Car Corner
What's Wrong With GM's Volt, Their Plug-in Hybrid Concept Car

March 1, 2007
By Scott Lewis

Well, last month I said I might pick on GM, and I decided I should. From the same Detroit auto show as last month's Ford concept cars GM displayed a new "plug-in" hybrid called the Volt. It was labeled a Chevrolet model. Why should I pick on it? In a nutshell, because it is all wrong.

The Chevrolet Volt Concept

The Volt is a plug-in hybrid that is supposed to travel up to 40 miles on a single battery charge. As its description implies, you plug this hybrid in to recharge it. If your trips are less than 40 miles you should be able to run purely on battery/recharge power, and this would be very economical compared to any other available propulsion.

If you travel beyond the battery pack's 40 mile range a small gasoline engine kicks in to run a generator that both recharges the battery and runs the car.

Sounds great doesn't it. Well, in this Car and Driver article on the Volt they mention that the batteries will cost about $40,000. That number was derived from the retail price of a laptop battery, so its hardly meaningful in this context. However, Car and Driver did concede that even if the price of the battery pack was only $10,000 it would still not be a cost effective vehicle.

Batteries, We Don't Need No Stinkin' Batteries

So the cost for the battery pack the Volt needs has some kinks to be work out. But that's not really what is wrong with this car. It is the fact that it uses batteries at all. I wrote about this topic over six years ago. I said then, and still believe today, that we need to get rid of the batteries. Why can't we just have a small engine run a generator, and in turn the generator run the electric motors that drive the car. With a small engine tuned to perfection to run at a set RPM, it should be easy to get maximum fuel efficiency from the gasoline part of my hybrid. Then the only question becomes, how much horsepower do we need in a gasoline engine to drive a powerful enough generator, a generator powerful enough to power a car.

If I was an engineer I would work out that math and then look into getting a patent on the idea.


So... this month I picked on GM for building a cool, plug-in hybrid... oh, that probably doesn't need to be built.

Who can I pick on next month?