The Volt mule ready to go in Warren, Michigan. (Jim Motavalli photo)
WARREN, MICHIGAN--The Chevy Volt will give you a jolt; it's as much a kick in the pants as some caffeinated colas I could name. I have seen this range-extended sedan, which some consider the brightest light on GM's horizon, all over the U.S., but always motionless, and usually turning on a show stand.
But the Volt does go, and how. I was able to pilot a "mule" version of it (on the platform of the forthcoming Chevrolet Cruze global small car) under the watchful eye of Frank Weber, the German-born executive who is second in command on the project. We were at the sprawling, 330-acre GM Tech Center in Warren, which has not only plentiful Canada geese but also great roads for getting this little rocket up to speed. The Volt can go 40 miles on its battery pack alone, so we had range to spare. With the help of its onboard 1.4-liter gas generator, the Volt can travel about 400 miles.
The accompanying video is a bit jerky for a reason we drove the "production intent" Volt in electric-only mode, and EVs have full torque from a standing start. So it was sprightly off the line (despite the fact I was driving with the parking brake on), handled very well considering its battery weight, and was also very, very quiet. GM is working on a "friendly sound" that the Volt will emit to let people know it's there.
The Volt will sell for around $40,000, but a $7,500 federal battery tax credit will ease the pain of buying one somewhat. We toured GM's new and sprawling, 33,000-square-foot Global Battery Systems Lab and saw the actual 400-pound, 16-kilowatt-hour battery pack that resides underneath the car. The center has extensive test stations that can subject batteries to extremes of heat and cold, as well as simulate up to a decade of wear. The goal with the Volt's LG Chem battery pack is for it to last the life of the car, or a 10-year warranty.
Volts that actually look like the Volt will be on the road soon. Andrew Farah, vehicle chief engineer on the E-Flex program that includes the Volt, says, "My goal is to be driving one July 4." Some 80 to 100 pre-production cars with soundproofing, iPod-friendly stereos and many refinements the mules lack will be built for testing and evaluation, and journalists will be back to try them out.
GM seems to be taking the "green" thing to heart. The new battery center has flooring made of recycled tires, a ceiling fashioned out of recycled aluminum and a row of one-kilowatt wind turbines on the roof.
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