Chevy Volt Gets EPA Rating of 230 mpg in City Driving ~ Hybrid Car Review
Hybrid Car Review: Chevy Volt Gets EPA Rating of 230 mpg in City Driving

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chevy Volt Gets EPA Rating of 230 mpg in City Driving

The blogosphere has been very active the past couple of days about the mysterious '230' campaign.  Since the source of the campaign was hidden,  many bloggers wondered about it.  But it wasn't until Ad Age identified the most likely source (GM), that real theories came about.  It turns out, it was all about the Volt, probably the most talked about vehicle from GM in decades, if not ever.

According to GM CEO Fritz Henderson, the EPA is expected to rate the Chevy Volt at least 230 mpg in city driving. That's an astonishing number, but it's also very misleading.

The EPA really needs to figure out how to relate to consumers in a different manner if they expect most people to understand what they're getting from a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Electric car range issues are going to  be an issue as long as the EPA continues to rely on city/highway mpg numbers.

It's time to face facts. These vehicles are going to need a different standard.

The Chevy Volt is what as an Extended Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV). The car starts out as a plug-in electric vehicle, but has the range extended by mating a small gas engine which will recharge the battery pack after about 40 miles of all electric driving.

Currently, there are 30 pre-production Volts testing in Arizona and Michigan. They are going to be expensive at first (current estimates are set at $40,000, but you may get up to $7,500 in tax breaks from the federal government).

GM Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson acknowledged the first generation Volt will be expensive but that engineers are working to drive down costs in the second generation model.

What I want to know is, what will it cost me to charge the battery, and how far can I expect to go when the battery is fully charged. After that, I want to know how far a gallon of gas is going to get me.

"From the data we've seen, many Chevy Volt drivers may be able to be in pure electric mode on a daily basis without having to use any gas," said GM Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson in a statement . "EPA labels are a yardstick for customers to compare the fuel efficiency of vehicles. So, a vehicle like the Volt that achieves a composite triple-digit fuel economy is a game-changer."

But that's my point. There's no real yard stick here. You're not comparing apples to apples and they have to do something different.

"The key to high-mileage performance is for a Volt driver to plug into the electric grid at least once each day," Henderson said in a statement.

Again, a good point. But what if you don't? What happens if you're away from where you can plug in? What should you expect? I know what I should expect from the EPA ratings for my vehicle. I have no idea what to expect from the Volt rating.

From the Press Release:
GM does make sure to point out that Volt drivers gas-free mileage will vary depending on how far they travel and other factors, such as how much cargo or how many passengers they carry and how much the air conditioner or other accessories are used. Based on the results of unofficial development testing of pre-production prototypes, the Volt has achieved 40 miles of electric-only, petroleum-free driving in both EPA city and highway test cycles.

Under the new methodology being developed, EPA weights plug-in electric vehicles as traveling more city miles than highway miles on only electricity. The EPA methodology uses kilowatt hours per 100 miles traveled to define the electrical efficiency of plug-ins. Applying EPA's methodology, GM expects the Volt to consume as little as 25 kilowatt hours per 100 miles in city driving. At the U.S. average cost of electricity (approximately 11 cents per kWh), a typical Volt driver would pay about $2.75 for electricity to travel 100 miles, or less than 3 cents per mile.

The Chevrolet Volt uses grid electricity as its primary source of energy to propel the car. There are two modes of operation: Electric and Extended-Range. In electric mode, the Volt will not use gasoline or produce tailpipe emissions when driving. During this primary mode of operation, the Volt is powered by electrical energy stored in its 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

When the battery reaches a minimum state of charge, the Volt automatically switches to Extended-Range mode. In this secondary mode of operation, an engine-generator produces electricity to power the vehicle. The energy stored in the battery supplements the engine-generator when additional power is needed during heavy accelerations or on steep inclines.

"The 230 city mpg number is a great indication of the capabilities of the Volt's electric propulsion system and its ability to displace gasoline," said Frank Weber, global vehicle line executive for the Volt. "Actual testing with production vehicles will occur next year closer to vehicle launch. However, we are very encouraged by this development, and we also think that it is important to continue to share our findings in real time, as we have with other aspects of the Volt's development."
I'm going to leave you with one more thought. Hybrid electric vehicles are most attractive to those people who drive the most miles. Fuel efficiency is most important to these people. So, you can probably assume that for those most interested in a car like the Volt, longer range fuel efficiency is going to be very important.

Which means they need to know things like 'how far can I go on the battery alone (40 miles or so) and how far can I get after that? Is it worth it to me to buy a Prius, a plug-in Prius (when it's available), or an E-REV like the Volt?

Does the EPA feel that the 230 mpg figure for city driving will answer these questions for that type of driver?

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