The Chevrolet Volt electric car has certainly taken the market by storm at a time when many people are looking for the most efficient form of transport, incorporating electric energy and hybrid backup systems. Despite the fact that the Chevrolet Volt electric car has only been on sale in the U.S. since mid-December 2010, it has already taken the place of the Toyota Prius at the top of the fuel efficiency ratings. So what exactly does the Chevrolet Volt electric car have to offer and why is it proving to be so popular?
Background to the Chevrolet Volt electric car
It will come as no surprise to learn that Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, has targeted the electric car and hybrid market as potentially enormous markets for the future. Despite the fact that the company has a chequered history in the alternative fuel market it seems that under pressure from environmentalists and governments around the world the company has finally given in to consumer demand and concerns about the environment.
Those who have covered the electric vehicle market will be well aware of the fury surrounding the General Motors EV1 electric car of the 1990s, a car which was supposed to light the blue touch paper for the electric vehicle market but ended up in controversy and condemnation. Without going into more detail, General Motors unexpectedly decided to withdraw the EV1 from the marketplace at a time when demand was increasing. There have been rumours and counter rumours regarding why the vehicle was withdrawn, which we have gone into in other articles on the website.
However, in what many see as a fresh start under the Chevrolet name General Motors is now looking to become a major player in the growing electric car/hybrid market and the Chevrolet Volt concept car was first brought to the market in September 2008.
The timeline for the Chevrolet Volt electric car
As we touched on above, the original concept car for the Chevrolet Volt electric car was revealed to the market in September 2008 although this differed widely from the original EV1 car which was released to the market in the 1990s.
This vehicle had four doors, a rear lift gate and seating for four passengers, as well as taking advantage of some of the most aerodynamic car designs seen today. As we have seen time after time, the design of the original Chevrolet Volt electric car was amended significantly because of issues regarding drag and the impact this was having on the overall efficiency of the vehicle. It is believed that the original idea for the Chevrolet Volt concept car was inspired by the Tesla Motors Roadster which literally took the market by storm and is still one of the leading vehicles in the electric car market today.
In a certain sign of the times the actual production model of the Chevrolet Volt concept car was slightly different to that perceived when the first vehicle was revealed, purely and simply because of improvements in technology and the need to reduce drag on the vehicle as much as possible. This particular vehicle uses General Motors "Delta II" platform which the company claims will make the vehicles more efficient and aerodynamic than the likes of the Toyota Prius. However, like so many electric car companies around the world, General Motors is still struggling to extend the journey distances available using the electric supply system before the hybrid generator kicks-in.
As we have mentioned on more than one occasion in our recent articles, if there is one issue which continues to blight the development of the electric car market it is battery supply and their durability/life expectancy. General Motors has moved into the battery market with a number of commercial tie-ups to develop lithium ion battery packs and other potential power supply alternatives for the future. Whether this will indeed become a major area of General Motors ongoing future electric vehicle operations remains to be seen. However one thing is for certain, any company which can steal a march on its competitors in the area of power supplies and battery packs will have a massive advantage!
While many people are now warming to electric vehicles there is no doubt that we will see interest continue to grow in the hybrid market, which offers a backup power generation system. The Chevrolet Volt electric car is capable of travelling up to 50 miles on electric power alone before the vehicle needs recharging. However, after the batteries are no longer usable and require a recharge, the technology within the vehicle will see a gasoline powered generator kick-in which is able to recharge the batteries on an ongoing basis and extend the journey distance from 50 miles to in excess of 370 miles.
The U.S. authorities calculate that the fuel efficiency of the Chevrolet Volt in pure electric mode is around 93 mpg, although this does fall to 37 mpg in pure gasoline mode. This perfectly reflects the massive difference in efficiency between electric vehicles and gasoline/petrol/diesel vehicles which is why many people believe that the electric car industry is set to explode and take over traditional powered cars in the medium term. It is interesting to see that despite the development of three different types and different styles of recharging stations in the U.S. and around the world, the Chevrolet Volt battery pack can be charged using a residential electric socket.
The whole point of the electric car industry is based upon the requirement to reduce harmful emissions to an environment and there is no doubt that the Chevrolet Volt electric car is winning this particular battle at the moment. The official rating for the Chevrolet Volt is 84 g of carbon dioxide per mile which actually puts the vehicle ahead of the much publicised Toyota Prius.
The recycling, recharging and re-use of electric car batteries will become a major issue in the years ahead due in the main to the massive number of batteries required to power the cars of today. Even though this technology will continue to develop in the months and years ahead there will be a potentially enormous stockpile of used electric car batteries after the initial 10 year life span has been fulfilled. In time, it will become very easy to compare like for like electric and hybrid vehicles on their emissions policy, battery power, value for money and waste recycling capabilities.
