Much-hyped GM hybrid even more lemony than thought

posted at 5:09 pm on October 11, 2010 by Allahpundit

Remember the promise of 230 miles per gallon and an all-electric drivetrain? Not so much, not so much:

First of all, let’s talk about fuel economy. In August of last year, we heard GM’s then-CEO Fritz Henderson claimed with all the marketing might it could muster at a Detroit-area press event, that the Chevy Volt would get 230 MPG in city driving conditions. Now, as the Volt’s being tested by the auto trade press, we’re seeing some surprisingly low fuel economy figures amid the expected lavish praise buff books are heaping upon the Volt.

Let’s see what they’ve found out. Popular Mechanics saw just 37.5 MPG in city driving…

Since the Volt was first unveiled as a concept car, GM engineers, public relations staff and executives have all claimed adamantly that the internal combustion engine did not motivate the wheels. If that were the case then the Volt would be nothing more than a very advanced hybrid. Even as late into the development cycle as this June, we were told the only drivetrain that motivated the wheels was the electric one…

It turns out that’s not correct. We’re now told by Volt’s engineering team that when the Volt’s lithium-ion battery pack runs down and at speeds near or above 70 mph the Volt’s gasoline engine will directly drive the front wheels along with the electric motors.

I’m not sure what the big deal is about either point, actually. The claim of 230 mpg was debunked on the day that GM first made it. It’s all in the assumptions: Because the first 40 miles on a fully charged Volt runs entirely off the electric battery, so long as you don’t exceed that range between charges, the gas mileage is basically infinity. GM got the 230 figure presumably by hypothesizing an average daily commute of 50 miles or so, only 10 miles of which would be powered by the gasoline engine. If you drive a lot but only make short trips, the Volt might be for you; if not, probably not. Did anyone not know that by now?

As for the electric drivetrain, what’s the objection, precisely? Is it purely conceptual, that GM promised the first all electric car when in fact it’s only almost all electric, operating much like a Prius? Or is there some performance issue related to having the gas engine power the wheels at higher speeds? (I.e. does this mean you’re burning gas even if you’re within the magical 40-mile electrical range, so long as you’re racing along at 70+ mph?) As a born and bred New Yorker, I am of course painfully ignorant about all things automotive.

It sure rides quietly, though, doesn’t it? And it’s oh so chic. That’s got to be worth a few grand towards the $41,000 sticker price.

Update: The Car Connection offers a defense of the Volt:

Instead of either the battery-only EVs or the standard/plug-in hybrids, the Volt takes a scene from the heavily-sponsored Transformers movies and becomes an EV that generates its own charge from an on-board generator. Drive it around town, it’s still powered purely by the electric motors. It’s still an EV, just drawing its power from its own portable grid. Remember–the grid the LEAF and all other EVs pull their power from burns a considerable bit of coal to produce that electricity, too, but you can’t put a coal-fired powerplant in the back of a LEAF. Sure, the gasoline engine isn’t as efficient or as clean as a powerplant, but now we’re talking differences of degree, not of kind.

But imagine now that your Volt has run out of its battery power, and your return trip necessitates some highway driving. Instead of saying “no sir, charge isn’t high enough for highway speeds,” the system dutifully kicks in and adds a little boost from the combustion engine, allowing you to flow with traffic rather than being an eco-friendly rolling road block. Convenient, confidence-inspiring, and, by the way, something none of those other EVs can do.

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“Motor Trends bottom line: If the gas/electric and plug-in sport sedans (Fisker, Tesla) and supercars (Jag, Lotus, Porsche, Ferrari) are as well-engineered as this subcompact, enthusiasts need not fear the 60-mpg future.”

Lemon, indeed. The car does 0 – 60 in 8.7 or 8.8 seconds, charge sustaining or electric only mode. Top speed is 100 mph. Torque is 273 lb ft.

Also, we the public are responsible for the actions of Congress, which was responsible for Fannie May / Freddie Mac, which in large part were responsible for the credit market meltdown, which broke GM and Chrysler.
In short, we broke GM and “we the people” had to fix GM.

For 2 years I’ve been rebutting liberal attempts to give Obama credit for the Volt. He was nowhere near it when it began in 2006-7. And a Republican president would have saved GM too. (in a much better, more restrained way). Now you guys want to make it his baby when he doesn’t deserve credit for it!

