GM's Chevy Volt Could Change How We Drive
Our guest blogger, Chuck Arehart, is a Detroit-based freelance automotive writer with 18 years of experience in the industry. You can reach him at chuckarehart (at) comcast.net.
To get absolutely the latest news about GM's green propulsion development, he interviewed the folks at GM to get exclusive insights on what's happening for the readers of AmericanInventorSpot.com.
Here's his article:
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Amid unstable fuel prices, an expanding environmental consciousness and market competition, General Motors unveiled the Chevy Volt concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show in January. While styling is usually the major jaw-dropping factor with most auto show concept cars, that's not the Volt's mission. The power train underneath its futuristic composite skin is even more important to GM because it may define how future vehicles are propelled.
As its name implies, the Volt is electrically powered but utilizes a one-liter, turbocharged, three-cylinder gasoline engine as a helper. However, Nick Zielinski, Chief Engineer for the Chevy Volt doesn't consider it a hybrid. "We like to think of it as an electric vehicle that has range extension. What's unique about the Volt is that the engine never mechanically drives the wheels. It drives the generator which recharges the battery, so it's always operating as an electric vehicle."
The motor is powered by a lithium-ion battery and allows the Volt to be driven 40 miles on a full charge. The engine automatically engages when the battery is drained to 30 percent of its maximum charge and can recharge the battery in about half an hour. Once your destination is reached, the Volt will plug into any electrical outlet and be fully charged six-and-a-half hours later. If an outlet isn't available, the diminutive engine would deliver 50 miles per gallon maximizing the range to 640 miles from its 12-gallon tank. In keeping with GM's ethos of expanding the line-up of flex-fuel vehicles, the Volt's engine is E85 (fuel that is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) compatible, further reducing its reliance on a petroleum-based fuel. However, mileage with an ethanol blended fuel is typically less.
The Volt's E-flex system is another engineering feature that is equally significant to GM. The idea is to have different electric generating sources that can be mated to a single electric motor design driving the wheels. The Volt uses an engine-generator set while another vehicle may utilize a hydrogen fuel cell for the electric motor. Zielinski's crew is already working on that and has a fuel-cell configuration that can deliver about 300 miles of pollution-free driving.
Of course, while these new technologies can be great fuel savers and help reduce emissions, they still aren't ready for prime time. "One of the key elements that's going to dictate timing of the program is battery development," Zielinski explained, "We have a group that's dedicated to battery technology development and they're fully engaged already working on the battery system for the Volt." Lithium-Ion is the battery technology of choice in the near term because of the amount of energy they can store relative to volume and production is cost-effective. Of course, the entire system has to be engineered with the rest of the vehicle to meet durability goals and pass federal safety regulations.
Consumers are not likely to accept fuel-cell or battery driven technology if special care and feeding is required. "Lithium-ion battery pack performance drops as they get cold," says Zielinski who just returned from a winter testing trip in Kapuskasing, Ontario where temperatures hovered at 25 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. "But with the engine-generator set we have the ability to supplement the power for the battery pack as well as heat it up through charging. The fuel-cell cars run pretty good even in cold temperatures."
So what does the Chevy Volt mean to consumers in real-world terms assuming it reaches production? If you live within 20 miles of work -- and according to GM more than half of Americans do -- it's theoretically possible to drive exclusively on battery power in daily commuting because the engine would be used only if the battery charge is nearly depleted. This of course means zero fuel cost and zero exhaust emissions. If the drive system of the Volt is successful it could mean an industry shift in the automobile as we know it.
chuckarehart (at) comcast.net