Is it an all-new vehicle?
No. Like Honda’s Fit and Insight, the Cruize and Volt share almost everything aside from styling and powertrains.
Will it save GM?
The Volt is a “halo” car: It won’t sell in large numbers, but it shows people what the company can do. This gives buyers more confidence when buying regular cars because they feel the same thinking went into their Malibu or Aveo.
This is also why the company has been advertising it for three years. As the rest of GM's lineup is updated the company is trying to cast itself as being an up-to-date and green, not a company whose key hybrid models were $60,000 full-size SUVs. However, putting so much emphasis on this one model could negatively effect the whole company if it’s anything less than stellar.
Why are journalists so mad about the powertrain changes?
GM has said over and over again since the first concept was unveiled that the Volt would be a series hybrid. In this powertrain the gas engine powers a generator and has no direct connection to the wheels. In effect such a vehicle is a “range extended” electric vehicle, recharging with gasoline power only when absolutely necessary. Since the motor only has to spin the generator it can be designed for very specific operating conditions to improve fuel economy. This would make the Volt a truly unique vehicle in the marketplace.
However, a few months before production began it was revealed that the Volt would be getting a parallel drivetrain. The engineers found that if they let the engine directly power the wheels at highway speeds they could get about 15% higher fuel economy. Although this only happens at speeds exceeding sixty miles per hour, this change makes the Volt little different from a Prius aside from its giant battery. In fact Toyota’s answer to the Volt is a Prius with a larger battery and plug-in charging.
Does this change matter? Consumers won’t notice a perceivable difference, but this doesn’t keep the press from feeling like they’ve been duped.
What happened to the “230 mpg” claim?
When GM was claiming this figure last year they were basing it on a then-developing EPA standard for rating electric vehicles. Now that these figures have been finalize the car is rated at only 93 “MPGe" or “Miles Per Gallon equivalent.” Once the battery has been depleted the car only gets about 32mpg in the city and 37 on the highway.
Does running on electricity really help the environment?
How green the electric mode is depends on how the electricity was generated, but even when coal is used the actual CO2 emissions is still far better than they would be with gasoline.
If it isn’t all it’s been promoted as, what’s the point?
The battery-only range for the car is around thirty-five miles which is enough juice to power the car through most drivers’ commutes. Outside of road trips most buyers of the Volt will find they don't need to buy gas and when they do they’ll have something that drives like a regular car.
Is the technology in the Volt revolutionary? No. Is the way it’s used revolutionary? Yes. For the first time drivers have a vehicle that can be powered by something other than petroleum while retaining all the practicality of a normal car. It won’t hold the market to itself for long, but it is the first and that may be enough to restore GM's image.