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Everything you ever wanted to know about the Chevy Volt

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Everything you ever wanted to know about the Chevy Volt

BY MARK PHELAN, CHRISSIE THOMPSON AND BRENT SNAVELY

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITERS

The Chevrolet Volt starts arriving in buyers' driveways in limited markets outside of Michigan this month, but some confusion remains about everything from how the Volt works to why General Motors is building it.

That's not good for a vehicle that must prove it's not a gimmick to fulfill its mission: be an icon and transform the image of GM.

Today, the Free Press answers your Volt questions:

QUESTION: Can people come and take a tour of the plant and watch the Volt being built? Is there an education center about the Volt? -- reader John C. Tyrrell

ANSWER: The Detroit-Hamtramck plant where workers assemble the Volt will have interactive, educational displays in its lobby next year. GM is also planning a reservation-based tour program for the public that will start next year.

Q: Why is the Volt considered an electric vehicle when actually it is a hybrid? -- reader Dennis Bonucchi

A: The Volt is very different from hybrids like the Escape, Insight and Prius. The Volt's wheels are turned by electricity only -- not by the gasoline engine. The gas engines in hybrids turn the wheels most of the time. A Volt owner driving 40 miles or so between charges may hardly use gasoline.

Volt performance

QUESTION: How does it work?

ANSWER: An electric motor drives the wheels. When fully charged, the Volt's battery has enough energy to cover about about 35 miles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Once the battery is drained, the onboard generator, a 1.4-liter gasoline engine, switches on and makes more electricity. You can keep driving while the generator runs and then recharge the battery when you stop using a regular electrical outlet or a charging station designed for any electric vehicle.

Q: How long does it take to recharge the battery from no to full charge? At what voltage and amperage? -- Free Press reader John Bleha

A: A regular 120-volt, 15-amp outlet -- the outlets throughout most of your home -- will fully charge a drained Volt battery in 10 to 12 hours. If you want to charge it faster, you need to buy a charging station to be connected to a 240-volt, 20-amp hookup like the one that powers your dryer.

Q: Do you have to fully charge the battery before you use it, like you have to with other battery-powered devices?

A: No. You can start off with no charge in the battery, as long as you have gas in the tank. The gasoline-powered generator will make enough electricity to power the car, but it won't recharge the battery. So before you can drive on battery-only power again, you'll need to plug in. The Volt saves the most fuel and emissions when used primarily on battery power.

Q: Is it true that it can only go 40 miles at a time?

A: The Volt's battery will carry it 40 miles or so. (GM has started saying 25 to 50, to account for extreme circumstances, and the EPA estimate is 35.) Beyond that, the car keeps going because a gasoline-powered generator makes more electricity. That makes the Volt the only electric vehicle that can go as far as a conventional car -- an estimated 379 miles, according to the EPA -- before refueling. And if you need to drive farther than that before recharging, just put more gas in the tank.

Q: If some drivers get less than 40 miles from a battery charge, does that mean the Volt is a fraud?

A: Just as with gasoline cars, driving style, weather and other variables affect fuel efficiency. Auto Critic Mark Phelan has driven fully charged Volts three times. The battery took him 40, 46 and 35 miles. After that, the generator turned on and the car kept going.

Q: Is the Chevy Volt that different from hybrids, such as the Ford Fusion? Both have gasoline engines and can run on battery. The Volt needs a plug ... It just seems that the Fusion will be less hassle. -- Free Press reader Mark Sanders, who plans to buy a new car in the coming weeks

A: The most advanced hybrids can go short distances at moderate speeds -- let's say a couple of miles at 20-40 m.p.h. -- on electric power alone. But for the rest of their road time, they use at least some gasoline. The Volt can be driven much farther and faster on battery power alone. And remember, you can drive it without plugging it in. You just won't get the benefits of emissions-free driving. Drivers will have to decide whether factors such as their commuting distance and budget make the Volt a worthwhile purchase.

Q: Will performance be compromised in really hot or cold weather?

A: Extreme temperatures may affect how far the batteries take the car before the generator starts, but neither heat nor cold will stop the Volt.

Q: How is the extended-range Volt different from the all-electric Nissan Leaf?

