Chevy Volt Plug-in Hybrid

The first car I purchased on my own was in the Fall of 2006 and was a V6 Saturn Aura.  I wanted a hybrid. But back then they were just outside of my price range.  For my outside sales job I needed a 4 door vehicle and seeing as I drive in and around a city (Atlanta) - where almost all of the drivers are way too busy texting, doing their best Nascar/Fast and Furious impressions, or yelling at other drivers - I wanted something that would help me (with as much vigor as possible) avoid the other vehicles attempting to run into me (I have failed at this on only one occasion).  But as my car nears 100k miles, I am starting to look at other alternatives, and reducing my oil consumption as much as possible is high on my list of criteria (see Gulf Oil Spill).

Which is why I am currently admiring the Chevy Volt (which is slated for release later in 2010).  I originally wanted a battery electric vehicle (see the difference between a plug-in hybrid and a plug-in battery or BEV) but due to their limited range (usually around 100 miles) I didn't want to be on a sales call in the middle of Redneckville (this is a small town which lacks modern plumbing and electrical service somewhere in the Southeastern, U.S.) without an outlet to charge my car.  Unlike plug-in electric vehicles, that rely solely on a battery, a plug-in hybrid uses a battery and a gas engine.  If you travel farther than the amount of energy that is stored in your battery can power you, you will need some other form of fuel to power your ride.

When the battery on the Volt is drained of its grid provided electrons, it uses gasoline to power a generator which charges the battery.  Through a creative trick called marketing, the Volt team refers to the gasoline generator as a "range extender".  From their website:

Volt is an electric vehicle with a range extender. Well, what does that mean? It means Volt runs on electricity from its battery, and then it runs on electricity it creates from gas.  Let's assume you have a fully charged battery. Now, depending on the weather, the electrical features that are turned on and how you drive, you can drive up to 40 miles on the electricity stored in the battery — totally gas and emissions free (Mapawatt Note: the car is emission free under battery power, but the electricity that powered the battery may not be). After that, its gas-powered, range-extending generator automatically kicks in to provide electrical power. So Volt can go for several hundred additional miles, until you can plug it in or fill it up again.

OnStar Mobile App

Aside from using less oil, the reason I want a plug-in is so I can better monitor how my car uses energy.  Luckily GM and OnStar have released a mobile phone app that will let Volt users monitor their car's performance and energy consumption.  The mobile app will work with iPhones, Droids, and the Blackberry Storm.  You can even tell your Volt whether to charge immediately or - if you have a variable power rate structure plan - in off-peak hours so you get cheaper electrons.  Check out the video at the bottom of the post for a demo of the OnStar Mobile app.

It seems that Chevrolet and OnStar will be providing Volt owners something very similar to what Ford and Microsoft Hohm are working on. Now all Ford has to do is offer up a plug-in hybrid so I could consider buying it!  You can see a list I created back in November 2009 of all plug-ins currently or soon-to-be available. Let me know if I'm missing any!

I'm looking forward to buying a plug-in electric hybrid, but we have to remember that the electricity we provide our cars will only be as clean as our utilities provide to our home outlets.  We can't wait for a greener electricity grid before we drive greener cars, just like we can't wait for greener cars to make a greener grid.  This isn't a chicken or the egg problem.  Creating cleaner energy solutions and reducing our fossil-fuel consumption is a problem that requires many solutions.  Thankfully the Volt will soon be one of them!

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Chris, Great post. I'm curious about how powering a generator with a gasoline motor compares in mpg to a gas motor powering a transmission directly? I guess we won't know the answer there until we have one to test. Any thoughts on how this will shake out? -Powell
Good point Powell! I honestly have no clue which is more efficient: using a gasoline generator to charge a battery or using gasoline directly to power a drive shaft which powers the wheels. By using gasoline to charge the battery, you may be able to get rid of some mechanical transmission losses, but then you have the electrical transmission loss between generator and battery. Can someone from Chevy Volt team clear this up for us?
I really like the Chevy Volt and perhaps I will purchase one in the future. I was going to reserve a Nissan Leaf but it is too small for me as I need to fit me, wife, and 3 kids in car seats. I ended up buying a 2004 Prius and installed an Enginer 4kWh plugin conversion system. I have only been using it for a week now but so far I am very satisfied with the car and plugin conversion.
According to a Wikipedia article, the Volt's gasoline powered generator will get ~50mpg. The major boost in fuel efficiency is the initial 40 miles of pure electric driving. In my case, I could drive the Volt >90% of the time in electric and not have to use any gas. I would think it would take a lot of driving using the generator to offset the 40 miles of electric use. It will be interesting to see what the future of EV's and PHEV's holds. The introduction of the EV Nissan Leaf, PHEV Volt, and PHEV Prius are all going to be around the same time. These vehicles will set the stage for future offerings from other manufactures.

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