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Is the Chevy Volt actually a hybrid?

Automotive reviews say General Motors' new 'all-electric' car is not that different from the Prius.

By Karen Datko Oct 14, 2010 6:45PM

This post comes from Truman Lewis at partner site


General Motors is hoping the "all-electric" Chevy Volt delivers a big charge to its domestic sales, but critics are making the shocking charge that the car is really a hybrid, more along the lines of the Toyota Prius, which uses both gas and electric engines in combination.

The controversy began with, Motor Trend, Popular Mechanics and other auto-focused scribes but has spread to the august New York Times, which harrumphed the other day that GM's insistence that the car is fully electric is "hard to understand." Post continues after video.

What's all the fuss about? It has to do with the small gasoline engine that supposedly exists mostly to extend the Volt's range, so that motorists are not left stranded in the center lane when the battery runs out of juice.


But auto critics who've test-driven the car say that during heavy acceleration, the Volt's gasoline engine kicks in to provide an additional power boost.


GM doesn't deny that but, oddly, insists that it doesn't make any difference. 


"The Chevrolet Volt is not a hybrid," GM said this week. "It is a one-of-a-kind, all-electrically driven vehicle designed and engineered to operate in all climates."


The company says it simply chose to keep quiet about the gas-boost feature because it is still in the process of applying for a patent on the process.


Is this just the usual Detroit dustup that accompanies many new model introductions? Maybe, but some of the critics are being unusually harsh. Edmunds' Inside Line carried a headline that said flatly: "GM Lied: Chevy Volt is not a true EV."


In a classic bit of corporatespeak, GM spokesman Nick Richards insisted that the Volt "always runs on electricity" and has no mechanical link from the gasoline engine to the wheels.


Edmunds described it this way:

As in the Prius, the Volt's drivetrain includes a planetary gear set that acts as a transmission. The intricacies of planetary gears are many, but in rough terms each element (electric engines and internal combustion engine) of the Prius or Volt drivetrains are hooked up to different elements of the gear set. In the Volt, its Ecotec engine is clutched to the outer ring gear and as the car's speed reaches the edge of efficiency for the electric motor, that ring is set from its normally rigid mounting in the 4ET50's case and allowed to spin. That has the Ecotec driving the front wheels.
Automotive engineering types say that makes the Volt a "parallel hybrid," like the Prius.


Do consumers care about any of this? We'll find out in a few weeks when the first Volts hit the showrooms.


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