Chevy Volt: PHEV 25?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 24 Sep 2010

Buried on page 154 of General Motor's SEC Form S-1 filing, is the following statement:

We have also announced that we plan to launch the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle with extended range in late 2010. On a fully charged battery and tank of gas, the Chevrolet Volt has a driving range of hundreds of miles. When powered only from electricity stored in its 16-kWh lithium-ion battery; the Chevrolet Volt has a typical range of 25-50 miles depending on terrain, driving technique, temperature and battery age.
A reader brought this to my attention, actually a link to a link on this, because, "the San Francisco Bay Area green intelligentsia has decided that the Chevy Volt is not worthy enough to promote because it's a Chevy and because the Volt has an angry, non-liberal, Prius-hostile fan base soiling its reputation."

Okay, I am not sure what this all this Bay Area green intelligentsia business is all about -- I live in the vast hinterlands of America, far from The Castro and Haight-Ashbury -- or who the "angry, non-liberal, Prius-hostile fan base" may be -- Orange Country Republicans perhaps? What I do know is that GM's admission, even it is buried deep in an obscure Security and Exchange Commission document, is both a breath of fresh air and necessary acquiescence to reality.

Basically what GM is now saying is that if you live in the Catskills where Winters can be long and cold, you're likely not going to get 40 miles of electric-first driving range, especially if you drive like your foot is strapped into a salvage diver's boot. You're going to probably see the IC engine generator come on long before that; at around 25 miles according to the S-1. Conversely, if you live in the Carolina Piedmont or rolling hills of Tennessee and enjoy relatively mild temperatures year-round and drive with a feather-foot, you might consistently see 50 miles of electric-driving range on a daily basis.

My wife and I can speak from experience with our PHEV 20 plug-in Prius. The electric and plug-in hybrid range she actually gets does vary a lot depending on daily weather conditions. As I have explained to her, batteries are a lot like human beings. They have a natural "comfort" zone in which they prefer to "live" -- not too hot (85 F/29 C and above) and not too cold (40 F/4 C and below). Unlike the Volt or the LEAF, both of which have insulated battery packs with active temperature control system like your house to keep the cells "comfortable" year-round, the NiMH battery pack in our Prius (developed and installed by Plug-in Conversions Corporation) has little protection from wild seasonal temperature swings: this is, after all, basically first generation technology, while the Volt and LEAF are, comparatively speaking, next generation.

Sure it would be nice for GM to publicly advertise that not everyone will get 40 miles of EV driving range day-in, day-out, 365 days a year. Given that all of the Volts will come, like many GM models, with OnStar service for the first year, you can bet that by this time next year, the company will have a pretty darn good idea how the car performs, right down to the zip code and time of day, if it doesn't already have that data now from its 90 or so engineering test vehicles.

I think that what GM and Volt drivers are going to learn is pretty close to what my wife and I have discovered over the last 11 months; that plug-in hybrids can deliver everything from laughingly obscene fuel economy in the triple digit numbers to just average for any hybrid. Either way, this is real progress, when you think about it.

BTW: Today marks exactly one month since we last filed the gasoline tank on the Prius, and the car still has half a tank of fuel left. Just thought you'd like to know.

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