A Volt Test Drive


Detroit — Amid all the press pom-poms, there is an occasional glimpse into why the “electric vehicles of the future” may meet the same fate as the battery-powered vehicles of the past.

Consider New York Times reporter Lindsay Brook’s account of her Chevy Volt test drive here at GM’s Milford test track recently — titled “For the Volt, How’s Life After 40 (Miles)?” First, a quick primer to disabuse anyone of the notion that the “plug-in” Volt is an electric vehicle. It is a hybrid. Not a hybrid like the Toyota Prius which uses an electric battery to assist the gas engine. The Volt uses a gas engine to assist the electric battery. Thus the “life after 40 miles” (the range of the battery). Thus this passage from Brook’s article:

With the dashboard icon signaling my final mile of range, I point the Volt toward a hill and wait for the sound and feel of the generator engine’s four pistons to chime in. But I completely miss it; the engine’s initial engagement is inaudible and seamless.

I push the accelerator and the engine sound does not change; the ‘gas pedal’ controls only the flow of battery power to the electric drive motor. The pedal has no connection to the generator, which is programmed to run at constant, preset speeds. This characteristic will take some getting used to by a public accustomed to vroom-vroom feedback.

A few hundred yards later, as we snake through the track’s infield section, the engine (revs) rise sharply. The accompanying mechanical roar reminds me of a missed shift in a manual-transmission car. For a moment the sound is disconcerting. . . . A few times later in our test, the generator behaved in similar fashion — too loud and too unruly for production — but there is time for the programmers to find solutions.

Ready to plunk down $40 large on this compact? Or even $32,500 after the generous taxpayer subsidy?

Here’s betting that most folks will spend that cash on a much larger, much more reliable, much faster, 23-mpg Cadillac CTS.


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