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Transportation Power

GM Criticized Over Chevy Volt's Hybrid Similarities 657

Attila Dimedici writes "This article says the Chevy Volt is not what GM claimed it was: an Extended Range Electric Vehicle. The Volt is simply a plug-in hybrid. Instead of a vehicle that is only driven with the electric drive train that uses a gasoline engine to charge the batteries, the Volt actually uses the gasoline engine to drive the front wheels at speeds above 70 miles per hour or when the batteries run down. Additionally, the Volt gets nowhere near the 230 mpg that GM was claiming for it. If this is all true, why did GM misrepresent the car? The facts as stated in the article make the Volt a pretty decent competitor to the Prius and other hybrids already on the market." A post at the Car Connection blog takes the opposing view, saying that accusations of GM "lying" are overhyped, since the capability to power the wheels with gasoline is reserved for situations where electricity isn't a viable option. The author says GM didn't mention this ability before now due to concerns over patents and competition from other companies.
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GM Criticized Over Chevy Volt's Hybrid Similarities

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  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:14PM (#33863694) Journal
    Seriously, A TRUE serial hybrid using multiple engine/generators DOES make sense for something like the hummer or even a semi. BUT, for small cars? Nope. Far better that these are pure electrics, and if you need a 'range extended', then simply buy a gas car. Here in the states, most families own 2 cars. It makes sense for most homes to buy an electric. But the idea of a car carrying both gas/electric makes zero sense. BTW, for those that think that trucks/hummer/semis do not make sense, well, let me point out that many trucks are used for job sites. As such, the engine/generator/battery is GREAT for providing electricity. Likewise, for a semi, the bulk of the time, the semi is cruising. As such, a simple engine/generator/motor can provide the power to move it. What is interesting is that an electric motor has far more torque than does an engine. This avoids the expensive and complex transmissions that semi's have. As such, it is perfect for getting heavy loads moving.
  • by fructose ( 948996 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:15PM (#33863710) Homepage

    Its a car that primarily electric driven and uses the gas engine when the batteries/motor can't cut it. Is it really that important what it's called? It's a car designed to be 'green' and that's what it's being sold as. The only thing that GM should be criticized for is the over estimation of the range you can expect. What we call is it pretty moot.

  • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:22PM (#33863780) Journal
    So, if the batteries are dead, the car runs like a regular gasoline-powered vehicle. And people are upset by this? Isn't that a great feature? I'd be kind of pissed if I drove a Volt, were stranded in the desert because the batteries died, and when I complained, "jeez, why can't you just make it so if the batteries are dead, the gas engine runs the car?" "Naw, then it wouldn't be an 'electric vehicle!'"
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:27PM (#33863810) Homepage

    From the car connection blog:

    The problem the buff books (and a few online outlets parroting their stance) have with the newly-announced ability of the Volt to supplement power with mechanical energy directly from the on-board 1.4-liter four-cylinder, is that it's no longer purely electric power driving the wheels.

    This is a distinction without a difference. You can burn gasoline to spin a generator to charge the batteries to power the electric motors, or you can partially skip the middle man and send some of that gas-generated power straight to the wheels. Either way, gas is burned to turn the wheels.

    Okay, I think that's a fair point, but in my view it does make a difference. It means the Volt has to have a transmission, which means extra weight and maintenance issues, and all the complexity of an ICE-based drivetrain. It means the Volt's ICE may have to run over a range of RPMs rather than solely running at an optimal RPM.

    So while I'm in tentative agreement that this isn't necessarily a lie, and that the Volt can still look appealing versus other hybrid options, it still makes a difference and reduces some of the advantages the Volt had.

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:40PM (#33863902) Journal
    First, you missed the batteries. Those add weight, and complexity. Now, you say that you want to add a small motor/generator. Well, as I pointed out, the RIGHT place for such an arrangement is larger trucks. The fact is, that if you need a range extension, then do one of serveral things:
    1. Buy a gas/diesel car. If you are going on long trips regularly, then you are better off doing this.
    2. Buy/rent a trailer with the generator. Seriously, if you need a range extender say once a year, then simply rent a trailer that has the ability to provide the electricity. Of course, the car has to be rigged for that.
    3. Buy a car that has fast charge.

