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Chevy Volt May Cure Gas Pains

Fuel-Efficient Hybrid Concept Car

An aerial view of the Chevy Volt concept car

The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is hanging around four dollars a gallon, an indication that driving is going to get more expensive in the future. No matter what your opinion is on politics or the world’s oil barons, the U.S. is undeniably edging closer to what other countries around the world have had to deal with for years: insanely high fuel prices.

So what do you do? Besides the usual driving and vehicle maintenance tips to maximize fuel mileage, the best course of action is to make a rational choice when buying a new vehicle. For instance, forget about a V8 when a V6 will do, or consider a smaller and more fuel-efficient crossover instead of an SUV. Diesel-fueled vehicles are an economically viable alternative, not only for the approximately 30-percent improvement in fuel economy, but because diesel fuel can be cheaper — up to 40 cents a gallon less in some parts of the country — than gasoline. Yet diesel offerings are few, and sweeping regulatory changes in emissions have caused manufacturers to re-think their game plan for diesel products. Hybrids offer excellent fuel economy by letting an electric motor do some of the work and are available in an ever-widening range of models.

Whatever you choose, by the time you’re down to the last few payments, General Motors may have their latest eco-friendly model of fuel efficiency on the lot, and you may never have to fill it at the pump.

Chevrolet Volt Concept Car

When GM first unveiled the Chevy Volt at Detroit's 2007 North American International Auto Show, we saw a futuristic design skinned with composite body panels. Nevertheless, even for a concept car, that wasn't the good stuff. The buzz with the Volt is the technology. To infer from the name that the Volt is an electric car is somewhat correct. It's a plug-in series-hybrid that incorporates both an electric motor and a small internal combustion engine. Nick Zielinski, chief engineer for the Chevy Volt, clarifies: “We like to think of it as an electric vehicle that has range extension. What’s unique about the Volt is that the engine never mechanically drives the wheels. It drives a generator which recharges the batteries, so it’s always operating as an electric vehicle.”

The Volt’s fully charged 16-kWh lithium-ion battery will propel the car for approximately 35 miles. When the battery is drained to about 30 percent of its charge, the four-cylinder, 1.4-liter naturally aspirated engine automatically takes over to drive the generator, charging the battery enough to continue on. GM estimates the Volt can attain 40 mpg highway while running on engine-recharge mode, allowing upt to a total of 375 miles on a full tank of gas.

Engineers designed the Volt with more in mind than just bladder-challenging long-distance drives. GM claims that more than half of Americans live within twenty miles of their jobs, so they don’t need to burn any fuel if they are driving a Volt. The Volt can be plugged into any normal household electrical outlet for a full charge in less than eight hours, making overnight charging easy. If you have a longer commute and want to avoid gas stations altogether, plug the Volt in at work (as long as your boss doesn’t care about several feet of extension cord running from your cube to your car).

A view of the powertrain on the Chevrolet Volt Concept Car

Notably, the Volt rides on an E-Flex platform, and the 2012 production model features a gasoline/E85-capable engine. At the 2007 Shanghai Auto Show, GM showed off other possibilities by unveiling a fuel cell variant of E-Flex, where a hydrogen fuel cell was used instead of a gasoline engine to charge the batteries.

While some people will no doubt recall the case of GM’s fully electric car, the EV-1, the company remains assured of the Volt's success. Considering the recent fuel prices, there is no doubt that there’s a huge market for cars that require little or no fuel, and that the Volt is an ideal vehicle to meet this demand.

Read a review of the 2012 Chevrolet Volt
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(Updated: 06/11/12 NW)