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Volt!

obamainvolt.JPG

Jon Cohn, in a post about the benefits of rescuing the auto industry, explains how the Chevy Volt works:

The Volt is a new kind of vehicle. When you drive a conventional hybrid, such as the Toyota Prius, the car is constantly switching back and forth between electric and gasoline power. When you drive a Volt, the car draws exclusively on electric power until the battery is depleted. Only then does the car switch over to gas. Under normal driving conditions, you could go about 40 miles on the battery alone.

You can recharge the battery at home overnight, or in just a few hours if you have the right equipment, so that the car is ready to go on electric power again the next day. If you're using your car only for short drives, like a quick commute to and from work, it's theoretically possible you'd never use a drop of gasoline. Even now, the EPA isn't certain how to calculate the Volt's mileage.

That sounds like a great city car. And while I have no particular opinion on whether the Volt and its descendants will dominate the market, it is the case that being first to market with version one of something important also allows you to be first to market with version two, and version two and beyond is often where things get interesting.

Also: E.J. Dionne lauds the auto bailout.

Photo credit: By Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  August 2, 2010; 3:51 PM ET
 
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Comments

I'm going to leave my car engine idling all day -
there goes your gas savings environazis!

hahahahaha

Posted by: lol-lol | August 2, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

A great city car, you say, but where in the city do you plug it in? I park my car on the street overnight, as do many city-dwellers. Others park in lots and garages, few of which are going to offer an electrical outlet for anyone who wants to plug in a Volt. If you have a private garage, you're probably all set, but how many city dwellers have that?

Posted by: thehersch | August 2, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

A great city car, you say, but where in the city do you plug it in? I park my car on the street overnight, as do many city-dwellers. Others park in lots and garages, few of which are going to offer an electrical outlet to anyone who wants to plug in a Volt. If you have a private garage, you're probably all set, but how many city dwellers have that?

Posted by: thehersch | August 2, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

The Nissan Leaf is coming out at the same time and for less money

Posted by: endaround | August 2, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

thehersch, its a great car to commute from your suburban garage to the evil city....

Posted by: srw3 | August 2, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

"When you drive a Volt, the car draws exclusively on electric power until the battery is depleted. Only then does the car switch over to gas."
.
Getting the terminology correct matters. Even when the battery dies, the car *still* runs on electricity. The juice is just supplied by the gas powered generator that is the gas 'engine'.
.
This is the true feat, much like diesel-electric locomotives, getting the entire car to run on electricity. Power it however you want, but once the car itself is fully electrified where that power comes from is irrelevant.
.
On top of that, electric motors are more efficient than gas engines (full time 100% torque - not just at the power band sweet spot).

Posted by: rpixley220 | August 2, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

The thing that's held back electric car development for years is the holy grail of all-things-to-all-people, that every car has to be able to take the whole family with their gear to a camping trip in the mountains. But realistically, many families have a car which is used almost exclusively for commuting to work, or short errands such as grocery shopping or taking the kids to piano lessons.

The difficulty is finding an entry point for special-purpose vehicles like that. Most people's "second" cars which they use for such limited purposes are their older, less nice cars. When they do take a trip to the beach, they want to take their nicest car. So how do you convince someone to buy a new, shiny car which will only be used for the "second" car purpose?

Posted by: jiji1 | August 2, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Interesting fact. If you average 40 miles a day or fewer, you'll only spend as much in a year repowering the Volt as you would powering a household appliance in the same time.

Pretty good job, Chevy.

Posted by: Chris48 | August 2, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

@EA: The Nissan Leaf is coming out at the same time and for less money

But no gas backup so after your 100 miles or so you are stuck until the car recharges or you switch to a newly charged battery somehow...

Posted by: srw3 | August 2, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Not true.
"When you drive a conventional hybrid, such as the Toyota Prius, the car is constantly switching back and forth between electric and gasoline power."

The car has two motors- one electric, one gasoline/combustion. It starts on the electric one, when you request more power than the electric motor can provide, it uses both at the same time. It also uses the gasoline motor, regenerative braking, and other waste motion capture to recharge the battery. It's NOT "constantly switching back and forth."

How does Cohn think his electricity is generated? Around here it's mostly coal and gas.

Just get a Leaf. The Volt costs way too much- and we're subsidizing it by giving a tax break to people rich enough to buy it. I thought you were a Progressive, Mr. Klein?

Posted by: staticvars | August 2, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

@staticvars:
I own a 2003 civic hybrid. The 'switching back and forth' comment is probably referencing the fact that both the gas engine and the electric motors can drive the hybrid vehicle at the same time. When I hit the gas, both the gas engine and the electric work to push me forward. Some of the newer hybrids can actually drive fully on electric for limited ranges and speeds. So yes they can and do switch back and forth quite a bit.
.
In the Volt, that never happens, the only propulsion is via electric motor.

Posted by: rpixley220 | August 2, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Having driven a 2010 Prius 25,000 miles across this country in the last 6 months, a car which cost me under $ 28,000 with all the bells and whistles, makes me wonder why would a person pay $ 40,000 for a GM car that is limited to a 300 mile range, gets about the same mileage according to the EPA's city cycle formula for determining average m.p.g. for hybrids, and is dependent on accessing a power outlet (eliminating the car's use while it is recharging.) If the folks at GM (and the U.S. government) can't add two plus two in creating this tax-payer funded auto auto marketing blunder, the U.S. car buying public will by doing their own arithmetic.

From Wikipedia- Chevrolet Volt

" The Volt's range-extending gasoline engine is expected to get approximately 50 mpg-US (4.7 L/100 km; 60 mpg-imp) on the city cycle of the EPA's test while operating in this Charge Sustaining (CS) mode."