A: The Leaf won't move when its battery is out of charge. The Volt will. The Volt can cover about 380 miles on its battery and a tank of gas for its generator. The Leaf's range is about 70 miles, according to the EPA, or up to 100, according to Nissan. After that, you have to plug the Leaf into a 240-volt outlet for at least eight hours to recharge fully.

Q: How much am I likely to spend on electricity instead of gas for a Volt?

A: You'll spend about 4 cents per mile on battery-only driving, according to the EPA. Gas-only driving -- that's if you never recharge the battery -- will cost upward of 9 cents per mile, the government says. (That assumes gas costs $3.20 a gallon.) If you use the full battery charge and keep driving on generator power, you'll spend something between those two amounts.

Q: What gas mileage will I get when the car is running on generator power?

A: The EPA estimates you'll get 35 m.p.g. in the city and 40 m.p.g. on the highway, for 37 m.p.g. combined.

About the battery

Q: I've heard the battery will die after eight years. Is that true?

A: The Volt's warranty covers the battery for eight years or 100,000 miles, but it should last much longer. Companies make sure parts -- especially expensive parts like batteries -- last well beyond the warranty, because it's expensive when they miscalculate and must eat repair and replacement costs. The batteries in the original Honda Insight hybrid still work after more than 10 years. And GM designed the Volt battery to have at least a 10-year, 150,000-mile life, GM spokesman Rob Peterson said. Some state-specific regulations may require GM to raise the warranty later.

Q: How many batteries does the Volt have? What would be the cost to replace them? -- reader Michael Douglas

A: The Volt has one battery pack, assembled in Brownstown Township. It's 5.5 feet long, shaped like a T, and weighs 435 pounds. That battery contains 288 cells. The flat, laminated, 5-by-7-inch cells each weighs a little less than a pound, according to Prabhakar Patil, CEO of Troy-based Compact Power. The cells currently come from LG Chem in South Korea, but Compact Power, an LG Chem subsidiary, will start making them in Holland, Mich., in 2012.

Peterson declined to provide the current cost of the battery. For now, all you need to know is that GM will foot the cost of repairing or replacing the battery during the time covered by the transferable warranty. Once drivers start nearing the end of the warranty, GM expects the battery to cost less than it does today, Peterson said, as the technology becomes more common.

Electric infrastructure

Q: What are utility companies doing to prepare for the launch of cars like the Volt and Leaf?

A: Utility companies, municipalities and manufacturers such as General Electric that build charging stations are working with the automotive industry to install thousands of public and private charging stations over the next several years.

For instance, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy have pledged to cover up to $2,500 for the charger and installation costs for 2,500 Michigan families. The Lansing Board of Water and Light will provide another 25 charging stations to its customers.

Q: About how much will it cost to get a 240-volt outlet installed in my garage to plug in an electric car?

A: GM is selling a charger for $490 plus installation, performed by Warren-based SPX for an estimated $1,475. But Volt drivers can use other chargers, including those provided free in federal programs that work with California-based Coulomb Technologies and ECOtality. Together, the two companies will provide nearly 20,000 free charging stations for plug-in vehicles.

Electric car strategy

Q: Is GM looking at expanding its Volt technology to other vehicles?

A: Yes. GM calls this its Voltec technology. While it hasn't announced any definite plans, Micky Bly, who heads engineering for batteries and electric vehicles, in September told the Free Press that GM could use Voltec to power any vehicles except large trucks. GM plans a plug-in hybrid and other Voltec-powered vehicles for brands including Cadillac, he said.

Q: Why wasn't Michigan selected as an initial market for the Volt? When will it be here?

A: Stores in California, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, will get Volts this month. The car arrives in Michigan, New Jersey, Connecticut and the rest of New York and Texas starting in March. GM plans for the rest of the country to get the car within 18 months.

Michigan is one of GM's strongest markets, and the company wanted to send its newest, greenest car first to markets in which it in recent years has had less success, Peterson said. California and Austin, for instance, have green-minded, tech-savvy buyers who may be giving Chevrolet a shot for the first time.

Q: How do I order a car?

A: GM doesn't have a nationwide waiting list. So just call your local Chevrolet dealership and ask whether it will sell the Volt and how you can put in an order.

