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Baseball, Pulitzer Prize Winners, Volt Misconceptions And Chevrolet

Posted in Car Tech, Cars, Chevrolet, Electric Cars, FAIL, Hybrid Technologies, Newsworthy by Kurt Ernst | November 15th, 2010 | 11 Responses |

A Chevy Volt, at speed, somewhere in NJ

I’ll admit it: I’m not a big fan of baseball. The extent of my baseball knowledge can be summed up as follows: the pitcher throws the ball, and the batter tries to connect with the pitch. There are three possible outcomes, one of which is a strike, the other a ball and the final a hit. Technically, there are foul balls as well, which usually count as a strike. If the batter gets a hit, he tries to run the bases until he scores a run or gets tagged out. My problem with the sport is down time, since there’s not a lot going on between pitches. If baseball were played at double speed, or if they jumped in carts to drive an extended baseline, or if they released tigers on the field at random intervals, it would be worth watching. For me it’s like watching paint dry, with slightly less action.

George Will, on the other hand, can tell you anything you’d ever want to know about the game. Will is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who the Wall Street Journal once called “perhaps the most powerful journalist in America”. It’s a shame then, that Will would choose to write on a subject he’s sadly misinformed about, without even bothering to do research. I’m referring to a commentary that Will wrote about the Chevy Volt, entitled, “‘Electric Car’ Is Really A Hybrid”. Will is referring to the inaccurate disinformation that was circulated a few weeks back, when the internet was abuzz that the Chevy Volt’s 1.4 liter gasoline engine powered the wheels above 70 miles per hour.

Mr. Will, in the unlikely event you read this piece, I suggest the following: first and foremost, go drive a Volt, because it’s clear from your op-ed hatchet job that you haven’t even bothered to do so. Next, I’d suggest you research “true” hybrid vehicles, like the Toyota Prius or the Honda CR-Z, to learn the difference between a “hybrid” and an “extended range electric vehicle”, like the Chevy Volt. True hybrids are primarily gasoline driven with a battery assist to supplement horsepower and boost fuel economy. If you want to fully understand the difference, try this test: run a hybrid, like the Honda CR-Z, up to 70 miles per hour and then shift into reverse. It’ll take some effort, since you’ll be turning the transmission and driveline into a fragmentation grenade. I’d also suggest you do this in an area devoid of traffic and obstacles, since you’re going to lose control of the car and make quite a mess.

Now try the same with a Chevy Volt and see what happens. The answer is not much, since the Volt is driven exclusively by electric motors and doesn’t even use a conventional transmission. The car will slow (because selecting reverse essentially changes the polarity of the motor), and eventually will stop and reverse. Is there a mechanical assist from the engine above seventy miles per hour? Yes, to add torque and improve drivability, which only serves to make the Volt a better automobile. I assure you, having driven the Volt, that there is no point where the gasoline engine exclusively powers the wheels, as you’ve claimed. Also, the Volt will take you forty miles on battery power alone, without even starting the engine, whereas no other hybrid made today will do the same. The Volt is “just another hybrid” like Neil Armstrong’s steps on the moon were “just another walk on sandy soil”.

Mr. Will, I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have on the Volt, hybrids, the automotive industry or trends in current automotive technology. I’ll also make you a deal: I’ll avoid writing about baseball if you avoid writing about automobiles. Fair enough?

Note: Will’s editorial appeared in the Sunday Florida Times Union as “‘Electric Car’ Is Really A Hybrid”. The same editorial appeared under the title “What’s Driving Obama’s Subsidies of the Chevy Volt” in Sunday’s Washington Post.

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11 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    Nicely written, but can you provide a link back to the original Will piece? (or did I just miss it?)

  2. Kurt Ernst says:

    Good call Joe – links added.

  3. doggy says:

    Fantastic piece, Kurt. George Will can SUCK IT.

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Thanks doggy. I forwarded it to him, and got the “I’m too busy to worry about researching the truth” email in reply.

  4. Set says:

    I do believe saying “Extended Range Electric Vehicle” is the same as saying a “serial hybrid”, which is a more accurate term. The term “hybrid” is often given to “parallel hybrids.” I was completely unaware of the fact that the Volt could enter a parallel hybrid mode (or did I misunderstand that?)

  5. Mark Smith says:

    Nicely worded Set. I agree 100%. The Volt IS NOT an electric vehicle. It is a hybrid. It uses both gasoline and electricity to provide power and range. The Volt is trying to invent new language, but the exact same technology is used to power ships and submarines and has been called a “serial hybrid powerplant” for decades. GM just wants to distance themselves from other hybrids so they are inventing new language. The Volt wouldn’t be nearly as attractive if it was just another Hybrid.

  6. Kurt Ernst says:

    Set, you and Mark are correct in calling the Volt a Serial Hybrid, as defined by the SAE. However, you guys are both more intelligent than the average consumer, who can’t differentiate between “serial hybrid” and “parallel hybrid”. To them, a hybrid is a hybrid is a hybrid, and they’ll lump the Volt into the same category as the Prius, Insight, etc.

    Mark, you’re incorrect unless you add “serial” to the term hybrid. The Volt is an electric vehicle. It has no mechanical connection between the gasoline engine and the drive wheels; instead, twin electric motors are used to drive the wheels. It’s possible to drive the Volt without ever using gasoline, so long as you don’t exceed the range of the batteries. Can you say the same for your Prius? An Insight? A CR-Z?

    I’m not a stockholder in GM, so I’m not defending them for financial reasons. Chevy will have an uphill battle selling this car to a public that derives the bulk of their facts from “infotainment” news; as more mechanically savvy gearheads, we can either help the public understand the difference between a serial hybrid (or extended range EV, as GM prefers) and a parallel hybrid. Look at it this way: both Rosie O’Donnell and Scarlett Johansson are women. Does that mean they’re the same thing? How much would you pay to go heels-to-Jesus with Scarlett Johansson? Now, what about Rosie O’Donnell?

    Set, the Volt provides a mechanical assist to the electric motors above 70 miles per hour, but it can’t be driven by the gasoline engine alone. In other words, if someone were to cut the power to the motors, you’d be stranded, regardless of whether or not the engine was running. It’s probably semantics, but I wouldn’t say that the Volt has a parallel hybrid mode.

  7. Set says:

    So, I’m really curious how that works. Does the gasoline engine actually connect to the drivetrain in any direct manner? Or is it kind of like one of those wind-up flashlights, in that you can wind them up, turn it on, and it’ll be so bright; but keep winding while it’s on and it gets brighter?

    I wouldn’t say I’m more intelligent, only more informed and/or passionate about this subject. Semantics, I know. Haha

  8. eddie_357 says:

    Rosie O’Donnell ! -thanks for the visual

  9. Kurt Ernst says:

    Set, one of GM’s powertrain engineers explained it to me in lurid detail, but my eyes glazed over fifteen minutes into the explanation. If I understand it correctly, above 70 miles per hour the engine provides additional torque to the Volt’s dual electric motors. It does this by connecting, via a clutch, to both the generator and a planetary gearset; this geatset receives rotational force from both the engine and the two motors.

    GM does this to aid acceleration at the top end of the motors capability, and to prevent excessive battery drain (since electric motor efficiency declines as it approaches maximum rotational speed).

    There is no drive configuration in which the Volt is powered either entirely or primarily by the gasoline motor.

  10. Set says:

    Thanks so much for explaining that to me. Now I know. I didn’t think that it was hooked up like that, but it’s cool to see that they added the functionality.