    But it makes ZERO sense to have a 'range extended' car esp. in what is now a parallel system. Basically, GM is shipping a car based on profits to themselves, not based on what is good for customers.

  • by Assmasher ( 456699 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:41PM (#33863910) Journal

    ...did they benefit from because of this misrepresentation.

    There can be absolutely zero doubt that they knew they were being deceitful, although the purpose may have been relatively innocuous; however, when you add this to the other deceitful tactics they've already employed and have been debunked (230mpg anyone?) a pattern of behavior seems to emerge that would require seriously mitigating circumstances which aren't readily apparent.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:43PM (#33863930)

    It's a one-gear "transmission", where the engine can provide extra power to the wheels. GM actually should be praised for having a simpler, more efficient system than Toyota, but all people can do is scream "You Lie!" and "Government Motors!", because they think they're being clever.

    Other than being "pure EV", there is NO ADVANTAGE-- The loss of 10-15% energy converting from mechanical to electric to mechanical is significantly mitigated, the car is more efficient, performance doesn't suffer under the "highway speeds in charge sustaining mode", and it's a pretty simple modification to the gearset for the primary motor. It also finally answers the question of why they weren't using in-wheel motors. For the first 35-40 miles? All EV. Charge sustaining mode around town? EV with juice being supplied by gasoline engine. Over 70 mph with battery mostly depleted? Now the engine is engaged in the drive-train and you're getting extra oomph from the engine.

    Now, the people who are actually *driving the Volt seem to think it has better acceleration, braking and handling than a Prius, with all of the benefits, and none of the drawbacks... But by all means, let's continue to rant against GM for a difference that 90% of the American car buying public wouldn't even understand, or care about.

  • by guidryp ( 702488 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:45PM (#33863940)

    There still must be some detail missing from this picture.

    They added the extra complexity of a power combining mechanism for extra efficiency and then only use at 70MPH and beyond.

    That is outside EPA testing parameters, which means this extra complexity won't add anything to the all important for marketing EPA numbers.

    So just how bad would the efficiency have to be through the ICE/Generator/Motor to add extra complexity to be used over 70MPH.

    Something really doesn't add up.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:45PM (#33863942)

    I have a 15 mile commute (each way), and rarely am able to reach speeds of 70mph on my way to work -- 35 - 45 is more typical.

    The Volt would give me an all-electric commute, yet I can still drive it 200 miles to Tahoe on the weekends.

    The all-electric Leaf will give me around 70 miles of range, so no long weekend trips.

    The plug-in Prius (official version, not aftermarket conversions) would give me around 15 miles of all electric range.

    I fail to see the controversy - most people can have an all-electric commute with the Volt. It was already known that the ICE engine would kick in to supplement the battery, the fact that it supplements via mechanical connection in addition to charging seems immaterial.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:45PM (#33863948) Homepage

    "Owns a controlling stake" is synonymous with "owns" in the context of publicly traded companies, just as "buying 51% or more of the voting stock of the company" is synonymous with "buying the company".

  • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:45PM (#33863950)

    Why dont they have the ICE drive the generator which then drives the electric motor which drives the wheels? And do that at all speeds in all cases where the battery is out of juice?
    If the electric motor can handle highway speeds when the battery is full, there is no reason it cant handle highway speeds being driven by the generator set.

    If there are no mechanical linkages between the ICE and wheels, it becomes possible to swap the ICE (or ICE and generator) for something different. Such as a fuel cell. Or a different and better ICE.

    Also, the ICE would be able to be run without a transmission and be tuned to always run (when its running) at exactly the right speed to most efficiently run the generator.

