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What makes the Chevrolet Volt run?

The Chevrolet Volt, which goes on sale in Canada in 2011, uses a new type of propulsion system that GM calls “range-extended.”

The Chevrolet Volt, which goes on sale in Canada in 2011, uses a new type of propulsion system that GM calls “range-extended.”

It gets plugged into a wall outlet to recharge its lithium-ion battery, which provides the power to run the car for about 40 to 80 kilometres.

You’re not stuck once that stored power runs out.

Instead, the Volt’s four-cylinder gasoline engine starts up, acting like a generator to provide electricity to turn the wheels.

“The car has two motors, which we call Motor A and Motor B,” says Rob Peterson, GM spokesperson for the Volt.

“Motor A is attached to the driveshaft coming out of the gasoline engine, and it creates the electricity for Motor B, which does the majority of work turning the wheels.”

GM came under criticism when it revealed that, like a regular hybrid, the gasoline engine is capable of sending power directly to the Volt’s wheels. Peterson says this does happen, but only under specific circumstances.

“First, the battery has to be depleted,” he says, so the driver has already travelled 40 to 80 kilometres on electricity only.

“Next, you’re putting more load on the car, such as hard acceleration. By having some mechanical torque pass through the drive unit, we can improve efficiency by about 10 percent in that mode. We could have programmed the software for the car to be pure electric, but that’s not the most efficient choice.”

Once the engine load decreases, such as the driver easing off on the throttle, the Volt returns to using the gasoline engine solely as a generator.

Peterson says that although the engine will help with acceleration when needed, the Volt is still operating primarily on electricity.

“The gasoline engine can assist in turning the wheels, but it cannot do this unless there is electricity going to Motor B,” he says, adding that there is no gasoline engine assist at any speed when the car is running on the stored battery charge from the wall outlet.

 
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