Motor Trend broke this news, that the motor assists acceleration from 70 to 100 mph in charge sustaining mode, and they’re telling us it’s a superior design to the Prius!
And here’s Doc Zero a few weeks back saying you should get a Prius because Toyota is entrepreneurial.
And the truth is the Japanese government subsidized the R & D for the Prius!

silverfox on October 11, 2010 at 10:00 PM

The truth of the Volt is it’s an electric car with a huge battery that can recover much brake regenerative energy, with an auxiliary gas engine. Take away the engine and it can be rigged to still fiction as an electric car.

The Prius is a gas powered car with a small battery and an auxiliary electric motor.

silverfox on October 11, 2010 at 10:07 PM

mad scientist on October 11, 2010 at 9:53 PM

Here’s an idea. How about we couple a gas or diesel engine to a thing that we’ll call a transmission. Then we somehow hook that transmission thingy up to the wheels. We can then run that up the flagpole and see if we can get enough buyers to make it profitable. All this other stuff we leave to the free market and the auto companies not the gubbmin’t. Whoever comes up with an idea that the consumers like the best get’s the most money. Would that woark?

Oldnuke on October 11, 2010 at 10:09 PM

silverfox on October 11, 2010 at 10:00 PM

MT is too PC, you should be looking at a wider variety of sources.
In 10-20 years we will look back at the hybrid experiment and wonder why we didn’t see through it sooner.
We can make much better gasoline engines; MIT has done some experimentation along these lines. The problem with hybrids and electrics is the battery; there are inherent inefficiencies in converting electricity to chemical storage and back again.

mad scientist on October 11, 2010 at 10:16 PM

there are inherent inefficiencies in converting electricity to chemical storage and back again.

mad scientist on October 11, 2010 at 10:16 PM

Details, details. Always with the details!/

OldEnglish on October 11, 2010 at 10:25 PM

Oldnuke on October 11, 2010 at 10:09 PM

Bravo! Someone gets it! The simplicity of converting chemical energy directly into mechanical and using it without trying to store it (inefficiently) is a better system.
We can make the internal combustion engine more efficient by reducing the number of moving parts. Chrysler had a cooling system with no water pump; MIT showed an experimental engine with electromagnetically operated valves and all belt-driven accessories (except the alternator, natch)converted to electric.

mad scientist on October 11, 2010 at 10:27 PM

silverfox on October 11, 2010 at 10:07 PM

How much power do you think you can recover with regenerative braking?

mad scientist on October 11, 2010 at 10:32 PM

Perhaps GM should talk to Volkswagen since they get 60 mpg http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/BlueMotion?wasRedirected=true

All for less money too.

Snake307 on October 11, 2010 at 10:34 PM

Chevy Volt = $41,000 Malibu.

mad scientist on October 11, 2010 at 10:36 PM

The simplicity of converting chemical energy directly into mechanical and using it without trying to store it (inefficiently) is a better system.

mad scientist on October 11, 2010 at 10:27 PM

After a long and varied career involving machinery of all types I’ve come to the same conclusion. Simpler is better. As a great engineer once said “The more complicated they make the plumbing the easier it is to stop up the drain.”

Oldnuke on October 11, 2010 at 10:38 PM

Snake307 on October 11, 2010 at 10:34 PM

Based on anecdotal evidence VW diesel cars have been getting mileage comparable to (if not better than)Prius for years. But then the actual mileage for hybrids seems to be hard to track down-I wonder why?

mad scientist on October 11, 2010 at 10:38 PM

I’m not sure what the big deal is about either point, actually.

Its call ‘lying’. As in not telling the truth.

Electricity has to be generated somehow before you can plug it in. And that 50 miles, is juice to the tune of about 8Kw, OR 2 to 2.5 times what you currently pay for (a avg house IIRC runs about 5Kw per day.

Second, hooking a engine up to a generator means that the load is constant and the engine is tuned to run in a very narrow, highly optimized rpm range. Hooking up a mechanical transmission loses all that efficiency.

Then again my 12 year old motorcycle will do 0-60mph in 3.5sec and still get 50mpg. Oh and I only paid $3200 for it.
I can buy a wasteland full of gas for $37,200.

yzf600r.com

orbitalair on October 11, 2010 at 10:50 PM

How much power do you think you can recover with regenerative braking?
mad scientist on October 11, 2010 at 10:32 PM

if you’re at the top of a high enough mountain, say Pikes Peak, and you go down in “L” — which isn’t a transmission gear that uses up gas, it’s a mode of harder regen than the normal mode of regen “D” — and your battery is “empty” (at the minimum SOC, state of charge, of 30%), then the battery will be “refilled” at the bottom for 40 miles of driving ( 25 to 50 miles depending on driving style).
So you not only recapture some of the energy, you don’t use up energy either using your motor to slow down and saving your brakes, or wasting and wearing out your brakes.

