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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