The story on the Chevy Volt keeps swirling with AutoLine Detroit now tagging it “Volt-gate.”
I have had several conversations with GM executives today and here is what is emerging:
There was a press event over the weekend where detailed technical specs on the Volt were released for the first time. Those details confirmed what had been reported on Green Car Advisor back in June; that the gas engine “indirectly” connects to the drive wheels in some conditions. It also has been confirmed that prior to this event, GM was stating that the gas engine acted solely as a generator.
So the story on the Volt has changed. Best I can tell, there are three explanations for the change. The first is that when GM stated the “gas engine as generator” version of the story, the execs we spoke with told us the correct story—as they understood it. The Volt technology is complicated and perhaps the exes didn’t have the full picture. The second is that because the connection is “indirect,” the story really didn’t change. The third is that the “misdirection” was intentional. That it is a competitive world and GM wanted to keep its technologies a secret until patented. (Obviously the second and third versions are incompatible. You can’t say the story didn’t change, but then say the change was on purpose.)
Some of this confusion is that GM is in uncharted territory for any car company. The Volt was announced back in 2007--far earlier than most any other vehicle. There is no rulebook on what to announce and when.
But really who cares?
Well GM doesn’t like being called a liar. I get that. And while perhaps an extreme characterization, it does seem to be one supported by the facts. (Perhaps calling it a white lie would be better.) GM also seems to want to avoid the word “hybrid” in describing the Volt—probably to separate it from the Prius. (EVs are more “green” than hybrids, right?) Based on what we now know, the most accurate description seems to be that the Volt is an advanced serial/parallel hybrid.
It also seems to matter to enthusiasts. Car nuts who bought into the Volt story often became evangelists. They told their friends about the technology and how cool the car would be. When the story changed—even when arguably for the better, it is easy to see why they felt duped.
Looking at the big picture, our engineers seem impressed with the new Volt story—even more than with the old story. That is really the key. Forget about the details of the power plant. Will the Volt live up to all the hype? (Such as 230 MPGe.) More pointedly, is it better than Toyota’s upcoming plug-in Prius in the real world. (Acceleration, braking, comfort, mileage, etc.)
That verdict will have to wait until we get a Volt here for testing.
Incidentally, Bill Visnic posted on AutoObserver his impressions on the Volt from Sunday's event. You can read them here.
And GM has posted a response to the controversy you can read here.