September 17, 2008 General Motors has officially unveiled the production version of the Chevrolet Volt. We first encountered the electric-vehicle as a concept in early 2007 and following a first glimpse last month, we now have a much clearer picture of the what it will look like when it hits showrooms in the US in 2011. The four-seater is a long way from the vision of a small, cramped, short range urban commuter that usually springs to mind at the mention of the term electric-vehicle. Part of the reason for this is the a clever compromise reached by GM engineers in balancing fully-electric, zero local emissions driving with the need for greater range. The Volt has a full-time electric drive and can cover 40 miles on purely electric power, which is ample for the day to day driving most of us do, but when the battery runs low, a gasoline/E85-powered engine generator kicks-in to maintain power supply and extend the range by "several hundred miles" according to GM.
The company has dubbed this approach "a new class of vehicle known as the Extended-Range Electric Vehicle, or E-REV", and for consumers (though no sale price has yet been announced) it does offer significant running-cost savings without a huge compromise on performance, not to mention the bonus of not being a contributor to the smog choking major cites.
The Volt is no slouch. It's top speed is 100 miles per hour and because it uses an electric drive unit, it delivers the equivalent of 150 horsepower, 273 lb-ft. (370 Nm) of torque instantly. It's also quiet, and having recently seen the Tesla Roadster in full flight, I can attest to the eerie feeling when a car whips past you at speed without any engine noise.
Aerodynamics also play a large role in the performance characteristics of the Volt. In arriving at the production version the vehicle underwent hundreds of hours in GM’s wind tunnel to fine-tune every element of the body-shape, which is noticeably more streamlined at the front-end than the original concept.
Recharging takes about eight hours via a standard household 120v outlet and less than three hours through a 240v outlet. GM estimates the cost of charging at about 80 cents per day (10 cents per kWh), that's around two cents per mile if you don't need to engage the long range system.
The Volt's interior (see gallery) doesn't leave out the high-tech either - a liquid crystal instrument display and seven-inch touch screen information display keep the driver informed and there's also in-built Bluetooth for cell phone and music streaming plus an optional nav system including an onboard hard drive for maps and music storage.
General Motors was founded by William C. (Billy) Durant on September 16, 1908 and the unveiling of the Volt was part of the company's celebrations to mark this 100 year milestone (incidentally around a staggering 450 million cars and trucks have been sold worldwide by GM in that time).
“Revealing the production version of the Chevy Volt is a great way to open our second century,” said Rick Wagoner, GM Chairman and CEO. “The Volt is symbolic of GM’s strong commitment to the future … just the kind of technology innovation that our industry needs to respond to today’s and tomorrow’s energy and environmental challenges.”