General Motors' milestone 100th anniversary will likely be remembered as much for what's ahead than what has come before. That's saying a lot, considering that GM has produced more than 450 million cars since 1908. The highlight: GM used its Centennial event to pull the wraps off the production version of the highly anticipated Chevrolet Volt electric car. The 2011 Volt is scheduled to go into production in late 2010, driving the world's second largest automaker into its second century of operation.
Green Car has followed the amazing Volt story closely since it was introduced as a concept car at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Volt concept was an immediate hit, but the clincher was GM's promise to actually build the futuristic range extending electric car. To date, General Motors has met critical developmental deadlines as it races toward the promised 2010 product launch, pouring considerable effort and resources into the project. Volt utilizes GM's E-Flex platform, which can accept various powertrain changes depending on the intended market.
The revolutionary Volt is a plug-in electric car that has a 40 mile zero-emission range on all-electric operation. This 40 mile electric capability fits the needs of many commutes and nearly all errand-running missions. Once the advanced 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack is depleted, the Volt uses a small internal combustion engine-generator as a range extender to add 300 more miles to the Volt's total driving range. The internal combustion engine, which is FlexFuel capable and can run on gasoline, E85 ethanol, or any combination of the two fuels, doesn't power the wheels directly, but rather provides electric power as a generator. All propulsion drive is through the electric drive motor.
GM's latest figures peg the Volt's 0-60 mph performance time in the 8 to 9 second range, with a top speed of 100 mph. The electric drive unit will deliver 111 kW of power that translates to 150 horsepower, and importantly an impressive 370 lbs-ft of torque. Since electric motors can deliver maximum torque from 0 rpm, overall performance should be quite good.
Charging the 220 lithium-ion cells housed in the Volt's 'T' shaped battery pack will take eight hours from a 120 volt outlet when fully depleted, and as little as three hours if charged from a 240 volt outlet. Based on a projected cost of 10 cents per kWh, the Volt will cost about 80 cents per day to fully charge. That equates to an energy cost of just 2 cents per mile under electric power. Factoring gasoline costs at a low $3.60 per gallon, GM estimates the when the internal combustion engine-generator is running, per-mile cost is still an economical 12 cents per mile. To put the electric energy consumption in perspective, GM says a daily charge will use less electricity annually than the average home refrigerator.
Some hard core Volt enthusiasts are disappointed that the production car won't offer the same strong design statement as the original futuristic concept car. The Volt, however, has spent more time in the wind tunnel than any GM product in the history of the company. The original design simply wasn't very aerodynamically clean, even if it did look aggressive and clean. To deliver optimum electric range and economy, the profile needed to be as slippery as possible. To this end, the production car is said to be light years ahead of the concept in terms of coefficient of drag.
Still, the leading edge of the production Volt looks surprisingly like the current Chevy Malibu. There is considerable brand equity at play here, so the family resemblance is understandable. The concept also had a very low 'chopped-top' roofline, which has given way to a much more rounded roof profile for improved interior room and better aerodynamics. The GM E-Flex design team also raised the rear window and deck line to minimize wind turbulence and resulting drag as the air flows over the car. The Volt's roof and rear hatch incorporate a large expanse of glass for a very open feel.
The production Volt is a four passenger, four-door sedan, with the long center battery tunnel eliminating the potential for fifth passenger seating. The Volt's interior is both sporty and futuristic, with a driver-configurable liquid crystal instrument display and a seven-inch touch screen information display as standard equipment. Bluetooth phone and music streaming will also be standard equipment, with an optional GPS navigation system offering hard drive storage for maps and digital music.
General Motors hasn't committed to a projected retail price for the 2011 Volt yet. We expect it to fall somewhere in the mid-$30,000 range, with loaded models north of $40-grand. Considering the developmental effort required to bring the E-Flex platform and the Chevy Volt to production, that price point is likely well below actual cost until technology efficiencies and production volume can bring costs down. We look at it as no less than a major investment in the future of personal transportation - GM's century maker.