230 Gasless Miles in 40-mile Chunks | Bleader

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

230 Gasless Miles in 40-mile Chunks

Posted By on 08.12.09 at 10:41 AM

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General Motors got our attention Tuesday by making a boast about its not-yet-on-the-market Volt automobile that I bet GM expects no one to take seriously. The AP story began:

"General Motors said Tuesday its Chevrolet Volt electric car could get 230 mpg in city driving, making it the first American vehicle to achieve triple-digit fuel economy if that figure is confirmed by federal regulators."

Will the American motorist think, "Wow! If it actually gets half that mileage, what a car!"?

Surely, GM hopes so. None of the press accounts I've seen took the GM claim at face value, which couldn't have surprised the manufacturer.

The AP quoted "senior analyst" Michelle Krebs, who said that "for most people, it is not realistic to expect that kind of mileage in real-world driving." The New York Times had Jack Nerad of Kelley Blue Book commenting, "Depending upon how you use the Volt, it can get mileage approaching that or much less. It almost becomes an abstract number." In the Chicago Tribune, senior engineer Jim Kliesch of the Union of Concerned Scientists advised GM to cool it. "It would be a real shame if such a promising technology got a bad rap because they raised expectations too high," said Kliesch.

The AP explained that the $40,000 Volt "is powered by an electric motor and a battery pack with a 40-mile range. After that, a small internal combustion engine kicks in to generate electricity for a total range of 300 miles. The battery pack can be recharged from a standard home outlet."

In other words, drive 300 miles and you're burning gas for 260 of them. At 230 mpg? Fat chance. But GM specified city driving, and the AP explained with this caveat: "The EPA guidelines, developed with help from automakers, figure that cars such as the Volt will travel more on straight electricity in the city than on the highway. If drivers operate the Volt for less than 40 miles, in theory they could do so without using a drop of gasoline."

As for mileage out on the highway, where the consumption of petrol is unavoidable, GM CEO Fritz Henderson said, "We are confident [that] will be a triple-digit."

By contrast, said the AP, Toyota's hybrid Prius — "which starts at about $22,000 — gets 51 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway."

It does? We drive a Prius. We've never gotten 51 mpg in the city or anything close to it. No car gets good mileage when it idles, and any Volt driver in Chicago can count on burning off a lot of his or her allotted 40 gasless miles sitting behind buses, or at red lights, or in gridlocked Cubs traffic, going nowhere. Once all the juice is tapped, either the gas engine switches on or it's back to the garage for an eight-hour recharge.

If memory serves, when we bought our Prius a few years ago the magic number being bandied about by Toyota was on the order of 65 mpg. That turned out to be a pipe dream. The 230 mpg smells like the product of an even more potent opiate.

Not that it matters. When driving is all about saving the planet, the idea of a righteous car is as good as the reality. Volt drivers will think their car is cool, and conversations about mileage will end with the same sort of blissful boiler plate we employ: "...even so, a lot better than we used to get with our Camry."

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