Q: How much does it cost?

A: The Volt costs $41,000, compared with the Leaf's $32,780. A federal tax credit knocks up to $7,500 off both vehicles' prices, and some states offer more tax incentives. But their leases are comparable: The Volt leases for $350 a month for 36 months after a $2,500 down payment. The Leaf's is a $349-a-month lease for 36 months after $1,999 down.

Q: How can I test-drive one?

A: Visit a dealer that's selling Volts. To sell the Volt, a Chevy dealer must agree to keep one as a demo and install a couple of charging stations. GM hopes curious people will come to stores to see the Volt and also find out about vehicles like the Chevrolet Cruze compact. About 90% of all Chevrolet dealers in the first seven markets, including Detroit, will sell the Volt, spokesman Peterson said.

Q: How will dealers handle having more orders than available Volts?

A: Most stores are keeping a first-come, first-served waiting list. But the procedure is up to the dealership. Dealers will receive Volts in basically the same way GM doles out its other cars: Stores that typically sell more vehicles will get more Volts.

Q: Why can't GM just make more Volts to meet demand?

A: GM plans to build 10,000 Volts by the end of 2011 and at least 45,000 in 2012. While the company has declined to release the number of Volt orders, North American President Mark Reuss has said more than 240,000 people have already indicated their interest in the car by registering to receive product information on the Web.

CEO Dan Akerson has said GM is studying ways to increase production by two or three times, perhaps as soon as 2012. The Detroit-Hamtramck plant where the Volt is built runs only one shift, when many GM plants are running three.

But the first year's production is low for a reason, spokesman Peterson said.

"Quality is extremely important for us," he said. "We're introducing an all-new vehicle to our dealers, to our customers, and to our technicians. We need to make sure that they're ready -- and that the 3,000 utility companies that will provide the energy to power these vehicles are also ready."

Politics and the Volt

Q: It seems as though the Volt has become a dividing issue between Republicans and Democrats, and I've heard the Volt being criticized by some Republicans. Why is that? Does it make sense?

A: Criticizing GM has become a proxy some people use to attack the Obama administration, because GM -- and the Volt -- wouldn't exist if the government hadn't rescued the company, a decision that some Republicans opposed.

Q: Did the government force GM to build it?

A: GM began work on the Volt in 2006, long before the government assistance that saved the company. The presidential auto task force pointed out that the Volt won't make money for at least the first few years. GM told the government the technology was too important and the Volt program had to continue.

Volt performance

QUESTION: How does it work?

ANSWER: An electric motor drives the wheels. When fully charged, the Volt's battery has enough energy to cover about about 35 miles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Once the battery is drained, the onboard generator, a 1.4-liter gasoline engine, switches on and makes more electricity. You can keep driving while the generator runs and then recharge the battery when you stop using a regular electrical outlet or a charging station designed for any electric vehicle.

Q: How long does it take to recharge the battery from no to full charge? At what voltage and amperage? -- Free Press reader John Bleha

A: A regular 120-volt, 15-amp outlet -- the outlets throughout most of your home -- will fully charge a drained Volt battery in 10 to 12 hours. If you want to charge it faster, you need to buy a charging station to be connected to a 240-volt, 20-amp hookup like the one that powers your dryer.

Q: Do you have to fully charge the battery before you use it, like you have to with other battery-powered devices?

A: No. You can start off with no charge in the battery, as long as you have gas in the tank. The gasoline-powered generator will make enough electricity to power the car, but it won't recharge the battery. So before you can drive on battery-only power again, you'll need to plug in. The Volt saves the most fuel and emissions when used primarily on battery power.

Q: Is it true that it can only go 40 miles at a time?

A: The Volt's battery will carry it 40 miles or so. (GM has started saying 25 to 50, to account for extreme circumstances, and the EPA estimate is 35.) Beyond that, the car keeps going because a gasoline-powered generator makes more electricity. That makes the Volt the only electric vehicle that can go as far as a conventional car -- an estimated 379 miles, according to the EPA -- before refueling. And if you need to drive farther than that before recharging, just put more gas in the tank.

