Amid record losses, plunging sales, a stock that has sunk as low as its 1950 price, and awkward merger talks, the 100-year old carmaker is hoping that its new Chevy, due in 2010, can reenergize its image and its bottom line. Volt design director Bob Boniface says his team wanted to make sure the car looked better than other electric-car concepts (judge for yourself). Most electrics "are like automotive brussels sprouts," he says. "They're good for you, but you don't want to eat them." The question is whether GM can wait two years for a hit—and whether the Volt will offer enough beyond green hype to win over consumers.

The volt delivers 150 horsepower, 273-lb-ft of instant torque, and a top speed of 100 mph. It relies on a T-shape, 400-pound lithium-ion battery pack underneath the center console and backseat. The Volt is classified as an E-REV, an extended-range electric vehicle with a four-cylinder gas engine that kicks in to keep the battery from being fully depleted. Unlike a hybrid, the gas engine never directly powers the wheels, but works only as a generator to produce electricity.

The Volt plugs into any standards electric outlet. When connected to a typical U.S. 120-volt socket, a depleted battery takes about eight hours to recharge. (Hooked up to a 240-volt outlet, that time drops to three hours.) GM estimates that a full charge will cost about 80 cents.

Is any gadget immune to the iPod effect? The Volt substitutes two LCD screens for the pins and dials of ordinary dashboards; one replaces the gauge cluster, while the other, a touch screen, delivers info and entertainment. Compared with analog displays, the screens add some techie sophistication that you don't always expect from Detroit. The climate controls use a touch-sensitive panel instead of individual buttons.

The Volt's rear terminates with a sharp slice. "It's a popular myth that aerodynamics result in a jelly-bean shape," says aerodynamics-group manager Greg Fadler. "The ideal shape is actually a wing or a raindrop" - both have a rounded front and a clean edge at the back. The engineers also discovered during wind-tunnel testing that adding a lip 5mm high on the rear edge of the spoiler reduces drag. However, this may result in only an extra quarter-mile or so of driving range.

The Volt rides on special energy-efficient tires on 17-inch forged-aluminum wheels. GM engineers were skeptical of the wheels chunkiness because the open space between the blades could cause more wind drag. But after extensive computer modeling, the big wheel won.

The Volt's slippery shape encounters maximum air pressure at the bottom of the front bumper while the car is moving. The air flows into a liquid cooling system that chills the battery, electronics, and gas generator. Though a standard grille wasn't needed, GM kept the signature Chevy front end; the Volt "needs to be a part of the family," explains Boniface. But the Volt is also meant "to have some halo effect on our other products," which makes the choice to keep that Chevy style - no buyer magnet these days - rather mysterious. The team did add a front cover to make the car more aerodynamic.

Inside The Chevy Volt [pics]

GM is gambling on the plug-in electric Chevy Volt to boost sales — and recharge its fortunes.

Amid record losses, plunging sales, a stock that has sunk as low as its 1950 price, and awkward merger talks, the 100-year old carmaker is hoping that its new Chevy, due in 2010, can reenergize its image and its bottom line. Volt design director Bob Boniface says his team wanted to make sure the car looked better than other electric-car concepts (judge for yourself). Most electrics "are like automotive brussels sprouts," he says. "They're good for you, but you don't want to eat them." The question is whether GM can wait two years for a hit—and whether the Volt will offer enough beyond green hype to win over consumers.

Add New Comment

0 Comments