical power.

The Volt is only a 1st generation serial hybrid, I'll be curious to see how the topology is doing in 5-10 years when it has more of a chance to catch up to the parallel hybrid. A great deal will depend on how battery technology and economics advances.

Serial hybrids have a lot of potential and are a good first step away from fossil fuels.

Both types of hybrids are a big leap forward from the old engine technologies.

If I had to choose and I had the money I'd go for the Volt so I could put a huge bumper sticker on it that says


then I could feel superior to people I don't know.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By corduroygt on 12/1/2009 6:45:32 PM , Rating: 2
You also know that Volt ICE will run on multiple settings and not just one depending on how fast the batteries are being depleted. The optimum rpm/load is more like a curve than a single point. Not to mention the prius ICE is the most efficient gasoline powered engine out there, I recall reading that it's running at an optimum rpm/load combination most of the time, with only very few and short periods it spends running less optimally, and it can be mitigated by changing your driving style.

I say getting a little less efficiency 5% of the time is better than getting more drivetrain losses all the time...

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By randomly on 12/1/2009 10:20:58 PM , Rating: 3
Originally the Volt was going to use a diesel but that was replaced with the 1.4L gas engine because of cost, noise and delivery schedule concerns. The variable speed ICE is mostly a result of engine noise concerns. People find it a little disconcerting having the engine running full throttle when you are only driving around slowly.

Remember this is only Rev 1.0 on the Volt. Ultimate efficiency is taking a back seat to delivering a good working vehicle on schedule. They are going to be making concessions to minimize risks.

Give GM 5 years or so to refine the design. I'm pretty sure you'll see the diesel engine get put back in and other optimizations. Just compare the first Prius with the current Prius and you'll see a large improvement.

I say getting a little less efficiency 5% of the time is better than getting more drivetrain losses all the time...

Not if you are only driving off your battery everyday, which is the whole idea behind the Volt.

You're focusing on comparing just the transmissions of the two cars and ignoring the rest of the systems.

The proof is in the pudding, lets reserve judgment until the pudding comes out of the oven.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By mindless1 on 12/1/2009 9:35:46 PM , Rating: 2
Then you could count on your new car being keyed over and over till it looks like it has tiger stripes. Personally, I'd never do such a thing but give the kids a reason (excuse) and they will.

RE: Where can you use the Volt?
By randomly on 12/2/2009 8:15:27 AM , Rating: 2
My fault, I should have used the [Sarcasm on], [Sarcasm off] flags.

"Game reviewers fought each other to write the most glowing coverage possible for the powerhouse Sony, MS systems. Reviewers flipped coins to see who would review the Nintendo Wii. The losers got stuck with the job." -- Andy Marken

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