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Cold Weather Testing the Chevrolet Volt in the Great White North

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By Pam Fletcher
Global Voltec and Plug-In Hybrid Electric Powertrain Chief Engineer

Kapuskasing, Ontario Canada
Location:  Approx. 800 km/500 miles northwest of Toronto
Population:  8,509
Record Low Temp:  -47 degrees C
Today’s Forecasted High Temp:  -5 degrees C; Feels like -11 degrees C

White River1 shadowedThis may not sound like your ideal winter vacation destination, but for GM’s vehicle development teams, Kapuskasing is perfect.  The colder, the windier, the snowier, the better.  A bad day up here is a heat wave – when the temperature exceeds -5 degrees Celsius.  And I can’t wait to get up there!

This little town, founded in the early 20th century, offers ideal conditions for hunting, fishing and cold weather vehicle testing, especially in vehicles like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.  A few months ago we drove Volt development vehicles through 100+ degree temperatures in Death Valley and through the mountains of Tennessee.  Now the development team is up in Ontario to put the Volt through cold-weather testing paces.

We want to see how the vehicle responds in temperatures as low as -40 degrees C.  Basically, we try to simulate customer behavior to be sure the vehicle responds exactly as a customer would expect.  We spend hours opening and closing all hinges, including doors, trunk, glove box and interior consoles.  The vehicles are run through car washes.  We drive in the city and make frequent stops.  Highway routes allow us to test the vehicle at higher speeds for longer periods of time.

Despite the frigid temperatures, the Volt is engineered to handle extreme conditions.  The battery is warmed up during plug-in charging, which is recommended particularly in cold climates, but we realize not everyone will do this.  So at night, we plug-in some vehicles and some we don’t.  We want to ensure the vehicles start in the morning, or if the battery is too cold, we want to be certain the engine-generator starts first to protect the battery.  The engine-generator system will provide energy to heat battery if it was not plugged in or to supplement battery temperature.  By the time you remote start the car, or remote cabin conditioning as we refer to it in the Volt, pack up your things and get in, the car is ready to go.

And, there is little fear of driving through the frozen wilderness and becoming stranded due to limited EV range.  After up to 40 miles of electric driving, the same engine-generator that warmed up the battery kicks in to power the vehicle for several hundred more miles.  This enables us to spend hours each day testing the vehicle’s stability and performance on snowy, icy roads and at times in blizzard conditions.

We recently announced that California will be one of the first markets for the Volt, but this is a car for “anywhere” and that means for anyone, in any climate – from the beaches in Los Angeles to 17 inches of snow and single-digit temperatures in Detroit to 36 inches of snow in Washington D.C.

I’m heading up to Kapuskasing this afternoon with Volt vehicle chief engineer Andrew Farah and others, and we’ll keep you posted on how things are going.  We’ll even have a “civilian” with us as our advanced technology communications guy Phil Colley joins the crew for a couple days.  You can find all the latest details and behind the scenes activities on chevrolet.posterous.com and Facebook.com, or by following @philcolley, @chevyvoltage or @chevrolet on Twitter.  We’ll even try to mix in a live webchat on Wednesday evening, Feb. 17.  Stay tuned for more details and be sure to follow along with our activities the next couple days.


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