Chevrolet Volt Electric Car of Year

Chevrolet VoltBy John Addison (11/17/10 reporting from the LA Auto Show)

The Chevrolet Volt was awarded the Motor Trends Car of the Year and Automobile Magazine Car of the Year. The Volt won because average daily trips can be in pure battery-electric mode, yet all trips can be handled by this plug-in hybrid.

Today, Chevrolet handed the keys to early customers here at the LA Auto Show. At least 300 will be delivered by the end of 2010, putting the Volt well ahead of the Nissan LEAF which will only be delivered to a handful by year-end.

Customers are also voting with their pocketbooks for this $41,000 wonder that can also be leased for $350 per month. To meet demand, GM is increasing production plans from about 10,000 in 2011 and 30,000 in 2012. One fleet customer, GE, is ordering 12,000 Chevrolet Volts.

My test drive of the Volt demonstrated that Chevy is ready to take orders. I settled behind the steering wheel, felt comfortable in the bucket seat, and am impressed with the display behind the wheel, and the 7-inch navigation screen. The Volt looks and feels high-tech.

In drove 4 laps around a mile  loop that included sharp turns and straightaway. While driving, I was able to try the three modes of the car with a push of the button. In Normal mode, the Volt always stayed in the quiet electric mode that gives this 4-door sedan a 40 mile electric range before engaging its 1 liter gasoline engine to provide 300 extra miles of range, depending on driving conditions.

In Sport mode the Volt accelerated faster than I would need to enter any freeway, or pass another car on a country rode. In Sport, the Volt accelerates zero to 60 in about 8 seconds; not as fast as the 4 seconds when I was in a Tesla, but faster than my Nissan LEAF test drive. The Volt had a sporty feel navigating tight corners.

Lithium batteries deplete faster in electric cars when driving freeways, and even faster up steep grades. The Volt also includes a Mountain mode which immediately engages the engine to blend power with the electric motor. In most driving situations, the 1.4 liter gasoline engine is coupled with a generator in series for the sole purpose of generating electricity for the electric motor and lithium battery pack.

General Motors Electric Future

My drive was with Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director for the Chevrolet Volt and GE Global Electric Vehicle Development. Tony has over 100 Volts around the road across the country being put through final paces by GM engineers, and a few out being driven by everyone from President Obama, to big fleet managers, to tech journalists like me.

Because of the series configuration where the engine is coupled with a generator, GM has the architecture and roadmap for a number of exciting vehicles in the future. This Voltec Propulsion System was formerly called the E-Flex architecture. It will also be at the heart of the new Opel Ampere in Europe. I asked Tony Posawatz, “Will GM offer a battery-electric.” While he did not answer directly, he smiled and said, “Look for a big announcement in the next six months.”

Five years of the OnStar Plan is included at no extra charge on the Volt. OnStar has helped many a GM customer with everything from emergencies to a call center for questions. The Volt is the first GM vehicle to offer five years of OnStar Directions and Connections service, which includes Automatic Crash Response, stolen vehicle assistance and connected navigation, all standard.

The Volt also comes with the GM’s Connect App which can run on your iPhone or Android. Volt owners can use a smartphone to access their vehicle’s current electric range and fuel efficiency. With the mobile app you can manage Volt charging. You can look up the battery’s charge level, check on what time your Volt will be fully charged and ready to go, or even change charging priorities remotely with just a couple of taps. You can perform other commands remotely too — like unlocking doors or activating the remote start. In the winter cold or summer heat, you can use the app to pre-heat or pre-cool the Volt.

Looking at the app on an iPhone, it showed that my test drive Volt had 455 miles on it and it still had 7 gallons left in the 12 gallon tank. 195 miles had been in electric mode

Chevrolet Volt or Nissan LEAF

The Nissan LEAF competed with the Chevrolet Volt for top honors. I am impressed with my recent test drives of the Chevrolet Volt and of the Nissan LEAF. The Volt can be leased for $350 per month; the LEAF for $349. If you buy, you can save over $8,000 with the LEAF which starts at $32,780; the Volt, $41,000. Buyers can benefit from a $7,500 federal tax credit, and tax credits in many states, the result of growing concerns about a nation damaged from oil spills, health problems, and energy security. Currently 95 percent of U.S. transportation is fueled by oil that is refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

I would buy the Volt if I were still in previous position at Sun Microsystems covering several states. The Volt’s 40-mile electric range would be perfect for most days, and the plug-in hybrid would allow me to travel hundreds of miles when necessary, filling-up at the nearest gas station. Now, however, the LEAF is a great fit for my wife and me. The LEAF’s 100 mile electric range exceeds our 40 mile range need. Living in a city, we are also two blocks from transit which connects to rail, and we are two blocks from car sharing.

Both the Volt and LEAF will meet all the needs of millions as their sole car, and millions more as a second car in 2-car households. Both are roomy compacts, seating 4 and 5 in comfort. Both have backseats that can drop for comfort. Both offer the latest in safety, navigation, smart apps, and entertainment.

Chevrolet Volt Specs

Drive system: electrically driven system with onboard range extender, plug-in recharge capability

  • Energy: 16 kWh lithium-ion
  • 100% Recharge 110-volt outlet: 6 to 6.5 hours
  • Max. electrical power: 130 to 140 kW
  • Max. mechanical power: 120 kW
  • Continuous electrical power:  45 kW
  • Continuous mechanical power: 40 kW
  • Drive: direct
  • Type: 3-cylinder, turbocharged engine 1L gasoline (future model E85)
  • Nominal speed: 1500 to 1800 rpm
  • Max speed: 3200 rpm
  • Fuel tank (gal / L): 12 / 54.5
  • Type: plug-in
  • Voltage / amp: 110 / 15
  • Horsepower (hp / kW):  160 / 120
  • Torque (lb-ft / Nm): 236 / 320

Electric mode range: 40 miles – full electric vehicle (EV) range

  1. 0 to 60 mph: 8 to 8.5 seconds
  2. Top speed: 120 mph (limited duration)


  • Front: independent, strut-type
  • Rear: semi-independent torsion beam

Steering type: electric, speed-sensitive, variable assist rack-and-pinion

Turning circle, curb-to-curb (ft / m):  37 to 38 / 11.2 to 11.5

Brakes: electro-hydraulic power assisted; front disc, rear drum


  • Wheel size (in):  21 x 6.5
  • Tires: 195/55R21, low-rolling resistance

Exterior Dimensions

  • Overall length (in / mm): 170 / 4318
  • Height (in / mm): 52.6 / 1336
  • Width (in / mm): 70.5 / 1791

Interior Dimensions

  • Seating capacity (front / rear):  2 / 2
  • Headroom (in / mm):  front: 37.3 / 947
  • rear: 35.9 / 912
  • Legroom (in / mm): 31.5 / 802
  • Shoulder room (in / mm): 50.6 / 1285
  • Hip room (in / mm): 53.1 / 1349
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About Author: John Addison

Founder of the Clean Fleet Report, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability.

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