Green Update–>GM Hammered for Hiding Facts About Volt Drivetrain

Whitacre with the Volt

The GM party line has consistently been that the Volt is an “extended-range electric vehicle,” meaning that the gas engine functions only to charge the batteries that power the car’s electric motors. Now it appears that the engine does drive the wheels, at least sometimes. Which makes it basically a plug-in hybrid.

Edmunds’ Inside Line is all up in arms about this, claiming that “GM Lied” about its Voltec drivetrain—and this has put them, along with a lot of other autobloggers, in high dudgeon.

I think these guys have a point, but it’s hardly the whole point.

From the beginning, the company has botched the marketing, PR, and promotion for the Volt. I mean really botched it.

The “campaign” has gone on seemingly forever—well, at least since 2007—beginning with the pronouncements of Bob Lutz about how important it was to “get gasoline out of the equation entirely” and beat the Prius. Now we have a car that is shown to be more than a little like the Prius, though it’s clearly much more of an EV than the Toyota.

Fritz Henderson claimed it would get 230 mpg (now, with the gas engine running, mileage looks more like 35-40 mpg). Ed Whitacre (above) stated the Volt would be priced “in the low 30s” (it’s now $41,000). If the CEOs can screw up like this, is it any wonder that the PR-communications people bungle things so badly?

After years, literally, of calling the car an EV, Chevrolet now admits that the gas engine does run to assist the second electric drive motor when the car is traveling at higher speeds, about 70 mph or faster. This is in fact a plus, since efficiency gains of 10-15 percent are realized. Chevy says it couldn’t share details about the Voltec system “because the information was competitive as we awaited patent approvals.”

Their secrecy and deception about this is what is behind the whole flap. What GM’s PR people should have done—much earlier—is say something like:

We are working on a drive system whose details cannot now be revealed, because they are awaiting patent approvals. We can tell you that the Volt will deliver 30-40 miles of full EV capability, with more-efficient gas-engine support than anything in the present market.

But, as I said above, this isn’t the whole point. The Prius plug-in will get you somewhere between 11 and 18 miles in EV mode. The Volt does far better than that and does it more efficiently. From the reviews I’ve read so far, the car represents a real advance in EV technology and driving capability.

Do you think the Volt will be a success despite GM’s bungled PR?

—jgoods

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