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Chevy Volt Runs on Electricity… Except Over 50 MPH?

The Chevy Volt extended range electric vehicle is supposed to be GM’s golden ticket to renewed success in the auto world. But now a project engineer claims that the Volt’s wheels may be driven directly from its gasoline engine at high speeds. Sounds innocuous enough, but if true, that would mean that the so-called extended-range electric vehicle can’t operate as an electric vehicle at all if it goes too fast.

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The Chevy Volt extended range electric vehicle is supposed to be GM’s golden ticket to renewed success in the auto world. But now a project engineer claims that the Volt’s wheels may be driven directly from its gasoline engine at high speeds. Sounds innocuous enough, but if true, that would mean that the so-called extended-range electric vehicle can’t operate as an electric vehicle at all if it goes too fast.

The speculation comes via the UK Telegraph from Andreas Voight, an Opel project engineer who is working on the Volt (known as the Ampera in the UK):

Until now the car’s hybrid driveline has operated with wholly all-electric
drive, but poor high-speed performance and power-generation losses are
forcing GM to consider powering the Volt/Ampera directly from its petrol
engine at high speeds. The move would be possible
without major engineering as the planetary twin-clutch transmission already
has a direct mechanical link between the engine and wheels.

The Volt is a new kind of electric car known as an extended-range electric vehicle. That means the car runs purely on battery power for a set amount of time (40 miles) before the gas engine begins to power the generator and provide a current to the car’s motor–hence the “extended range” moniker. The problem, according to Voight, is that the electric motor begins to run out of torque when it goes above 50 mph.

The allegation is completely false, says GM spokesman Rob Peterson. “Andreas is way off base,” he tells Fastcompany.com. “The engine turns on only once the battery is depleted. We are about 5 months away from putting this
vehicle into dealerships and weeks away from finalizing the software and
hardware design. I assure you that we are not going to make a change of this type of magnitude at this point in time.”

According to Peterson, there are only two instances when the gasoline engine starts before the battery runs out: in extreme cold temperatures and when the vehicle has been sitting still for an extended period of time. We tend to believe Peterson–he works with the Volt’s development team in the U.S., while Voight is a vehicle support engineer for Opel in Europe (the Volt is engineered in the U.S.). We’ll find out for sure soon enough, but it seems highly unlikely that Peterson would lie about the vehicle’s capabilities.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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