The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is an electric car; although it has a 1.4 liter, four cylinder engine, this does not power the drive wheels. Instead, the engine is used to generate electricity, which powers the Volt’s electric motor when the batteries are depleted. Chevrolet claims an overall mileage rating of 230 MPG, which the EPA has yet to confirm.
The Volt was designed to have a “battery only” range of 40 miles, and pre-production units have achieved this goal. When the batteries run down, the 1.4 liter gasoline engine fires up to power the car’s electric motor. This gives the Volt a conventional car-like range of approximately 300 miles, making it useful for both daily commuting and vacation road trips.
Prospective buyers (and us media types) have been asking what kind of fuel economy the Volt would achieve when the batteries are depleted and the car is using gasoline to create electricity. Green Car Reports has received confirmation from the Volt’s chief engineer, Andrew Farah, that pre-production Volts are reaching the design goal of 50 MPG when powered (indirectly) by gasoline.
Personally, I can’t wait to drive the Volt, as I think it’s the start of a new chapter in automotive engineering. Using a gas or diesel motor to create electricity makes good sense – this is how diesel electric locomotives have been powered since the early part of the 20th century. As battery density improves, we’ll eventually be able to abandon the internal combustion motor altogether, but the Volt represents a practical bridge between available technology and future tech.