The launch of the Chevrolet Volt electric car
The Chevrolet Volt electric car was officially launched in the U.S. on 30 November 2010, when the first finished vehicle for the mass-market rolled off the assembly line. The first vehicle was actually put to one side and takes pride of place in the General Motors Heritage Centre Museum in Michigan although the second vehicle was offered via a public auction with proceeds going to charity. After an opening bid of US$50,000 for the second vehicle off the assembly line the auction ended when Rick Hendrick placed a bid of US$225,000. If, as expected, the electric vehicle market continues to go from strength to strength then the value of the initial Chevrolet Volt electric car could skyrocket!
Value for money
The suggested retail price of the Chevrolet Volt begins at US$40,000 although some consumers may well be eligible for various government grants and government discounts. This will be a vital area of the electric car industry going forward because unless governments are willing to "invest" in the sector and push consumers towards this particular area it will be difficult to make ends meet in the short term. It is also interesting to see that companies such as General Motors/Chevrolet are also offering a lease type agreement on the Chevrolet Volt although historically this was available with the EV1 and look at the trouble that caused!
While there is no doubt that a US$40,000 ticket price is more than comparable and more than competitive when you take into account what you are buying, there are also massive benefits going forward with regards to the cost of running your vehicle. It is well known that electric vehicles use of a fraction of the cost per mile associated with traditional fuelled vehicles, which makes their ongoing attractions even greater. However, consumers must also be aware that at this moment in time the major cost associated with any electric vehicle going forward is the replacement of the underlying battery power. Unfortunately at the moment, the replacement of batteries, which can have a life span of up to 10 years, may cost consumers more than the car itself!
In many ways it is difficult for the likes of General Motors/Chevrolet to know where to position the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle because ultimately there is a need to gain a return on the significant investment so far while also attempting to appeal to the mass market. Slowly but surely, as other manufacturers join the party, we will see price competition emerge although ultimately it is unlikely we will see the cost of electric vehicles fall below their traditional fuelled counterparts in the short term.
As we confirmed above, the Chevrolet Volt was released into the U.S. market in December 2010 in a blaze of glory and has won many awards around the world. It is expected that the car will be introduced to the Canadian market in the second half of 2011, on sale in Europe in the same year and slowly but surely drip fed into markets such as Australia, Brazil, China and Japan in the months and years ahead. It seems that Chevrolet is more than happy to make hay while the sun shines with regards to the excellent response to the vehicle from the US and the worldwide motoring press.
The company also has plans to introduce a range of other electric vehicles in the months and years ahead as the Chevrolet Volt electric car is certain to open doors and catch the attention of consumers. Whether or not General Motors decided to release its first major mass-market electric/hybrid vehicle under the Chevrolet name to escape any unwanted comparisons with the disastrous EV1 debacle remains to be seen but there is no doubt the company is happy to keep the reputation and the launch of the Chevrolet Volt as s far removed from the EV1 controversy as possible.
The future of electric vehicles in the US
There is no doubt that the U.S. market is by far and away the largest for hybrid/electric vehicles and will remain so for many years to come. However, it is interesting to see that many American car manufacturers, and indeed many from the Far East, are targeting Europe immediately after their U.S. launches. This is an area which the UK government is very keen to become involved in and various agreements, grants and tax incentives for companies such as Nissan and Toyota should help in the short, medium and longer term. However, there is no doubt that a vehicle which is paned in America will struggle to make a worldwide impression - therefore the U.S. will always remain "the" market.
The Chevrolet Volt electric car is by far and away the most successful vehicle in the U.S. at the moment, taking advantage of renewed interest in electric vehicles and a requirement for a hybrid backup system in case of battery power failure. It is these two particular elements which are most prevalent within the Chevrolet Volt and indeed it is these two elements which are by far and away the two best selling points for the vehicle. However, while the likes of Chevrolet/General Motors and Tesla Motors continue to grab the headlines it is worth remembering that the U.S. authorities in particular have invested billions upon billions of dollars into this particular industry.
While there is no doubt that the electric car market of the future needs the likes of Chevrolet/General Motors and other sector leaders to invest significant amount of money, there is also a need for governments around the world to play their part. At this moment in time it seems that the U.S. authorities and the UK authorities have stolen something of a march in this particular area although other European, Far East and South American governments will in due course follow suit. Demand for electric vehicles is certain to grow in the short, medium and longer term and as such we could see a significant change in the worldwide traditional car market.