Bring on the Volt
By Mike Mello
Recently, I had the awesome opportunity of getting right up close to the Concept Chevy Volt. I was so close I could count the stitches on the custom-crafted, dark orange, brown, and cream-colored interior door skins. What’s even better is that the gentleman in charge of styling the Volt was there! Bob Boniface, who leads the designers who sketch and build all the Volt concepts was in Boston to speak to a small group of bloggers about just what GM was looking for when the Volt project got started.
In January, 2006, the GM design team was asked to start drawing up ideas for an electrically-driven car that had to achieve these three points:
- Use zero gasoline in a typical commuting environment and be able to be recharged overnight by plugging in to a regular, 110 amp household outlet.
- Deliver a driving experience that is new, completely enjoyable, but not too different from operating the regular kind of cars that people are used to.
- Look great; be attractive to most people.
Early in the evening, I got to ask Boniface if any of the stylists who worked on the EV1 are working on the Volt team. Apparently, one EV1 stylist submitted a design for the Volt, but that design was not chosen as the final concept. 2006 must have been quite a whirlwind in the GM design studios because by the end of that year, the final Volt concept design was worked out and now two Concept Volt vehicles exist. Only one has a complete interior.
If and when the Volt goes into production, of course the wheels could end up being an inch or two smaller in diameter, the instruments may or may not end up closely resembling those in the recent Concept Camaro, but hopefully, the curved polycarbonate that makes that beltline really stand out will remain.
Perhaps the Volt is a bit aggressive looking right now? A number of car buyers certainly like the corporate face of contemporary Chevy vehicles with the two-tier chevron-style grille. I hope that if we see a final Volt, the look will not be too intense for families who want a plug-in electric vehicle. On the other hand, perhaps this kind of design is what it takes to attract people who might not be drawn to the looks of the former Insight or current Prius. Personally, I like the look of the Volt and enjoy the low roof, long hood, and overall stance.
In this YouTube clip, Boniface speaks in Boston about how his team worked out a mechanical issue involving the Concept Volt’s sharp, front door leading edge, its associated hinge, and the power plug outlet.
In a separate video on the GM FYI blog, Boniface discusses the Volt’s styling and the E-Flex Propulsion system.
In short, besides the styling, E-Flex is what sets the Volt apart from other alternative-fuel vehicles. The small gasoline/ehtanol/biodiesel-fueled engine powers the generator which recharges the battery pack. Only electric power drives the wheels. If you’re always able to plug in the Volt, you may never end up using any gas. Since the Volt can take you to work and home (up to 40 miles) on a single charge, the gas-powered generator is there to charge the battery pack if you want to take an extended trip. While nearing the end of the 40-mile electrical-range the gas generator automatically charges the battery pack, and can take you 600 additional miles before needing a fill up.
In terms of the wide range of potential Volt drivers, one of the lead electrical engineers from GM, Frank Weber, spoke about how the technology must be approachable to all people. As one would expect, the Volt would have all the contemporary electrical convenience features such as ports to plug in your iPhone , cell phone, GPS and so on. More important though is that even if you just get in your car and only listen to the AM radio while driving, the Volt must be able to perform this function while still being a pleasure to drive and easy to understand.
Weber also explained that the Volt driving experience, while obviously quieter than a regular car, would feature a system to let the driver know that the car is ready; that you wouldn’t get confused as to whether the vehicle was on or off or ready to operate. There’s not going to be any way to damage the car or battery if you jump in and go after it’s only been charging for an hour. In fact, the Volt’s electrical system is designed to deliver a consistent level of performance, whether it has been fully charged overnight, or has just been plugged in for one hour.
The only way to get stranded in the Volt would be if you had no fuel in the tank for the small engine that charges the battery pack and at the same time, you had run the battery completely down and were not near an electrical outlet.
Overall, whether you’re examining the Volt’s electrical system or its body style, GM wants the Volt to be easy and enjoyable to live with. Chevy dealers would already know how to handle the E-Flex system well in advance of a potential Volt debut. An interesting maintenance issue to think about is, what to do with fuel that’s been sitting in the tank for over a year if you only end up running the Volt on electric power? For now, I’ll be on the lookout for news that the battery technology has been perfected. That’s what I really want to hear.
Note: The Volt will be making its next eastern-U.S. stop in Miami and will then make appearances in San Francisco and Los Angeles in December.
Top photo from GM.com. All other photos by Mike Mello.
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