Q: If some drivers get less than 40 miles from a battery charge, does that mean the Volt is a fraud?

A: Just as with gasoline cars, driving style, weather and other variables affect fuel efficiency. Auto Critic Mark Phelan has driven fully charged Volts three times. The battery took him 40, 46 and 35 miles. After that, the generator turned on and the car kept going.

Q: Is the Chevy Volt that different from hybrids, such as the Ford Fusion? Both have gasoline engines and can run on battery. The Volt needs a plug ... It just seems that the Fusion will be less hassle. -- Free Press reader Mark Sanders, who plans to buy a new car in the coming weeks

A: The most advanced hybrids can go short distances at moderate speeds -- let's say a couple of miles at 20-40 m.p.h. -- on electric power alone. But for the rest of their road time, they use at least some gasoline. The Volt can be driven much farther and faster on battery power alone. And remember, you can drive it without plugging it in. You just won't get the benefits of emissions-free driving. Drivers will have to decide whether factors such as their commuting distance and budget make the Volt a worthwhile purchase.

Q: Will performance be compromised in really hot or cold weather?

A: Extreme temperatures may affect how far the batteries take the car before the generator starts, but neither heat nor cold will stop the Volt.

Q: How is the extended-range Volt different from the all-electric Nissan Leaf?

A: The Leaf won't move when its battery is out of charge. The Volt will. The Volt can cover about 380 miles on its battery and a tank of gas for its generator. The Leaf's range is about 70 miles, according to the EPA, or up to 100, according to Nissan. After that, you have to plug the Leaf into a 240-volt outlet for at least eight hours to recharge fully.

Q: How much am I likely to spend on electricity instead of gas for a Volt?

A: You'll spend about 4 cents per mile on battery-only driving, according to the EPA. Gas-only driving -- that's if you never recharge the battery -- will cost upward of 9 cents per mile, the government says. (That assumes gas costs $3.20 a gallon.) If you use the full battery charge and keep driving on generator power, you'll spend something between those two amounts.

Q: What gas mileage will I get when the car is running on generator power?

A: The EPA estimates you'll get 35 m.p.g. in the city and 40 m.p.g. on the highway, for 37 m.p.g. combined.

About the battery

Q: I've heard the battery will die after eight years. Is that true?

A: The Volt's warranty covers the battery for eight years or 100,000 miles, but it should last much longer. Companies make sure parts -- especially expensive parts like batteries -- last well beyond the warranty, because it's expensive when they miscalculate and must eat repair and replacement costs. The batteries in the original Honda Insight hybrid still work after more than 10 years. And GM designed the Volt battery to have at least a 10-year, 150,000-mile life, GM spokesman Rob Peterson said. Some state-specific regulations may require GM to raise the warranty later.

Q: How many batteries does the Volt have? What would be the cost to replace them? -- reader Michael Douglas

A: The Volt has one battery pack, assembled in Brownstown Township. It's 5.5 feet long, shaped like a T, and weighs 435 pounds. That battery contains 288 cells. The flat, laminated, 5-by-7-inch cells each weighs a little less than a pound, according to Prabhakar Patil, CEO of Troy-based Compact Power. The cells currently come from LG Chem in South Korea, but Compact Power, an LG Chem subsidiary, will start making them in Holland, Mich., in 2012.

Peterson declined to provide the current cost of the battery. For now, all you need to know is that GM will foot the cost of repairing or replacing the battery during the time covered by the transferable warranty. Once drivers start nearing the end of the warranty, GM expects the battery to cost less than it does today, Peterson said, as the technology becomes more common.

Electric infrastructure

Q: What are utility companies doing to prepare for the launch of cars like the Volt and Leaf?

A: Utility companies, municipalities and manufacturers such as General Electric that build charging stations are working with the automotive industry to install thousands of public and private charging stations over the next several years.

For instance, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy have pledged to cover up to $2,500 for the charger and installation costs for 2,500 Michigan families. The Lansing Board of Water and Light will provide another 25 charging stations to its customers.

Q: About how much will it cost to get a 240-volt outlet installed in my garage to plug in an electric car?

