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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