06 October 2008

High Volt-age

Chevy shows its hand in the electric car game with the Volt

Chevrolet Volt concept

Chevrolet can't usually raise much of a flicker in the capital of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys, but at the Paris show there was always a crowd around the Chevy Volt.

The Volt, debuting in Paris and on sale in the States from 2010, is a hybrid. But not as we know it. They're calling it the extended-range electric vehicle.

There is an engine, a new 1.4-litre petrol four, mounted at the front as per usual. But it never drives the wheels directly. That's what makes the Volt so different from the Toyota or Honda hybrids, including the Insight that's also here at Paris.

In fact, the Volt is designed to give up to 40 miles on battery power alone, with full 150bhp electricity performance available.

This, says GM after lots of study, is enough for the habitual daily mileage of the vast majority of drivers - 12,000 miles a year at 40 miles a day, six days a week.

So they'll get home at night and plug in to cheap household electricity, getting that 40 miles for under a quid. They might go weeks or months never needing the engine.

When it does spark up, the engine simply charges up the battery - although only partially, as GM wants the car always to arrive at its destination in a depleted state so you can use the mains to re-charge. Even with the engine cycling to keep the batteries at constant charge, the Volt will do about 60mpg.

And while the engine is running, you'll still have full acceleration from the 150bhp electric plant.

Disappointed that this doesn't look have the electric-Camaro looks of the original Volt show car? C'mon, it's still a whole lot better than a Prius. The shape has morphed from show to production to make space for four adults, and the corners had to be rounded off because every scintilla of drag knocked back the electric range.

It's only a four-seater because the upper body tapers backwards to cut drag, and because there's a big battery box running along the car like an overgrown tranmission tunnel. The lithium ion pack weighs 180kg, taking the whole Volt to 1800kg.

By 2012 or so, there will be a Vauxhall/Opel version for Europe with unique styling. The Volt uses the platform of the next Astra, which gives you an idea of its size.

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