Chevrolet Volt – Jack of all Trades, Master of None?...

...As I'm sure most of you are already aware, this past week has been hellish for GM's PR managers, and I'm not using my strongest words for the situation. First, they had to take care of the General's most expected car launch in recent history – the game-changing Chevrolet Volt.

Seen by most car journos as a sign of better things to come from Detroit, while by others as an all-round "Messiah vehicle", the Volt is apparently not what it first seemed. Which brings me to the second reason for the busy week experienced by the GM PR managers.

Both Internet and print automotive publications have organized a parallel (or is it serial?) attack on the so-called "Volt lie", or the way others have put it, the "Voltgate". But is this just another case of misdirection? Bear with me for a minute.

Igor Stravinsky's ballet "Le Sacre du printemps" (The rite of spring) is considered by many to be the originator of the phrase "there's no such thing as bad publicity". Of course, during that time the phrase was known as "Succès de scandale", but it follows the same idea. What if the "Voltgate" scandal is actually a good thing for the car?

Despite considering myself a rather old-school petrolhead, I kind of dug the whole Chevy-Volt-is not-exactly-a-Prius mumbo jumbo. I mean, since it's obvious we're heading into an automotive era filled with driving appliances also known as electric cars, at least they should make them more traditional looking, right?

Let me explain. To paraphrase Isaiah Mustafa doing the Old Spice commercials, let's take a look at the Nissan Leaf (or the Prius), now back to the Volt, now back to the Leaf, now back to the Volt, etcetera, etcetera. Toyota, Honda and Nissan are following on the flat pancake look with their Prius, Insight and Leaf, while Chevrolet's Volt looks like any other three-box compact sedan out there, doesn't it? All four cars feature green technologies, yet just one of them doesn't look like an UFO on wheels.

Let's talk about the other reasons for which I kind of liked the Volt concept over the years, since its launch in concept form at the 2007 NAIAS. The technical ones. One of them is also part of the Voltgate scandal, but it kind of doesn't matter that much for me.

So, the Chevrolet Volt is not exactly an extended range electric car. It's not a series or a parallel hybrid either. Instead, the Voltec-powered vehicle is a little bit of each. In a perfect world, the Volt is an electric vehicle just like the Nissan Leaf for the first 40 miles (64 km).

After the "perfect world" distance is achieved, the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) kicks in to "manufacture" electricity for the car's electric motor, therefore allowing the Volt to travel for an additional "perfect world" 310 miles (499 kilometers) while still in electric mode, but also using quite a hefty amount of dinosaur-based juice.

During certain high speed maneuvers or when going uphill, the ICE might also provide a little propulsion help in a somewhat direct manner to the wheels, but GM's PR say that this will happen only on occasion. Never mind the reasons for GM "lying" about this feature until a couple of weeks ago, it should still be regarded as an extra mobility option.

How much juice does it use, exactly? Well, independent Volt testers have announced anything between 32 and 50-something mpg after depleting the battery, all while the car runs in CS (charge sustaining) mode. Not exactly a horrendous mileage, but it sure as hell isn't winning any fuel economy records, especially compared to the much cheaper Toyota Prius or the Honda Insight.

In the end, we have a car that can drive without using any gasoline for a short but fair distance, after which it begins to use gasoline in a very ordinary and not exactly economical way. Does this mean it's better than a full EV like the Nissan Leaf? Well, for those 40 or so miles it is, since it has better performance and better (subjective, obviously) looks. After that, it obviously isn't, since the average mpg in CS mode is nothing to brag about.

Is it better than a "regular" hybrid such as the Toyota Prius or the Honda Insight? Again, since it doesn't use a single ounce of fuel for those 40 miles or so no matter the speed - never mind the friendlier looks and the updated performance specs - yes it is.

So, despite its obvious shortcomings in CS mode, the new Chevrolet Volt is an almost perfect car as far as its "greeniness" is involved. There is one last thing which doesn't let it become the best sold compact car in the US though: it costs 33,500 US dollars with the federal deduction tax included.

You could buy quite a hefty amount of gasoline for the price difference between a Volt and a regular hybrid. Then again, while using the Volt to drive no more than 40 miles each day, you may never need to buy gasoline for it. The choice is hard, but it's yours. In the end, I think the Chevrolet Volt really is a Jack of all trades, but master of none...
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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