  • by JesseMcDonald ( 536341 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:47PM (#33863966) Homepage

    The problem is powering the wheels directly from the engine significantly complicates the drivetrain. Before, you just had an electric motor driving the wheels, which means there was no need for a mechanical transmission. Moreover, the ICE was able to run at optimal RPMs because it only needs to power a generator, not supply power to the wheels at a wide range of speeds. This change mandates an automatic transmission (electric mode & multiple gears for ICE) plus variable-RPM support in the ICE.

    In short, they just removed the one feature which IMHO was actually interesting about the Volt, which was the modularity and simplicity of the drivetrain. I was interested before, but now that it's going to be at least as complex (read: failure-prone, high-maintenance) as every other parallel-hybrid on the market I don't see any reason to bother with it.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:49PM (#33863986) Homepage

    but all people can do is scream "You Lie!" and "Government Motors!", because they think they're being clever.

    If that's all you see, when replying to a post that is doing neither, then you have issues.

  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:52PM (#33864028)

    "Seriously, A TRUE serial hybrid using multiple engine/generators DOES make sense for something like the hummer or even a semi. BUT, for small cars? Nope. Far better that these are pure electrics, and if you need a 'range extended', then simply buy a gas car."

    Wrong. Volt-like cars are much better because you'll need much larger battery for pure electric cars. 40 miles is OK for Volt because it can fall back to gasoline at any time. Pure EV should have about 150-200 miles of range to be acceptable. Nissan Leaf with its 100 miles of range is barely acceptable for a fairly small niche.

    Also, your SECOND car will run on gasoline ALL the time, while with 2 GM Volts you can ride almost all the time without using any gasoline at all.

  • by Moridineas ( 213502 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:54PM (#33864038) Journal

    It makes sense for most homes to buy an electric

    Hmm.. I would think that statement needs some serious backing up?

    How many millions of people live in cities where they don't have driveways/houses? In other words, how many millions of people park on the street or some parking structure that is not remotely set up for plug-in cars? Currently i would think that an awful lot of city-dwellers, people who live in apartments, people who live in condos or even townhouses, are excluded. Heck, a lot of SFH-owners are probably excluded too!

    (I'm assuming that a plugin car is what you're talking about ?)

    But the idea of a car carrying both gas/electric makes zero sense

    Why? Isn't gas in essence a very efficient and very portable battery?

  • by Pharmboy ( 216950 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @07:03PM (#33864116) Journal

    Correct. And more importantly, it was accurate enough in the context of a joke. Reading the replies in the thread, including everyone taking "$400 hammers" as a serious claim, demonstrates that people on /. are losing their sense of humor. And their common sense to boot. This place used to be fun, back when the internet was hard to use.

  • by codepunk ( 167897 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @07:03PM (#33864124)

    I agree 100% with you, I think you will find however that Hybrid and EV owners not real good at math. I also think the volt price tag is closer to 40,000 which really pushes it into the stupidity category.

  • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @07:06PM (#33864148)

    Alternatively, you should never be driving the car at more than 70 mph as it is illegal to do so.

    Oh yeah? Here in Arizona the interstates are 75mph. In parts of Texas it's 80mph.

  • by cynyr ( 703126 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @07:44PM (#33864492)

    Or simply skip charging the batteries in the 70MPH situation and have a light come on that would mean "not enough spare power to charge the batteries currently"

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @08:48PM (#33865004) Homepage Journal

    I can see their problem from an engineer's perspective. Management and sales are demanding an MPG number on a car that can run all electric, all gasoline, or any combination of the two depending on owner's choice and circumstances. What can you do? Give 'em an honest worst case and best case, and tell 'em neither will likely happen in the real world. I wonder which number marketing will jump on....

  • by Dravik ( 699631 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @10:00PM (#33865410)
    The government does all that. But it costs money to maintain the dies and machines they go with in the event the production needs to be restarted. Congress almost always cuts the funding to maintain the production capability 10 years or so after production stops. About 15 years or so after production stops, congress cuts the funds for the replacement equipment. Thus requiring very expensive limited run productions to keep the old fleet in service.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 11, 2010 @10:14PM (#33865504)

    You know, I've got two Prius' and the only fuel I've ever put in them is gasoline. I don't call those hybrids. I call them gasoline powered automobiles. Good MPG, good handling, etc. but just gasoline cars with a good energy savaging system. Kind like really good turbo chargers.

