The Venturi Volage, the Most Promising EV Ever, Should Make it to the Streets in 2012
Electric cars are still a rare sight on the road, but I don't remember going to an auto show without seeing at least one. Concepts. Cars that you know won't ever be produced. You look at them politely, with moderate interest, wondering what will come next.
The Venturi Volage could have been like this. It's so different, so unlike anything else on four wheels. I will describe it, but you have to see it to really understand it. You have to kneel down behind the car: there is nothing between the rear wheels. Every car has an axle there—and sometimes a gearbox or an engine too—but there isn't any in the Volage. This incredible feat comes thanks to the use of Active Wheels from Michelin.
The whole drivetrain and suspension system are inside the wheels, and there is no such thing as "wheel travel" with this set-up. So the interface between the wheels and the car can be very close to the wheels, freeing up space for passengers or whatever a carmaker chooses to do with it.
Venturi engineers chose to use it as a design feature, giving the Volage its unique look. The unusual paint highlights it, and tells the world the Venturi brand is 25-years old. And more than that actually, because the Volage has already been through three years of development. I discovered the car at the Paris motor show in October 2008, and I was told then that the car would be available in 2012. I'm happy to report everything is going as planned.
The car's development is now complete. We saw it at the Challenge Bibendum in May, and it took part at the Le Mans vers le futur parade last month. Those events were opportunities to see how it fared against the competition, and quite simply, it was the best. The Volage was the quickest through the slalom, and it was the fastest accelerating car at the Challenge—even faster than a Tesla roadster, (though the Tesla might be faster in the quarter-mile.)
That's the car only shortcoming: though it's incredibly quick off the line, its top speed is a slow 100 mph. Each motor makes 55 kW and 43 lbs-ft of torque, giving 220 kW and 171 lbs-ft for the whole car. The peak torque value seems rather low, I guess that comes from the incredibly small size of the motors. They're smaller than an alternator in a gas car. Anyway, that's not of a problem as the Volage only weighs 2370 pounds.
That includes 45 kWh of lithium-polymer cells giving a 200-mile range at a steady 55 mph. Much of this low weight comes from the extensive use of carbon fiber, which is everywhere in the car. On the outside, painted, and in the interior also. There's so much of it that it feels strange when you're sitting inside. You get in through Lamborghini-like doors, and the entire footwell is made of beautifully finished carbon fiber, with minimal carpeting. It should be nice, but it felt intimidating to me—unnatural, I'd say.
Looking up, the rest of the interior would be quite straightforward if the center console weren't so high, this is due to the batteries underneath. But overall, this interior is a nice place to spend time in.
The big question is: can you buy it? Today's answer is that you can't, but this should change next year. Venturi is ready to build the car, but it doesn't manufacture the motors. Those come from Michelin, which should be ready quite soon to put its Active Wheels in regular production. Actually, Michelin's very willing to mass produce them, and in greater quantity than Venturi could make cars. Perhaps once the Volage is available, another car manufacturer will see how great the technology is and order thousands.
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