2011 Chevrolet Volt: Introduction
There were plenty of doubters when General Motors first showed off the Chevrolet Volt concept at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, but here we are some four years later and the car is just about ready for its national launch. After rolling out the Volt in a limited number of markets at the very end of 2010, GM is now preparing for increased production at the Volt plant in Hamtramck, Mich., and expects to be able to build 60,000 units annually, for all 50 states, beginning later this year.
The Volt is touted as the "no-compromises" alternative in today's admittedly small market for electric vehicles, thanks to a unique powertrain that combines both an electric drive unit and a 1.4-liter gas-powered I4 engine that's positioned as a "range extender": This Voltec propulsion system delivers an EPA-certified all-electric driving range of 35 miles via the former, as well as the ability to travel up to 344 more miles (again, as certified by the EPA) when relying on the latter.
Thus, in theory, you get the best of both worlds. Research shows that more than 75 percent of the people in the U.S. have a daily commute of less than 40 miles, so many Volt drivers could treat their cars as pure electric vehicles for the majority of their driving, something that can't be said of plug-in hybrids. For example, the coming plug-in Toyota Prius is slated to deliver roughly 13 miles of pure electric driving. That's nice, but it's also nearly 65 percent less than you get from the Volt, and that's a significant difference. On the other hand, as compared to something like the Nissan LEAF, which is capable of more than twice the electric range of the Volt, the Chevy takes the whole "range anxiety" business out of the equation.
But just as importantly, GM also has tried to avoid compromising the rest of the vehicle in its push for high-efficiency driving. That is, the General didn't want the Volt to be all go and no show.
Mission: accomplished? I got the chance to find out for myself recently, when Chevrolet loaned me a 2011 Volt for a week-long test drive. And yes, as is always the case, the vehicle was delivered to me with a full tank of gas—but you'll have to read on to discover how much of it (if any) I used.