September 20, 2008 – Vol.13 No.26
CHEVY’S VOLT: FIRST IN A FAMILY OF VEHICLES.
If there’s some good news out there lately it’s GM’s formal introduction of its Chevrolet Volt. The Volt, GM says, is the beginning of a new class of vehicle. That’s a good way to put it. The Volt isn’t just a new model or a new brand of hybrid electric car, it’s a technological platform that will be used to build a whole new range of vehicles. GM has a name for the platform - E-Flex - and they’re already talking about other cars. Smaller models, larger ones and spreading the platform to other divisions are possibilities GM says.
Unlike any other electric, hybrid, or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle on the market, or soon to be, the Volt is an Extended Range Electric Vehicle or E-REV. The Volt, and all other E-Flex cars, will be electrically-driven cars with a smallish gasoline/E-85 ethanol - fueled generator to provide electricity to the drive motor once the car’s lithium battery runs down. With the back-up generator range can be extended from about 40 miles to about 300 miles, about the same as most conventional cars. (A similar design was once proposed for the late, crushed and lamented GM EV-1.)
There is no mechanical connection between the combustion-engined generator and the electric drive motor. GM doesn’t provide, in its published specifications, the power output of the generator, but the electric drive motor is 150 horsepower (111 kilowatts) with all of its torque (273 lb-ft. (370 Nm)) available from the starting line.
The Volt’s battery pack, running down the center of the vehicle where the transmission tunnel might be in a conventional car, can be recharged from the power grid either at 110 or 220 volts in either 8 or 3 hours respectively. While driving, electronics keep the battery from draining below 50 percent, which keeps it in good health, according to GM
By the photos published by GM, the Volt is an ordinary-looking four-seater, less attractive than, say, the new Malibu or Saturn’s Aura. But it’s heartening to hear GM talk about plans for the platform. My guess is that designers within GM, as well as dreamers outside of the company, are now thinking of a wide range of vehicular ideas. Here’s what some might be dreaming about:
--- Lithium battery technology is steadily improving, The car’s first generation of batteries will likely be replaced with better ones over time giving longer ranges in pure electric, generator-off mode;
--- If batteries evolve to the point where 300 miles of travel is attainable on battery power alone the on-board generator could become offered as optional equipment with additional battery power stuffed in the space taken up by the generator;
--- The E-Flex platform shouldn’t be limited to rather mundane family vehicles. Would it be so bad if Chevy put together an E-Flex Corvette?
--- Tinkerers and aftermarket car part companies willing to fool around with a car that might sell for $40,000 will note that the internal generator could be used as a back-up emergency power supply for a home or small business. It should have plenty of power, if not excess power generating capacity, to do this;
--- The ability to use the vehicle’s generator for portable applications could lead to more utilitarian vehicles being developed. Light trucks or vans built in the E-Flax platform would allow contractors to carry their own power to a jobsite, or for emergency vehicles to bring power to, well, emergency situations. Maybe the Hummer (or Humvee) could be revived as an E-Flex vehicle. (Hybrid military Humvees were developed in the past.)
GM and Ford are asking the US Congress for $25 billion in loans to retool to build more highly efficient vehicles like the Volt and its eventual E-Flex cousins.
Drilling for meager supplies of oil on the US Outer Continental Shelf is also back on the floor of Congress. Supporters of offshore drilling claim that a national commitment for more drilling will shock world markets into lowering the cost of oil. But wouldn’t a commitment to building fleets of highly fuel efficient vehicles do the same thing through a national commitment to reducing oil consumption through efficiency? The technology to build these vehicles is available today, but it could take a decade to find that dubious oil.
Congress should loan the carmakers the money with guarantees that they put millions of cars like the Volt on the road. THAT would shock the world.
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