Chevrolet Volt Range-Extended EV Turns Three

Yesterday, Chevrolet’s first mass-produced plug-in car — the Chevrolet Volt — turned three. Or rather yesterday, the Volt celebrated three years of being on sale.

Unlike its closest rival, the Nissan LEAF — whose first customer lived in San Francisco — the Volt’s first retail customer was retired airline pilot Jeffrey Kaffee from Parsippany, New Jersey. Like other first deliveries, Kaffee’s Volt was handed over to him at a heavily-publicized press event at his local Chevrolet dealer, with plenty of local and national media in attendance.

The European version of the Volt  -- called the Ampera -- has helped total sales figures.

The European version of the Volt — called the Ampera — has helped total sales figures.

Since then, Chevrolet’s Volt has not only become a popular plug-in choice for buyers in the U.S. but all around the world. In Europe, where General Motors’ Opel and Vauxhall brands are more popular, the Volt is sold as the Opel (Vauxhall) Ampera. While the Ampera wears slightly different grille and bumpers to the Volt, it is mechanically the same car, albeit without OnStar connectivity.

In total, more than 50,000 Chevrolet Volts/Opel Amperas have been sold worldwide, with 2013 looking to set new sales records for the range-extended EV.

With a 16 kilowatt-hour T-shaped battery pack (16.5 kilowatt-hours for 2013 and newer models) the Chevrolet Volt has an EPA approved range of 35 miles (38 miles for 2013 and newer) in all-electric mode. Defaulting to electric only mode on startup, the Volt’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder range-extending gasoline engine kicks in when the battery pack is empty, powering a small 55 kilowatt generator which then feeds electrical power to the Volt’s 111 kilowatt electric motor.

Under certain circumstances, the Volt’s gasoline engine also drives the wheels directly, although this is a last-resort measure which occurs only when the car needs maximum power and the battery pack is depleted the Volt’s engine helps spin the outer casing of the main motor, helping it run more efficiently but not physically driving the wheels directly.

Because of its ability to drive in both electric and gasoline modes, the Chevrolet Volt has become a great conquest car for Chevrolet, bringing many of its Volt customers to the brand for the very first time. In addition to being a halo car for Chevrolet however, the Volt has become a great ambassador for electric cars among car buyers who don’t feel ready to dump the pump entirely just yet.

People buy the Volt for its range-extended, but often do everything they can to plug in.

People buy the Volt for its range-extended, but often do everything they can to plug in.

And that’s where the fun starts. While most people buy the Volt because they want to benefit from the car’s high combined fuel economy and ability to travel more than 350 miles in range extended mode when needed, the majority of Volt owners find themselves plugging in at every opportunity, going months or even years between visits to the gas station.

In other words, despite the fact that many Volt owners purchased a Volt so they wouldn’t get range anxiety and be stranded somewhere without a plug, most owners have come to learn that they don’t actually need the range-extended engine, opening the door for future all-electric ownership.

For that, and its global popularity, we have to wish the Chevrolet Volt a very happy birthday. Here’s to many more years — and we hope a second generation Volt with a larger battery pack and perhaps a more fuel efficient engine.

Do you have any Chevrolet Volt birthday wishes to share? Do you own one? What do you like best about it? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • vdiv

    Happy third birthday to the Volt!nnnGM was rather brave to make the Volt despite all of the internal and especially external naysayers. It also did the right thing after the crushing of the EV1 and to an extent the Volt has given GM a redemption. Technologically the Voltec drivetrain is still unmatched over four years of the completed design. The Volt is an affordable, attractive, fun to drive, safe, and practical everyday car. All this has resulted in many people buying their first GM product, a Volt, people that would have otherwise not done so.nnnnI’ve had mine for almost two years and it has changed my life. It has changed the way I drive, it has changed the way I think, it has made me far more patient yet somewhat less tolerant, it has changed the people with whom I associate and socialize, the places that I frequent, and it has indirectly changed my political outlook.nnnDespite the huge accomplishment with the Volt GM cannot rest on its laurels. As one of the largest and most influential car makers it has a responsibility to keep. It needs to retain its leadership by evolving the Voltec drivetrain and by putting it in a variety of vehicles to help proliferate plugins. Let’s hope that the recent rumors are true and that GM has a tightly guarded new EV in the works that may once again leapfrog the rest of the business.

  • vdiv

    This sentence “Under certain circumstances, the Voltu2019s gasoline engine also drives the wheels directly, although this is a last-resort measure which occurs nonly when the car needs maximum power and the battery pack is depleted.” is incorrect.nn(removed the condescending part — sorry)

    • Thanks for the feedback – -but isn’t Two-Motor Extended-Range Mode essentially driving the wheels from with both motors and engine?

      • vdiv

        The devil is in the 4ET50 transmission operating details and the language. :)nnn In charge-sustaining, dual motor mode the ICE engine can never drive the wheels directly as there is no clutch that can hold the MGB still. This means MGB has to provide torque, or be powered and spinning in the right direction for the ICE to deliver torque to the wheels. MGB is powered by the battery, which has its charge sustained by MGA, which is driven by the ICE. So both MGB and the ICE drive the wheels, making it a mixed serial/parallel hybrid mode. nnDual motor mode (charge depletion MGA and MGB, and charge-sustaining ICE and MGB) is used for high speed low torque demand cruising to improve efficiency by up to 15% where “high speed” can be as low as 35 mph. That apparently is still the case with the ELR where the same MGB can be driven at higher maximum power.nn Other parallel hybrid systems have a drivetrain inline-mounted el. motor which is less powerful than the ICE. Above a certain speed the el. motor is just going for the ride or working as a generator to siphon power and recharge the battery, so the vehicle is truly directly driven by the ICE, which provides most or all of the power.nnIn the Voltec case for maximum power however the 4ET50 falls back in a single motor mode, or MGB only, since it has about double the power of the ICE. Hence the maximum combined power is listed as 111 kW/149 hp, which is that of MGB.nnAlso the battery pack technically never gets depleted. The engine can be used in quite a few scenarios as the 4ET50 switches to charge-sustaining mode:nnMountain Mode;nHold Charge Mode;nEngine Run Due To Low temperature;nEngine Maintenance Mode;nFuel Maintenance Mode;nand of course when the battery reaches the minimum SoC for mandatory charge-sustaining mode. Even in this case the battery has an operating buffer on top of a safety minimum SoC level.nnAnyways, that is too much for the average Joe/Jane with no background knowledge looking for an efficient and capable plugin car. It is also too much for the average car salesman to explain it to them. So the perceived complexity that makes the Volt so good is also its drawback. The only good way to attract people to the car is to get them to drive it.