Posted by: Mainline | August 2, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

In the wake of the Great Recession and 10% unemployment, I don't see how this car becomes a smashing success. It's just too expensive. Cohn says the car will lease for $350/mo, but that's a pretty expensive lease.

$349/mo will get you into a BMW 328i.

http://www.bmwusa.com/standard/content/financialservices/leaseoffers.aspx?enc=lTh/OtFZJYyyyRi1sAj9Rg==

The typical family looking for a mid-size sedan is probably going to for the $199/mo Hyundai Sonata or one of its close competitors. The fuel efficiency savings are just too small to matter compared to the $150/mo in extra lease payments.

http://www.hyundaiusa.com/financial-tools/special-offers.aspx

The fuel savings are pretty impressive, but if you're driving less than 12,000 miles a year gas isn't a huge deal. At 25mpg that's 480 gallons which costs $1,440 at $3/gal.

At $1.50/day for electricity, the Volt is $548. Real money saved, but only $74/mo. Any family going on economics is not likely to choose the Volt.
http://www.chevrolet.com/pages/open/default/future/volt.do

Posted by: justin84 | August 2, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why it's so difficult for the EPA to measure mileage. MPK (Miles per kilowatt-hour) is a simple solution.

Utility companies charge for electricity based on kWh. The Volt has 8.8kWh usable in its 16kWh battery. The range is 40 miles on battery.

40 miles / 8.8 kWh = 4.55 MPK

Actually evaluating what that means is where it gets tricky. Nationally, the average residential cost of electricity is 11.75 cents per kWh. (Dept of Energy) http://www.eia.doe.gov/electricity/epm/table5_6_a.html
That's an amazing $1.03 to go 40 miles! That's about 1/3 of the cost of a tank of a 40mpg vehicle!

However, the average electricity cost is very far from the probable electricity cost. I'm going to use energy rates in the San Francisco Bay Area because that is where the highest density of Prius owners are and presumably potential Volt users as well.

Baseline energy in CA is about the same cost as the national average (11.877 cents per kWh). Use more than baseline, and you pay additional money. In SF, baseline usage is 8.3kWh in the summer and 9.8kWh in the winter.

If you use more than 16.6kWh in a day during the summer, you will be paying 40.029 cents for each additional kWh. At this energy rate, it costs you $3.52 for your 40 miles. Suddenly gasoline looks cheaper.

Posted by: will12 | August 2, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

I'd be interested to see if car-sharing companies like Zipcar get on board with the Volt. It would be an extra step (installing power outlets and instructing customers to plug/unplug the car), but it would probably save them a lot of money on gas.

Aside from Zipcar, I don't know many urban drivers who have their own parking spots or who could install a recharging device in their parking garages.

Posted by: punditpending | August 2, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

The Volt is just the beginning:
http://www.deciminyan.org/2010/07/you-cant-have-lemonade-without.html

Posted by: deciminyan | August 2, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Will12 sez:

"That's an amazing $1.03 to go 40 miles! That's about 1/3 of the cost of a tank of a 40mpg vehicle!"

"However, the average electricity cost is very far from the probable electricity cost. I'm going to use energy rates in the San Francisco Bay Area because that is where the highest density of Prius owners are and presumably potential Volt users as well."

"Baseline energy in CA is about the same cost as the national average (11.877 cents per kWh). Use more than baseline, and you pay additional money. In SF, baseline usage is 8.3kWh in the summer and 9.8kWh in the winter."

"If you use more than 16.6kWh in a day during the summer, you will be paying 40.029 cents for each additional kWh. At this energy rate, it costs you $3.52 for your 40 miles. Suddenly gasoline looks cheaper."

Owners of electric vehicles in San Francisco and other areas of California can sign up for an alternate billing plan called an E-9 rate schedule that charges by time of use. Recharging your car overnight when demand is low will cost as little as 5.1 cents per kWH or generally half the normal all-day rate and that would be only $0.45 for 40 miles. I believe some other states and utilities have similar plans.

Google "site:pge.com electric vehicle".

Posted by: Jeff_N | August 2, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

" The Volt's range-extending gasoline engine is expected to get approximately 50 mpg-US (4.7 L/100 km; 60 mpg-imp) on the city cycle of the EPA's test while operating in this Charge Sustaining (CS) mode."

CS mode is when you're running the gasoline engine. The 40 miles you drive before this point are gas-free.

Look at the Prius original price-- it was pretty expensive. The next generation Volt will get cheaper, just wait.

Posted by: mschol17 | August 2, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

Electricity sources distributed in California are low in carbon intensity. Driving a Volt 40 miles on battery power in San Francisco is equivalent in CO2 to driving a theoretical gasoline powered conventional car that gets 150MPG (in other words, a Volt or Leaf would cause 1/5 the CO2 of a typical car).

Posted by: Jeff_N | August 2, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I would love one of these, but living in an apartment in Seattle makes it not practical yet (no place to plug it in). I only drive about 20 miles a week, other than that we're on the bus, but without a place to plug it in it's for the suburbanites right now. Considering it takes 3 weeks to get a screen replaced by my super, I'm not optimistic about them putting in charging stations!

Posted by: markyellen | August 2, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Too bad the stimulus infrastructure spending was blown on every Congressperson's pet pork project instead of dedicated to alternative energy projects like, oh say, the creation of a nationwide network of charging stations. :(

Posted by: bgmma50 | August 3, 2010 12:19 AM | Report abuse

the volt definitely seems like a better design than most conventional hybrids. Having both a electric and a gas engine in the drive train seems inefficient. Good job GM.

Posted by: SnowleopardNZ | August 3, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

This is good.

Posted by: slag | August 5, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

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