GM Takes Volt Media Critics To Task

Around the same time yesterday we were going hands on with the Volt, wondering already if it was a plug-in hybrid versus a true electric car because of how the gas motor seems to interact with the electric side of things, various other media outlets around the country were thinking the same thing. GM, probably not expecting a backlash around the issue – explained by Wired as centering 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” – is now finding itself in the uncomfortable position of defending how the Volt’s propulsion system works.

GM, in a statement issued late yesterday, said the Volt has “an innovative electric drive system that can deliver power in both pure electric and extended range driving.  The Voltec 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.” It says it had not previously shared details like this because “the information was competitive and we awaited patent approvals.”

Chevy Volt

image copyright EarthTechling

GM went on further to say in its statement that “there is no direct mechanical connection (fixed gear ratio) between the Volt’s extended-range 1.4L engine and the drive wheels.  In extended-range driving, the engine generates power that is fed through the drive unit and is balanced by the generator and traction motor.  The resulting power flow provides a 10 to 15 percent improvement in highway fuel economy.”

Even as GM looks to clear the air from damage done by what it believes is inaccurate reporting from media outlets, some of the media is defending the automaker. The Detroit Free Press columnist Mark Phelan, for example, said “but the furor over whether the Volt is ‘really’ electric amounts to debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.” MSNBC’s Alan Boyle echos this, saying “the way I see it, the fact that the gas engine might make a direct rather than an indirect contribution to the Volt’s power under some circumstances is no big deal.”

What do you, the reader, think? Are certain circles within the automotive media making a mountain out of a molehill? Should GM reclassify the Volt as a plug-in hybrid? Does anybody really care? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.


  • Reply October 12, 2010


    It is a big deal. The volt should have been full electric with the gas engine only there to generate power for the electric motor. This is very critical if the platform could be used with other generators in the future (fuel cell, etc.). The fact the gas engine in part of the drive system means its the same as all the others. This was very sad for me to read. I thought GM was on track now it look more like they are just catching up with the others.

  • Reply October 12, 2010


    It is a meaningless difference. It gets power from electric and gasoline… it is a hybrid in either case.
    It has always been a hybrid, those who fell for GM’s claim that it was ever anything else are simply ignorant of what a hybrid is.

    The only difference is Parallel vs Series hybrid.

    A meaningless difference… the bigger concern is that GM has lied about the electric range that can realistically be expected.

  • Reply January 15, 2011

    Steven Humphreys

    I placed an order for the Volt in December. Whether the gas engine temporarily powers the drive train at high speeds or not is immaterial to me. What counts is how the vehicle is used. Since my commute is under 20 miles, I will be able to get to work and back without using the gas engine. Nearly of my weekend errands will be under 40 miles (the approximate range of the battery), so except on rare occasions for road trips, etc., I will be driving the Volt without using the gasoline engine at all. Still, I am very glad that there is a backup gasoline engine that can be used when I need it.

    If the millions of other Americans with driving patterns similar to mine were to buy a Volt, it would substantially reduce the amount of greenhouse gases generated in this country, while at the same time begin the process of rebuilding a vibrant American manufacturing sector and job base, tax revenues, etc. It seems rather incredulous to me that any one who cares about the future of the American economy would seize upon such an inconsequential issue as whether the gas engine might or might not assist in driving the wheels of the Volt at times.

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