They actually did a lot of Volt validating on Pikes Peak. The rangers have a brake test station to make sure people are not burning out their brakes. They were shocked that all the Volts’ brakes were cool to the touch.

silverfox on October 11, 2010 at 11:52 PM

Wait until its discovered that battery life of LithIon cells is degraded by fully charging them on a regular basis.

Ok ok that’s already known but don’t let it stop you from buying one of these toys, you know to save the planet.

Bishop on October 11, 2010 at 5:15 PM

Which is why the Government Motors Pelosi GTxi SS/RT Sport Edit…er, Chevrolet Volt won’t charge beyond 85%.

steveegg on October 12, 2010 at 12:05 AM

My 1997 Chevy Cavalier gets 29 mpg.

What a boondoggle.

Common Sense on October 12, 2010 at 12:21 AM

silverfox on October 11, 2010 at 11:52 PM

Reciting Chevy sales literature is not an answer. Most urban areas don’t have a lot of unrestricted downhill driving. Sitting in traffic with the A/C on is more like it.

mad scientist on October 12, 2010 at 7:32 AM

Wow, Pike’s Peak.

In Memory She Abides (Orishi, my Honda Insight) just completed taking me from Ohio to Florida and back. 2206 miles, average 43.4 MPG. She gets aboyut 41 city driving on average. As for the Pike’s Peak example (who the hell drives up and down Pike’s Peak regularly?) Orishi handled the less dramatic Appalachians with little or no trouble (in economy mode) hauling my 8 lb dog, my luggage, and my 400lbs ass up and down the mountains on 75, and flipped into ‘pure electic mode’ at a few points since the battery was fully charged and she just needed a little boost to maintain 70 MPH. (was weird as hell listening to the engine go ‘thunk’ as she shut it off)

So I get more range, more fuel efficiency likely more room (6’4, I’m a big guy) all my bells and whistles, for $24,600.

To recap, less effecient, more expensive, more hype… yup, definately a government program.

(P.S. and Orishi was made in the US too.)

The_Livewire on October 12, 2010 at 7:36 AM

Based on anecdotal evidence VW diesel cars have been getting mileage comparable to (if not better than)Prius for years. But then the actual mileage for hybrids seems to be hard to track down-I wonder why?

mad scientist on October 11, 2010 at 10:38 PM

I’ve had a 2010 Prius since May. In 16 fillups, I’ve averaged 57.9 mpg, with the best tank being 61.7 mpg. I understand that driving in a warmer climate (Houston) boosts my mileage.

CDeb on October 12, 2010 at 8:25 AM

Until someone can build me a car identical to my 1971 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron that has a 440 double barrel, all this crap is stupid. I want a car that is going to protect me. I want a car that is pretty and goes fast. As an American, I should be able to have that. Drill! At least start building my 1987 Crown Victoria again. Jeez . . .

Greyledge Gal on October 12, 2010 at 9:54 AM

How much power do you think you can recover with regenerative braking?

mad scientist on October 11, 2010 at 10:32 PM

Now, now…..you should know by now that all Green technologies violate thermodynamics.

taboo on October 12, 2010 at 11:53 AM

It would be silly to have the gasoline engine completely decoupled from the drivetrain. Much less efficient to have a gasoline engine create an electric charge that is then used to power electric motors.

So yes, this is just a hybrid, but with greater range, and greater all-electric speed. For people who generally do short range driving, at less than 60 MPH, it’s going to use no gas. And when they need to go farther, it can do that too.

I still think that the future is hydrogen-powered vehicles with nuclear-powered hydrolysis to create the hydrogen. Batteries aren’t eco-friendly at all, and are heavy, and expensive, and slow to recharge. As an energetic vehicle, they’re a poor match for how most people use their cars.

That said, there will be an electric and electric/gasoline or electric/hydrogen market for people with short commutes, as that may result in the lowest cost of operation for those uses.

Mark Jaquith on October 12, 2010 at 3:46 PM

Why would I buy one of these? For the same price as this subsidized Volt I could get a 2011 Honda Civic and enough gas to drive 180,000 miles!! I have a 2001 Civic and it still gets about 34mph, it’s a great car.

EasyEight on October 12, 2010 at 4:37 PM

silverfox on October 11, 2010 at 11:52 PM

How much gas do you burn getting to the top of Pike’s Peak?

fossten on October 13, 2010 at 6:37 AM