Chevy Volt May Shift Focus Away from All Electric Vehicles

In the battle for dominance in the electric vehicle (EV) market, GM may be holding a trump card with its 230 mpg Chevy Volt.

The Volt is a “plug-in hybrid” which GM claims will be able to travel up to 40 miles on a fully charged battery. Once the battery becomes depleted, the gas-electric hybrid feature takes over. The EPA has not yet verified GM’s fuel efficiency claims. Furthermore, some critics have maligned the Volt as just another hybrid, not worthy of comparison to all-electric models currently in development.

The combination of battery and gas power, according to GM, will deliver the 230 mpg rating in city driving conditions. On the highway where speeds are higher and the battery is depleted faster, the Volt is still expected to surpass 100 mpg.

Plug-in hybrid technology is a departure from the hybrid technology currently employed by GM’s competitors, including Toyota, Honda and Ford. Volt owners will be able to recharge the onboard battery independently of the gas hybrid engine. This shifts the burden of powering the vehicle more toward electric power, further reducing the vehicle’s dependence on gasoline and lowering its emissions.

GM’s prediction of 230 mpg may, in fact, be low. Advancements in battery technology and design improvements implemented between now and the actual launch date could potentially increase the actual mileage. Chevy is undoubtedly doing all it can to make this a reality as competitors are already making claims of superior fuel efficiencies for their vehicles.

Among the most interesting and perplexing are Nissan’s claims that their new Leaf will deliver an astonishing 367 mpg when it is released sometime in 2010 or 2011. What’s most amazing about the claim is that the Leaf will be an all-electric vehicle that will use no gasoline. Nissan supports its 367 mpg claim using hypothetical comparisons which still don’t measure up to the Volt in reality. Using GM’s current estimates, the Volt will travel 40 miles on battery-only power and can go an additional 300 miles on a full tank of gas. The Leaf has a range of 100 miles before its battery becomes depleted, and there is no gas-powered back-up to power the engine once that occurs.

GM’s CEO, Fritz Henderson, claims that the Volt’s 40 mile battery range is sufficient to meet the driving needs of most Americans. His claim is substantiated by research recently conducted by the Department of Transportation. It that study, the DOT reported that 8 out of 10 American drivers claimed that they typically drive less than 40 miles per day.

Henderson says, “From the data we’ve seen, many Chevy Volt drivers may be able to be in pure electric mode on a daily basis without having to use any gas.“

GM was recently awarded millions of dollars in federal grants to be used for battery research and development. GM has not announced a sticker price for the Volt, but many in the auto industry expect it to be around $39,000.

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