Few automobiles have ever received the hype and hoopla of the Chevrolet Volt, but now, almost exactly three years after it first rolled onto the stage at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, the critical question is whether the production version will live up to expectations.
Most folks will have to wait until later this year to find out; the 2011 Chevy Volt won’t officially reach showrooms until sometime during the fourth quarter of this year. But after doing some pleading and offering up our first-born male child, TheDetroitBureau.com finally landed the opportunity to drive a near-ready Volt prototype on a recent, bitterly cold Detroit morning.
We met Andy Farah, the project’s chief engineer, out at the Vehicle Engineering Center, or VEC, a towering blue facility that provides a commanding view of the sprawling General Motors Technical Center, in the Detroit suburb of Warren. After sipping some tea and getting a quick “pre-flight” briefing, we eagerly jumped into the driver’s seat of the Volt prototype.
A little background is probably useful. Volt is, at its heart, a gasoline-electric vehicle. But it has some distinct differences from other hybrids, like Toyota’s popular Prius. The Japanese model has a very small nickel-metal hydride battery pack that is primarily used to recapture energy lost during braking and coasting, power then reused during acceleration. Prius – ad other conventional hybrids — can only drive for short distances and low speeds on battery power alone.