It’s not surprising that Tesla CEO Elon Musk likes his 2011 Model S electric vehicle (EV) better than the 2010 Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. But the South African entrepreneur had some choice words about why the Volt–and range-extended vehicles (REV) in general–are impractical in an interview with GM-Volt.com.
In a REV, a small gas motor recharges the battery pack while the car is in use. The battery pack only gets 40 to 50 miles on a charge, but it extends the vehicle’s overall range since it is recharged while driving.
According to Musk, “Essentially, a (REV) is neither fish nor fowl and ends up being worse
(in our opinion) than either a gasoline or pure electric vehicle. An important consideration that people without a technical
background don’t understand is that you can either have a high power or a high energy cell chemistry, but not both. Since the battery pack in a plug in hybrid like the Volt has to generate the same power as a much larger battery pack in a pure electric vehicle, it has to use a low energy cell chemistry….[a REV] ends up having about the same mass and worse packing efficiency than a pure EV, plus you still have to deal with all the environmental issues of a gasoline engine.”
Far be it from me to challenge Musk’s car design expertise, but the CEO is missing one important point: the Model S is made for a completely different purpose than the Volt. Yes, the Model S is lightweight and more efficient than the Volt, all of which makes it useful for short trips around town. But the car can’t go nearly as far as Chevy’s offering without stopping for electrical juice. The standard Model S battery gets 160 miles to a single charge, while the Volt can go up to 640 miles.
As one commenter on the GM-Volt site points out, “[Musk] forgot to at least mention the reason that all of this extra ‘stuff’
is put into the Volt. Range anxiety. Life would really suck when you
are driving home on that hot day and traffic jams. You are left
running the AC or heater and your battery pack starts to read 20%
charge left (or less) and is dropping. At that time, you are really
glad to have that gas engine to secure your ride home.”
Even if the Model S ends up becoming popular while GM struggles to stay afloat, I’m still glad that we have multiple EV and PHEV options to choose from–especially since the Volt will probably be at least $10,000 cheaper than the Model S.