Join us as we take an in-depth look at General Motors’ first plug-in hybrid which they prefer to call an EV with a range extender. We talk infotainment, drivetrain, batteries, charging, hop in the trunk and take it on the road.
The Chevrolet Volt may be the most maligned and least understood car on the market. After a week of strange questions and bipolar reactions to GM’s plug-in hybrid, I came to a conclusion. GM’s marketing of the Volt stinks. By calling the Volt an “Electric Vehicle (EV) with a range extender,” a huge segment of the population can’t get past “Electric” and immediately cross the Volt off their list. There is also [strangely] a segment of the population that says, “that’s great but I want a hybrid.” Guess what? The Volt is a hybrid.
Before we dive into the Volt, it’s important to know how hybrid systems work. GM’s Belt-Alternator-Starter, Mercedes’ S400 Hybrid and Honda’s IMA hybrids are all systems where the engine is always connected and even if the car is capable of “EV” mode, the engine is spinning. Porsche, VW, Infiniti and others use a pancake motor and clutch setup to disconnect the engine from the motor and transmission allowing a “pure EV” mode. Honda’s new Accord has a 2-mode setup where the motor drives the wheels via a fixed ratio gearset, the engine drives a motor and above 45MPH a clutch engages, linking the engine and motor together at a ratio of roughly 1:1. Ford, Toyota and the Volt use a planetary gearset “power splitting” device. Yes, the Volt uses a hybrid system that although not identical, is thematically similar to Ford & Toyota’s hybrid system.
Say what? I thought GM said it was a serial hybrid? Yes, GM did at some point say that and I think that has caused more confusion than anything else about the Volt. The bankrupt Fisker Karma is only a serial hybrid. The engine drives a generator, the generator powers the battery and the motor to move the car forward. At no point can the engine provide any motive power to the wheels except via the electrical connection.
The Volt’s innovation is that it can operate like a Fisker Karma or like a Prius. It is therefore both a serial and a parallel hybrid. To do this, GM alters the power split device power flow VS the Ford/Toyota design. Then they add a clutch allowing the gasoline engine to be mechanically isolated from the wheels. And finally they add software with a whole new take on a hybrid system.
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