How GM "Lied" About The Electric Car
The Chevy Volt has been hailed as General Motors' electric savior. Now,
as GM officially rolls out the Volt this week for public consumption,
we're told the much-touted fuel economy was misstated and GM "lied"
about the car being all-electric.
In the past, and based on GM's claims, we've gone so far as to call the
Volt GM's "Jesus Car." And why wouldn't we call it that? We were told
the Volt would achieve 230 MPG fuel economy and would always use the
electric drivetrain to motivate the wheels only using the onboard
gasoline engine as a "range extender" for charging the batteries. It now
turns out that not only were those fuel economy claims misleading, but
the gasoline engine is actually used to motivate the wheels making the
Volt potentially nothing more than a very advanced hybrid car and
pushing some automotive journalists like Scott Oldham at Edmunds.com to
claim "GM lied to the world" about it.
First of all, let's talk about fuel economy. In August of last year, we
heard GM's then-CEO Fritz Henderson claimed with all the marketing might
it could muster at a Detroit-area press event, that the Chevy Volt
would get 230 MPG in city driving conditions. Now, as the Volt's being
tested by the auto trade press, we're seeing some surprisingly low fuel
economy figures amid the expected lavish praise buff books are heaping
upon the Volt.
Let's see what they've found out. Popular Mechanics saw just 37.5 MPG in
city driving. Car and Driver apparently didn't choose to use their wheel
time for any city driving but found with all-electric driving
"...getting on the nearest highway and commuting with the 80-mph
flow of traffic-basically the worst-case scenario-yielded 26 miles; a
fairly spirited back-road loop netted 31; and a carefully modulated
cruise below 60 mph pushed the figure into the upper 30s."
Motor Trend, like the rest of the trade press other than Popular
Mechanics, didn't appear to do any testing in city conditions, but did
"Without any plugging in, [a weeklong trip to Grandma's house]
should return fuel economy in the high 30s to low 40s."
They also parrot GM's new line of 25-50 miles of all-electric a far
cry from the 230 MPG they originally marketed that the "Volt provides
25-50 miles of real-world electric operation no matter how hard you flog
But while even providing only 10% of the fuel economy initially touted,
these more real-world figures are merely an exaggeration. The bigger
problem is that, as Mr. Oldham now claims, is that GM lied to them about
Since the Volt was first unveiled as a concept car, GM engineers, public
relations staff and executives have all claimed adamantly that the
internal combustion engine did not motivate the wheels. If that were the
case then the Volt would be nothing more than a very advanced hybrid.
Even as late into the development cycle as this June, we were told the
only drivetrain that motivated the wheels was the electric one. The auto
trade press swallowed the line, hook and the sinker. Sam Abulesmaid at
Autoblog even ran a piece headlined "Repeat after us: The Chevrolet
Volt's gas engine does not drive the wheels!." And why shouldn't he have
lapped it up when in online chats, the Volt's chief engineer Andrew
Farah was saying:
"you're correct that the electric motor is always powering the
wheels, whereas in a typical hybrid vehicle the electric motor and the
gasoline engine can power the wheels. The greatest advantage of an
extended-range electric vehicle like the Volt is the increased all
electric range and the significant total vehicle range combined."
This meant that the gasoline engine was nothing more than a "range
extender" designed to charge the batteries which would allow the
electric drivetrain to continue to move the car and allow GM to claim
that the Volt was something different, something new and something
worthy of taxpayer dollars.
It turns out that's not correct. We're now told by Volt's engineering
team that when the Volt's lithium-ion battery pack runs down and at
speeds near or above 70 mph the Volt's gasoline engine will directly
drive the front wheels along with the electric motors.
That means that for all of the all-electric or extended-range electric
vehicle (EREV) hype GM's imbuing in the Volt, it's really nothing more
than a plug-in hybrid vehicle. A very advanced plug-in hybrid, but a
That's enough for Mr. Oldham to claim GM lied to the world and to then
go ahead and endorse (via a retweet on Twitter) the all-electric Nissan
Leaf (full disclosure Mr. Oldham's brother works for Nissan) as the
only choice for an electric car.
It's enough for us to wonder why GM pushed the 230 MPG number in the
first place and why they didn't just come clean on the powertrain this
summer when asked a straightforward question.
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