  • by beav007 ( 746004 ) on Monday October 11, 2010 @10:20PM (#33865542) Journal
    Because people clearly buy hybrid cars for track use.
  • And that of course is just the posted limits which I've found is often not what the actual limits on a given road usually are. Here in AR the limit is 70MPH on the freeway but the cops don't care to bother unless you hit above 80-85MPH depending on road conditions. Talking to cops most said they consider "safe driving speed" more than caring about actually posted limits and on the long flat freeways don't care if you drive 85MPH as long as you aren't being stupid like playing with your cell.

    As for TFA they probably lied because hybrids suck compared to small ICE vehicles, at least ATM. when you figure in the most substantial use of resources is in the manufacture of a vehicle, and a good well built ICE can last 20 years if well maintained VS...what do those batteries last now? 5 years under perfect conditions? Unless your last vehicle was a Hummer I just don't see a hybrid breaking even for most folks. Hell my Ranger gets a whole 14MPG (according to the government. I've found it gets more like 22-26 depending on conditions and whether my foot is feeling leaded that day) but since it is low maintenance, paid for, and I only average one 100 mile trip a month with the rest being under 30, I actually don't have to spend that much for gas as long as I keep my foot off it. with our hot summers I doubt the batteries on one of those hybrids would last more than 3 years around here, making any gas I could have saved irrelevant.

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @12:29AM (#33866170) Journal

    Ya know..... if you did just a little bit of research..... you'd know that US Priuses are now ten years old. I've not heard of rampant failures at the 5 or 3 year mark. Have you?

  • by Internetuser1248 ( 1787630 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @02:04AM (#33866552)

    At the beginning I guess: Evidence, the links you provided have plenty, thank you for saving me answering this part.

    The fact is that public transport at least, consumes more energy per mile than cars.

    Actually if you read that table again, you will see that cars are the worst on the list, with the exception of light rail. I could not find the light rail figures in the data linked (no I didn't read all of it so if someone could point me to the relevant table I would appreciate it) so I can only presume the examples cited are among the worst run and designed public transport systems in the world. Apart from this the car is the worst, followed by buses.

    the incredibly cheap costs of highway construction

    What evidence do you have to back up this? Highways are massively expensive especially in city centres. Highways cost around $1 million per lane mile in the most simple circumstances and as commuter tansit around a large already built up city they are astronomical, not to mention the upkeep and repair costs of highway are much higher than rail. some figures [] if you have as much trouble accessing that link as I am at the moment you can view screenshots of it here []

    In addition these figures are for mass transit in the USA, an unashamed car culture. As your own link notes:

    Don't Europe and Asia do better? Much better. This Australian Study cites figures saying that Western Europeans use only 76% of U.S. BTUs/pm in their private transport, and only 38% in their transit -- 2.5 times more efficient. Rich Asians do even better at transit -- they are almost 4 times as efficient in terms of energy/passenger-mile.

    So it is possible to do it 4 times better than those figure that the car is already at the second to last place on.


    Finally, repeat after me, there is no energy shortage. There is no energy shortage. There is no energy shortage. There is an energy collection, storage, and distribution problem.

    Well I hate to break it to you, but collection, storage and distribution problems result in there being less energy available for use than we want and need, this is the definition of a shortage []

  • by pavera ( 320634 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @02:20AM (#33866620) Homepage Journal

    Its not deceitful, you just have to have a sliver of a brain, and use it. Generally when someone makes an outlandish claim to me, my first reaction is "well, that is clearly not possible following the rules of how the world works that I know, so either this person is lying to me, or they are applying a different set of rules" Then I proceed to figure out which they are doing.

