Is The Chevrolet Volt Only A Fair Weather Car?

by Jack Lifton on August 12, 2009

in Batteries, Hybrids & EVs, News Analysis

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All the recent nonsense about the Chevrolet Volt’s fuel use and performance is just hot air, until the car is on the road and its actual performance under real driving conditions and with ordinary drivers is measured. I propose a side-by-side test of the Prius and the Chevrolet Volt to settle which is the more practical and versatile car.

A friend of mine who lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan has driven a 2007 Toyota Prius, which he bought new, for the last two years.

He does not garage his Prius in the winter and told me last summer, when I was visiting, that during the winter of 2007-8 the air temperature in Saskatoon reached -30 °F on more than one occasion.

Nonetheless, he said, his Prius never once failed to start on any winter morning.

Yes, the Prius nickel-metal-hydride battery has a heating and cooling system, which drains some power from the battery to maintain it above a set temperature in the winter and below a set temperature in the summer, but his Prius has made it through two Saskatoon winters without a failure to start or operate.

I was in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada two weeks ago, and I noted that the Yellowknife Fire Department Chief’s car is a Prius. I asked a lady fire captain who was driving the car if the department had had any weather problems with the car. She said “no” even on the day that yellowknife experienced an air temperature of -50 °F in the winter of 2007-8. Admittedly the car is garaged, but it was in use at -50 °F.

Yes, I know that the Prius is a full hybrid with a gasoline fueled ICE and the Volt is an “extended range” plug-in hybrid (whatever that actually means), but I would never even consider buying a Chevrolet Volt until I know in what air temperature range it can be operated. I live in Detroit where below 0 °F winters are common, and I think the Volt is a fair weather car.

I want General Motors to succeed, so I ask, politely, that a Chevrolet Volt and a Toyota Prius and, to be fair, A Ford Fusion be run through their paces by ordinary drivers in a variety of climate extremes, road conditions, and road grades.

No matter how the EPA calculates MPG it won’t matter at all if the car’s range is small, or if it won’t function in extremes likely to be met daily by most drivers outside of Southern California.

I really don’t think GM’s engineers have solved all of the basic problems faced by the Volt, and I think that all of the talk about fuel economy and acceleration is just to mask how impractical such a car is and what a tiny market segment it really has.

If I’m wrong just match it up now with existing EVs and let’s see the results that prove me wrong.

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