The Volt is radically different than any on the road today. Although agreement about definitions vary, GM doesn’t not consider it a hybrid. Current hybrids cars, such as the Prius, are defined as parallel hybrids, meaning they have a small electric motor that moves the car when it is going slowly, but when speed or acceleration increases, a gasoline motor kicks in. The Volt, however, is considered an extended-range electric vehicle (E-REV). It has a very powerful all-electric 161-horsepower 45KW (100 KW peak) motor that is the only engine to power the car at all times. This engine should be capable of moving the car from 0 to 60 in 8.5 seconds, and have a top speed of at least 100 mph.
The electric engine gets its power from a very powerful high-voltage battery pack that can store enough energy to drive the car up to 40 miles in standard driving conditions. That battery pack is recharged by plugging the car into your home 110 (or 220) volt wall outlet, just like you do your iPod or cell phone. The full-charge cycle should take about 6 hours (3 hours at 220). Yes, this will increase your electric bill, but you will charge the car overnight when rates are lower. Much more importantly, you will need NO GASOLINE for drives up to 40 miles. So, if gas prices continue to go through the roof, you really won’t care. In most areas, your electricity costs should amount to a gas equivalent price of 50 cents per gallon. Studies suggest that 78% of drivers drive less than 40 miles per day.
Another very important feature of the Volt, and the reason some people (not GM) still consider it a hybrid, is that it will still have an on-board gasoline/E85 combustion engine. Only in the Volt, this engine is the smaller one, and has only one task, it charges the battery pack when the stored power gets low. The motor is not connected to the wheels, it is only a generator. The brilliance of this feature is that you will have an overall driving range of 400 miles. The efficiency of this motor amounts to about 50 mpg, for each gallon you use to charge the batteries. The old EV-1 did not have this function.
This gas motor will not need gears or transmission, and only has to run at a single rpm. It could also be considered an emergency generator. If you have to drive more than 40 miles, you needn’t worry because the generator will allow you to continue to drive.
The electric motor also can generate a lot of instantaneous torque, and should be extremely responsive, and not require gears either.
All the technology for the car is here today, except for the battery pack. It will use lithium-ion (li-ion) technology. Current hybrids use nickel-metal hydride (NiMh), which carry much less energy per unit weight. The li-ion cell technology exists but putting it into tested and safe packs is what will take some time. There are companies working with GM and trying to get these Li-ion batteries and their packs ready for automotive use.