    In this case, there IS NOT AN HONEST STRAIGHT FORWARD WAY for GM to represent the mileage of this car, because the GOVERNMENT has not provided a way to do so... Sure that leaves the door open for applying whatever standard GM chooses, but it doesn't excuse people from using their brains to at least attempt to understand things. Hence my claim that people are being idiotic. If you just blindly believe someone when they say "Oh I have this 25k RPM Hard Drive" then yes, you are an idiot.

  • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @04:02AM (#33866990) Homepage Journal

    ``If you use a commonly used metric to describe an attribute of your car and that commonly used metric doesn't mean anything close to what you're using it for, you're being deceitful.''

    Problem is, they couldn't have. The EPA had not established a standard test cycle for the kind of car that the Volt is. So as far as using the commonly used metric the way it's commonly used (i.e. reporting performance on the EPA test cycles), it could not have been done. This has been known pretty much from the beginning. Now, they could have done any number of things. They could have tested their car on one of the already established EPA test cycles. They could have claimed "MPG? For most city driving, you won't be using any gasoline at all!" They could have cooked up some kind of equivalence formula. Or they could have waited for the EPA to come up with a test cycle for their kind of car, and gone with that.

    According to many [] sources [] on [] the [] web [], the 230 miles per gallon figure was based on preliminary/draft specifications for a new EPA city test cycle developed specifically for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, with final ratings to be determined by testing after the EPA test cycles for PHEVs would be determined. Does that strike you as GM being deceitful?

  • by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @07:56AM (#33867922)

    You can't compare a hypothetically full car with the average-filled train. It would be just as silly as comparing a hypothetically full train -- using a complete guess of 400 passengers gives almost 900mi/gal, several times more efficient than anything else on the list.

    The article already includes a 1.57-passengers car (35mi/gal), and an average train of 22 passengers (48mi/gal).

  • by jdong ( 1378773 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:15AM (#33868512)
    Whether or not you can drive 40 miles is irrelevant -- that's just a function of the size of the battery. The problem is the weakling 50kW generator cannot supply enough continuous current to actually function as an electric vehicle. It's a plugin hybrid with a large battery, nothing more, technologically. Of course for practical purposes, if it's worth an extra $15,000 or so to extend the range of your plugin Prius from 15 to 30 miles, then this information doesn't matter. But given that GM has been boasting the technological superiority of the Voltec platform and that it should be in its own class (extended range electric vehicle), this information matters.

    (I'm a former Hybrid Electrical Vehicle Power Management Technical Consultant for a large defense contractor)
  • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:50AM (#33868972)
    My personal favorite is Senator Coburn, who pays a staffer to ferret out "waste" in the millions of dollar range and blather about it on the internet, while Coburn himself is in the Senate working tirelessly to extend the trillions of dollars of tax cuts for billionaires, which is responsible for about a third of our deficit.
  • by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:14AM (#33869292)

    But since the industry moved faster than the speed of government bureaucracy, this basically meant the government was paying to keep the old equipment running to produce the old detergent.

    It's worth noting that government bureaucracies move no slower (and often faster) than private industry bureaucracies.

    This is adequately demonstrated by GM's glacial pace of operations; the most significant innovations at GM in the last 80 years were driven by government mandates (seatbelts, fuel efficiency, pollution control, etc.) GM is literally slower than the intentionally deliberate processes of a democratic republic!

    Organizations that have no bureaucracy - that run tight - can be very fast by comparison. But despite political rhetoric to the contrary, being a "government" bureaucracy does not automagically make something inefficient.

    Any sort of bureaucracy (or large consensus-process effort) slows things down. That's why the military doesn't stop to vote on stuff on the battlefield - even the Finns save that kind of process for base camp. Dictatorship is fast and risky, checks and balances are slower and (most of the time) safer.

    In a capitalist economy, investors decide which kind of leadership an enterprise needs at any given time, until a company grows too large to be led by anyone or anything but its own inertia. I think GM hit that wall decades ago.

... though his invention worked superbly -- his theory was a crock of sewage from beginning to end. -- Vernor Vinge, "The Peace War"