2011 Chevrolet Volt Introduction

General Motors has been working for nearly four years to bring the Volt electric sedan to market, and, based on what we've experienced, the final result is a shockingly good, technologically brilliant electrically powered sedan. The Volt seats four.

The Chevrolet Volt uses a enormous 420-pound, T-shaped lithium-ion battery, mounted right in the center of the car, under the center console and rear seat, to power the car through a large 149-horsepower, 368 foot-pound AC-current electric motor with a planetary transmission and transaxle driving the front wheels. Chevrolet says a fully charged battery will run the car on electricity alone for nearly 47 miles.

The battery, co-developed with Korea's LG Chemical, a leader in this technology, uses 288 slim cells divided into four 72-cell packs. The battery has its own separate heating and cooling systems to allow it to operate efficiently in extremes of temperature. The battery can be fully charged on normal house current in 10-12 hours, said Chevrolet, and with a 240-volt charging station, in about four hours. Since electric power rates vary wildly across the country, Chevrolet estimated than an overnight charge will cost $1.00 to $1.50 per day, far less than the several gallons of gasoline it would take most commuters to get to work and back. Chevrolet will charge $490 for the fast-charging station, plus whatever your local power utility will charge for installation, and some power companies are prepared to offer rebates on installations to promote the idea. The first 4,400 Chevrolet Volt buyers will get the charging station free.

When impending battery depletion is sensed by the electronic control system that links the battery, motor, clutches, transaxle, and starter/generator together, the 1.4-liter gasoline engine starts, and converts the starter into a 55-kilowatt generator, which then supplies electrical power to the battery and the motor so that the journey can continue.

Travel can continue until the 9.3-gallon fuel tank runs out of fuel, a distance that Chevrolet calculates to be about 350 miles, or 47 miles on the battery and 310 miles using gasoline to charge the battery. The battery is never truly depleted, and operates continuously between 50 and 65 percent of its capacity, but the system is geared toward preserving the battery's life and condition under extremes of heat, cold and continuous duty.

The Volt's 1.4-liter double-overhead-cam, four-valve, fuel injected gasoline engine is the same engine used in the Chevrolet Cruze, without the turbocharger, and is rated at 84 horsepower at 4800 rpm. Because there is the possibility of long periods of gasoline storage, the Volt is built with a sealed, pressurized fuel system, and Chevrolet has specified that only premium unleaded fuel be used because it can stand up to long periods of storage without deterioration. There is a warning system that tells the driver to go out for a drive to burn off any condensation that has reached the fuel.

Although the Volt could be characterized as a series hybrid by some definitions, Chevrolet insists the Volt is an extended-range electric vehicle with onboard generation, and that the gasoline engine, because it adds power through the starter/generator, doesn't ever drive the front tires directly.

The battery can drive the Volt in any of three modes, Normal, Sport and Mountain, in either Drive or Low ranges in the planetary transmission, offering a great deal of situational flexibility. Volt engineers recommend using the Low range any time the car is driving in bumper-to-bumper or other heavy traffic, so that the brakes can regenerate additional electricity.

If the $41,000 price tag seems high, remember the amount of new technology and expensive parts in this car, and be reminded that there is a $7500 federal tax rebate available, which drops the price down to $33,500. There is also a federal rebate of $2000 on a home charging unit. And several states offer refunds or rebates ranging from $2000 to $5000. Chevrolet offers a lease price on a Volt of $350 a month, with a 36,000-mile limit and a $2500 down payment. While the entire vehicle carries a normal GM warranty (three years, 36,000 miles), the battery itself carries an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

1Dealer Discount applied to everyone.

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