A: GM is selling a charger for $490 plus installation, performed by Warren-based SPX for an estimated $1,475. But Volt drivers can use other chargers, including those provided free in federal programs that work with California-based Coulomb Technologies and ECOtality. Together, the two companies will provide nearly 20,000 free charging stations for plug-in vehicles.

Electric car strategy

Q: Is GM looking at expanding its Volt technology to other vehicles?

A: Yes. GM calls this its Voltec technology. While it hasn't announced any definite plans, Micky Bly, who heads engineering for batteries and electric vehicles, in September told the Free Press that GM could use Voltec to power any vehicles except large trucks. GM plans a plug-in hybrid and other Voltec-powered vehicles for brands including Cadillac, he said.

Q: Why wasn't Michigan selected as an initial market for the Volt? When will it be here?

A: Stores in California, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, will get Volts this month. The car arrives in Michigan, New Jersey, Connecticut and the rest of New York and Texas starting in March. GM plans for the rest of the country to get the car within 18 months.

Michigan is one of GM's strongest markets, and the company wanted to send its newest, greenest car first to markets in which it in recent years has had less success, Peterson said. California and Austin, for instance, have green-minded, tech-savvy buyers who may be giving Chevrolet a shot for the first time.

Q: How do I order a car?

A: GM doesn't have a nationwide waiting list. So just call your local Chevrolet dealership and ask whether it will sell the Volt and how you can put in an order.

Q: How much does it cost?

A: The Volt costs $41,000, compared with the Leaf's $32,780. A federal tax credit knocks up to $7,500 off both vehicles' prices, and some states offer more tax incentives. But their leases are comparable: The Volt leases for $350 a month for 36 months after a $2,500 down payment. The Leaf's is a $349-a-month lease for 36 months after $1,999 down.

Q: How can I test-drive one?

A: Visit a dealer that's selling Volts. To sell the Volt, a Chevy dealer must agree to keep one as a demo and install a couple of charging stations. GM hopes curious people will come to stores to see the Volt and also find out about vehicles like the Chevrolet Cruze compact. About 90% of all Chevrolet dealers in the first seven markets, including Detroit, will sell the Volt, spokesman Peterson said.

Q: How will dealers handle having more orders than available Volts?

A: Most stores are keeping a first-come, first-served waiting list. But the procedure is up to the dealership. Dealers will receive Volts in basically the same way GM doles out its other cars: Stores that typically sell more vehicles will get more Volts.

Q: Why can't GM just make more Volts to meet demand?

A: GM plans to build 10,000 Volts by the end of 2011 and at least 45,000 in 2012. While the company has declined to release the number of Volt orders, North American President Mark Reuss has said more than 240,000 people have already indicated their interest in the car by registering to receive product information on the Web.

CEO Dan Akerson has said GM is studying ways to increase production by two or three times, perhaps as soon as 2012. The Detroit-Hamtramck plant where the Volt is built runs only one shift, when many GM plants are running three.

But the first year's production is low for a reason, spokesman Peterson said.

"Quality is extremely important for us," he said. "We're introducing an all-new vehicle to our dealers, to our customers, and to our technicians. We need to make sure that they're ready -- and that the 3,000 utility companies that will provide the energy to power these vehicles are also ready."

Politics and the Volt

Q: It seems as though the Volt has become a dividing issue between Republicans and Democrats, and I've heard the Volt being criticized by some Republicans. Why is that? Does it make sense?

A: Criticizing GM has become a proxy some people use to attack the Obama administration, because GM -- and the Volt -- wouldn't exist if the government hadn't rescued the company, a decision that some Republicans opposed.

Q: Did the government force GM to build it?

A: GM began work on the Volt in 2006, long before the government assistance that saved the company. The presidential auto task force pointed out that the Volt won't make money for at least the first few years. GM told the government the technology was too important and the Volt program had to continue.

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101205/BUSINESS01/12050672/1331/Everything-you-want-to-know-about-the-Chevy-Volt&template=fullarticle

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Mark sure seems to be the standout Volt supporter.

"The Volt's wheels are turned by electricity only -- not by the gasoline engine."

That's wrong. It is a shame when an article which is supposed to inform does the exact opposite. I guess GM's... intentional incorrectness... on this issue has had the intended effect.

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