A Volt Visit, and an EV Tease from GM

Plug In America leaders and guests drove the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid in San Francisco and got some cheery news from GM about an all-electric version that will follow 6 months after the Volt’s launch in late 2010.

ACOG2 009 GM reps set up cones for a test-drive route in a parking lot near the San Francisco Giants baseball park, where we took turns flooring the accelerator, playing with the regenerative mode, asking questions, and wearing mile-wide grins because this is finally happening — the return of a plug-in electric vehicle by GM.

Photo: GM’s Tony Posawatz (back to camera) shows the Volt to (left to right, behind car) Meg Newman, Marc Geller, Dan Davids, Dale Miller, and Tom Dowling. All photos and videos by Sherry Boschert.

GM’s Rob Peterson joins me in the first video, and answers a few questions. In the second video, Tom Dowling of EV Charger News (and a former GM EV1 driver) gets behind the wheel with GM’s Tony Posawatz riding shotgun and Plug In America’s Marc Geller and myself in the back.

ACOG2 006 I’ll leave the more technical descriptions of the Volt to others to describe. From my vantage point, suffice it to say that it was a peppy, comfy ride (no knocking my knees from lack of leg room like in my RAV4-EV). Bucket seats in this four-door, four-seat hatchback.

ACOG2 007 Posawatz showed us the cord set that comes with the car, and the sizeable storage area beneath the roomy hatchback space behind the seats. The Volt will charge using either a 120-volt outlet or a 240-volt charger.

When it was my turn to drive, I needed to adjust the seat, and discovered one of the little ways that the car is designed to save its electricity for driving — the seat adjustment is a simple, mechanical maneuver, not electric. The Volt has a 40-mile electric range, after which a gasoline generator turns on to create electricity for the batteries, giving the car a total 300-mile range before you need to either plug in or get gas (or both). So, most of your daily driving would be electric, but for long distances it switches seamlessly into a 50-mpg series hybrid, essentially. On our test-drive day, we never got out of electric mode, though, so we’ll have to meet again to try it with the gas generator on!

ACOG2 015 The batteries will be warranteed for 10 years and 150,000 miles (as required of any kind of hybrid under California law). GM plans to announce the car’s price in early October, with the first Volts to be delivered near the end of the year.

During my ride with Tom Dowling driving, he activated a familiar (to him) sound at one point — a sort of chirp that serves as an alert to pedestrians that a quiet car is approaching. Listen for it in the video. (The lights flash too when the car chirps.) Same alert sound that was used in the EV1, Posawatz confirmed.

I asked Peterson how many Volts will be made, and whether GM could keep up with Nissan’s planned production of 100,000 of its all-electric Leafs by 2012, starting with deliveries late this year. “We’re going to put out as many as we can sell,” he said. Does that mean GM will produce more than the 60,000 or so Volts by 2012 that I’ve read so far? We’ll see. Either way, demand will outstrip supply for years to come.

I got a much more concrete answer when I asked when GM would sell an all-electric car — a mere 6 months after the launch of the Volt! That would put it somewhere in mid-2011, perhaps. It will have a bit more battery and lose the gas generator, so will be a lighter car overall, they said. What a one-two package that will be — the first company to sell both an EV and a PHEV! (See an update on the GM EV question in my subsequent blog post.)

–Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)

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