Just how is the Chevy Volt different?

If you've confused the Chevy Volt with other hybrid vehicles - such as the Toyota Prius, you're not alone. The word 'hybrid' means different things by brand. The definition gets tricky with the Volt. In the strictest sense, it's a plug-in hybrid. But, the Volt is still the only vehicle in the U.S. that operates the same - on gas, or on pure electric. The gasoline engine does not drive the wheels. Volt drivers can all agree that the 8.3 (EV) or 8.1 (hybrid) zero to 60 will get your attention. One comment that Volt owners will offer is the solid, almost luxury car 'feel' that the Volt offers, with excellent handling on the highway. With the Premier package, you don't feel that you've sacrificed anything to go 'green' (and save money!).

(The following data is based on the specs for the 2010 Volt. I've updated numbers where applicable.)

2017 Chevrolet Volt

2017 Chevrolet Volt

Q: What is the Chevy Volt?
A: The Chevy Volt is an extended-range electric car built by General Motors. It has reached the end of its development cycle and deliveries commenced in December 2010. Cars can be ordered right now.

Q: How is the Chevy Volt different than other cars on the road?
A: The car is a plug-in range-extended electric vehicle with an on-board gasoline generator. It has a large battery that stores power from your home electric outlet and which is connected to an electric motor. The electric motor directly propels the car. The battery can power the car for the first 53 miles. After that, should one continue to need to drive, the on-board gasoline generator provides electricity for the motor and participates in driving the car. The gasoline generator makes a seamless transition when the main EV battery range is exhausted, giving Volt drivers an additional 300+ mile range. As the secondary range is exhausted, drivers either plug-in, or 'gas up' and keep on going.

Q: How is the Chevy Volt different than conventional hybrids, like the Prius?
A: Today’s hybrids are called parallel hybrids. They use a small electric motor for low speed driving, but switch to a regular gas engine for acceleration and faster speed driving with the electric motor providing enhancement, hence both engines work side by side or in parallel. 

The Volt is a series vehicle meaning only the electric motor powers the car at all times, the gas engine is just a generator for making electricity once the battery is depleted.  A little like the Prius, the engine does help spin the wheels after the battery is depleted.  GM engineers chose to do this because it improved efficiency by 10 to 15 percent.

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Q: What is the driving range of the Chevy Volt?
A: The car has been designed to drive from 50+ miles on pure electricity stored in the battery from overnight home charging. The actual range will vary depending on temperature, terrain, and driving style. (See *NOTE below)

After that the gas engine will kick in and allow the car to be driven an additional 344 miles on a full tank (9.3 gallons) of gas.

Q:  How many miles per gallon will the Chevy Volt get?
A: A bit of a trick question. For the first 35 miles it will get infinite mpg, because no gas will be burned. When the generator starts, the car will get 37  mpg (35 mpg city/40 mpg highway) thereafter. One can calculate the average mpg per for any length drive starting with a full battery:Total MPG = ~37 x miles/(miles-35).  The official EPA fuel economy can be viewed here.

*NOTE: The 2017 model Volt, Premier package gets roughly 54 miles on the pure EV mode with an average charge. The gas tank is 8 gal. but still provides the additional 344 mile range. I've gotten roughly 45 eMPG on drives between Reno, NV and San Francisco, CA.

Q: What type of batteries will the Chevy Volt use?
A: The car is has an advanced battery pack which uses lithium-ion battery cells. This chemistry appears in cell phones and laptops. For automotive use the packs and cells are more powerful and safe.

Q:  Is it a four or five-seater?
A: Four

Q: How much will the car cost?
A: $41,000, $33,500 after a $7500 tax credit. It may be leased for $350 per month for 36 months, 12,000 miles.

Q: What is the cost of operation of the car?
A: With current average U.S. electric rates GM estimates it will cost roughly $1.50 per day to travel 35 miles.  After that, considering mpg in the mid to high 30s, will depend on gasoline rates. We have a family member who lives north of San Francisco (Marin County) and commutes - round trip - to downtown San Francisco on the pure electric range easily. With higher gasoline costs in the Bay Area, that's a considerable savings. If Volt owners aren't able to generate their own electrons from residential solar panels (as we do!), then utility Time of Use rates are the 'way to go', making Volt operation a bargain. 

Q:  Who is making the Volt’s battery packs?
A: GM has chosen LG Chem of Korea to supply the lithium-ion cells.  GM will assemble the packs themselves.

Q;  Does the car use regenerative braking?
A: Yes. This means as the car is slowed, the kinetic or motion-based energy is recaptured as electricity stored in the battery. The 2017 Volt has a regenerative braking 'paddle' on the steering wheel.

Q:  How is the car different than the EV-1?
A: The EV-1 had only an electric motor and older technology batteries, and had a 100 miles driving range. There was no onboard generator.

Q: How long will it take to recharge the Volt?
A: Up to 10 hours using a 120 volt (standard home) outlet, and about 4 hours if you have a 240 volt supply. The 2017 Volt takes about 3 hours for a full recharge with a residential Level 2 charger.

Q: What type of electric motor does the Volt have?
A: A/C 3-phase

Q: Will tall people fit in it?
A: Bob Boniface, chief of Volt design says the car is being designed to accommodate drivers from 5th percentile females up to 95th percentile height males. The 2017 Volt accommodates most average size passengers in the backseat.

Q:  Are there any government incentives to purchase this car?
A:  Buyers will be entitled to a $7500 tax credit for the first 200,000 vehicles sold.

To better understand how the generator on the Volt charges the battery, click here.

For a comprehensive look at the Chevy Volt technology, watch this video.