GM sure seemed to get portions of the auto and green media communities in an uproar this week when it unveiled the Chevy Volt formally to the public. At the heart of the stink raised by some was the issue of whether or not the Volt is truly an electric car. An argument floated by some, as we mentioned before had been reported on by Wired and others, centered around reports that “at high speeds, the Volt’s 1.4-liter gasoline engine provides a mechanical assist to the electric motor propelling the car, and it could, in theory, turn the wheels directly.”
Assuming this was the case, it was speculated, the Volt would therefore be considered perhaps some kind of hybrid and not a true electric vehicle. GM disputed this, saying the Volt is an electric vehicle and that, in essence, “the electric drive cannot operate without power from the electric motors. If the traction motor is disabled, the range-extending internal combustion engine cannot drive the vehicle by itself.”
To get some perspective on all of this, we turned to John Voelcker, the senior editor of Green Car Reports, for his take. Voelcker and his crew have spent some good hands on time with the Volt and have a lot to say about this issue and whether or not you as the consumer should really care. We last chatted with him about the new Toyota Telsa Motors electric vehicle relationship.
EarthTechling (ET): So GM this week defined the Volt as being in a class by itself. What exactly does that mean to you?
John Voelcker: Today, it’s the sole electric car going on sale that operates as a series hybrid, meaning the engine is only used to provide electric power to run the car electrically. (We found out this week that there’s one exception to that rule: Under certain circumstances, the engine can contribute some mechanical torque to assist the electric motor in moving the car, though the Volt can’t run on gasoline alone–it has to use its battery and electric motor to run at all.)