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The 2011 Chevy Volt from GM is the first American-made mass-market electric vehicle.  (Source: GM)
Two top auto magazines agree -- the Volt is a groundbreaking achievement

"Nobody will buy a Volt." "You can't make a profitable electric vehicle."

General Motors has heard it all.  But it has defied its critics and persisted, completing the world's first mass-market plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid.  The vehicle survived an economic downturn, the largest industrial bankruptcy in U.S. history, and perpetually noisy critics, and is on course to go on sale at dealerships on November 30, 2010.

Now the car has received the distinction of being named the car of the year by two top American automotive publications 
Motor Trend and Automobile.

Motor Trends writes:

In the 61-year history of the Car of the Year award, there have been few contenders as hyped -- or as controversial -- as the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt started life an Old GM project, then arrived fully formed as a symbol of New GM, carrying all the emotional and political baggage of that profound and painful transition. As a result, a lot of the sound and fury that has surrounded the Volt's launch has tended to obscure a simple truth: This automobile is a game-changer.

Chris Theodore, a seasoned automotive engineer and one of the panel judges, enthuses about his surprise at how impressive the Volt's final results were.  He states, "I expected a science fair experiment. But this is a moonshot."

Automobile comments:

In its metamorphosis from 2007 concept car to 2011 production car, the Volt has gone through a reckoning. The turbocharged three-cylinder engine and chunky, Camaro-esque styling have been traded for a normally aspirated four-cylinder and a decidedly pedestrian shape. Claims of 0 to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, a 120-mph top speed, and a total driving range of 640 miles turned out to be the usual concept-car lore. The true numbers are 9.0 seconds, 102 mph, and 350 miles. But the Volt is far deeper than an eco-numbers car. In fact, it's more than just a car. It's an idea. And during the past three years, that idea -- blend the environmental benefits of electric driving with the convenience of gasoline -- didn't change at all.

We've been following the Volt since its first days as a concept.  Given its evolution it's pretty easy to see why the car won these distinctions.

While there were some minor tweaks to the powertrain from the original concept, GM delivered on virtually all of its primary objectives with the vehicle being able to travel approximately 40 miles on a charge and an additional 310 miles on a fuel-efficient gasoline engine.  The price is also right near the long speculated $40K mark, coming in at $40,280 USD, before tax credits, factory incentives, or other subsidies.

The Volt is definitely a groundbreaking work by the American auto industry, which will hopefully soon be followed by Ford's Focus Electric battery EV.  The Volt will go head to head with the 2011 Nissan LEAF EV plug-in which is gasoline-free, but has a shorter 100-mile range.

The Volt could win all the awards in the world and that wouldn't convince some of its detractors.  But for those on the fence, it's important to recall that similar criticisms were leveled against the Toyota Prius.  But that mid-to-low volume mass-market hybrid established Toyota as the world leader in hybrids, a position that it has since profited on tremendously as the technology matured and became profitable.  Now GM is poised in a similar position and this time, it is ready to be the one to take the lead.

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Mixed feelings
By Hulk on 11/18/2010 11:17:00 AM , Rating: 2
I have mixed feelings about the Volt. On one hand I commend GM (primarily it's engineers) for bringing the first EREV to market. There is a lot of new technology in this vehicle. The drive system is really something pretty innovative. And they seem to have brought an electric vehicle to the masses, one that can be driven on a daily basis.

But on the other hand the car is still quite expensive even with the government rebate. And that is another concern. If this car is so good why do we have to subsidize it? Let it compete on its own merits. Yes I know there is something to be said for "helping" new technology along. Still it rubs me the wrong way for some reason. If these cars take hold and the incentives can be scaled back to zero in the next 5 years I'd say they worked I guess. Still it's a slippery slope when you tamper with the free market like that as the market usually reacts in unexpected ways...

Finally I don't really see EV or EREV vehicles really making sense until we see some real improvement in Li Ion battery energy density. These batteries are capable of 250w-hr/kg. Based on that number the Volt battery could weigh less than 150lbs! Now I know there are temperature and safety regulations to be dealt with but I'd like to see a 250lb Volt battery instead of 400lb.

And secondly assuming we do see increased battery density and improved range we still need to charge these batteries. Now I know there is quite a bit of unused grid capacity at night but it's still mainly fossil fuel powered. I would like to see more clean nuclear plants built in the US to coincide with widespread adoption of electric vehicles. I know this is a dream but if there are 25% or so of the country that wants to use EV's then good for them. Our oil usage would drop dramatically making fuel prices drop for those people who would rather drive IC's.

In summary I like innovation but would rather have the market decide which technology fails and succeeds, not the government with it's subsidies.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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