The Chevrolet Volt Reigns and Won't Get Challenged by Germans
The Frankfurt motor show opens next week, and news about the cars that will be introduced there are coming fast. There will be several new plug-in hybrids: Audi A3 e-tron, BMW i8, and Mercedes S-class, and others. But none have specifications that match those of the Chevrolet Volt.
The Volt is one the most incredible cars on the market today, and no automobile company dares challenge it. What sets the Volt apart is that it is a true EV, with a range-extender added, whereas all the plug-in hybrids are merely hybrids with a larger battery to increase their low-speed all electric range. It's time that we—as journalists, drivers, and EV fans all around the world—fully recognize and emphasize this difference.
The Volt is a true EV in a sense that it drives exactly the same with its battery charged or discharged. None of the plug-in hybrids introduced by the German brands are like that. Their electric mode is more like a reduced power mode. BMW was the first (I believe) to introduce a car with a valet-parking mode. It was the 2005 M5. This car normally made 507 horsepower, but there was a mode to reduce that power to 400 hp, in case the owner would give his car to some inexperienced driver. Ford followed, and in some new Ford cars, if the owner has a teenager, he can electronically limit top speed to 45 mph before handing over the keys. Those new plug-in hybrids are just like that. The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid is a great car with 416 ponies, but that drops down to 95 hp when driving on battery power. The Audi Sport Quattro concept which will be one of the stars of the Frankfurt show isn't better. It sure is a 700-horsepower monster that will get all the kids excited, but there's only 149 hp (110-kW) when in electric mode.
When you're in a fast food joint, the cashier always asks if the customer wants the regular, or the supersize burger. Most people go for the big one. When it comes to cars, plug-in hybrid buyers are most often only offered the choice of a half-sized burger. Their electric mode are limited to short city errands, low miles at low speed.
It's the Chevrolet Volt versus the world, but looking further it may be America against Germany. Plug-in hybrid technology is expensive technology, and to any German automaker, expensive technology calls for high performance. The exception is the Volkswagen XL1 at €111,000, but Volkswagen is not planning to build more than 250 units. GM had much higher volumes in mind when it conceived the Volt, just like the Germans now have for their regular plug-in hybrids. If it was fine for a $30,000 American plug-in hybrid to have a top speed of 100 mph, yet all the German models will have a top speed above 125 mph running on gas. Nobody should expect a fast EV with a range extender from Germany in the near future.
Electric power is for city driving, while the autobahn requires gasoline. Actually, it's quite true that EVs are poor performers on fast highway drives. It just takes too much energy to go more than 100 miles per hour. Batteries don't last long in such an exercise. That means a huge opportunity for GM. The company made it right, and it should not face any competition from a German automaker in the near future, nor from Toyota. That makes things easier for consumers. When someone wants to buy an EV with a gas range extender, there's no choice but to go to a Chevrolet dealer.
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