Chevy Volt: It ain’t no Saab…but it’s ok

There’s a long and a short story here.

The short story is that on first reading, the new GM plug-in concept vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt, doesn’t look like a direct rip-off of the Saab BioPower Hybrid Convertible, which also featured a plug-in capability that was hushed up by GM.

So whilst that hasn’t happened, it looks like Saab’s plug-in capability was silenced in order to allow a bigger impact for this vehicle at a North American show – a possibility first mentioned on this site mid-2006.

If all that doesn’t make full sense, then read the long story……

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AutoblogGreen has a detailed look at the car and its drivetrain here

GM have released details of their plug-in hybrid concept vehicle: the Chevrolet Volt. The vehicle makes it’s world debut at the GM Style event today and then it’s public debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week.

Here’s a few pics that you can click to enlarge:

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Anyone else see similarities with the 9x and Aero-X concepts? Not saying it’s copied or anything, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the three vehicles shares some staff on the design team.

Anyway, some details about the vehicle. These are from the GM press release:

The Chevrolet Volt concept sedan, powered by the E-flex System – GM’s next-generation electric propulsion system – and sporting an aggressive, athletic design, could nearly eliminate trips to the gas station.

The Chevrolet Volt is a battery-powered, four-passenger electric vehicle that uses a gas engine to create additional electricity to extend its range…..

….The Volt can be fully charged by plugging it into a 110-volt outlet for approximately six hours a day. When the lithium-ion battery is fully charged, the Volt can deliver more than 60 city kilometers of pure electric vehicle range. When the battery is depleted, a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged engine spins at a constant speed, or revolutions per minute (rpm), to create electricity and replenish the battery…..

….“If you lived within 50 km from work (100 km round trip) and charged your vehicle every night when you came home or during the day at work, you would get fuel consumption of 1.6 liters per 100 km,” Lutz said. “More than half of all Americans live within around 30 km of where they work (60 km round trip). In that case, you might never burn a drop of gas during the life of the car.”

In the event a driver forgets to charge the vehicle or goes on a vacation far away, the Volt would still get 4.7 l/100 km by using the engine to convert gasoline into electricity and extending its range up to 1030 km, more than double that of today’s conventional vehicles. In addition, the Chevrolet Volt is designed to run on E85, a fuel blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

A technological breakthrough required to make this concept a reality is a large lithium-ion battery. This type of electric car, which the technical community calls an “EV range-extender,” would require a battery pack that weighs nearly 400 pounds (181 kg). Some experts predict that such a battery – or a similar battery – could be production-ready by 2010 to 2012…..

….The Volt is the first vehicle designed around GM’s E-flex System.

“…..we are also showing a variant of the Chevrolet Volt with a hydrogen-powered fuel cell, instead of a gasoline engine EV range-extender,” said Lauckner. “Or, you might have a diesel engine driving the generator to create electricity, using bio-diesel. Finally, an engine using 100-percent ethanol might be factored into the mix. The point is, all of these alternatives are possible with the E-Flex System.”

And here’s some of the Vital Statistix (the sky is falling!)

Description:

electrically driven system with onboard range extender, plug-in recharge capability

Battery system:

Type: lithium-ion

Energy: 16 kWh (minimum)

Peak power: 130 to 140 kW

Voltage: 320 to 350

100% recharge time:

110-volt outlet: 6 to 6.5 hours

Electric traction system:

Max. electrical power: 130 to 140 kW

Max. mechanical power: 120 kW

Continuous electrical power: 45 kW

Continuous mechanical power: 40 kW

Generator:

Power: 53 kW peak power

Drive: direct

Range extender:

Type: 3-cylinder, turbocharged engine

Size: 1.0-liter

Fuel: gas or E85

Nominal speed: 1500 to 1800 rpm

Max speed: 3200 rpm

Fuel tank (gal / L): 12 / 54.5

Charger:

Type: plug-in

Voltage / amp: 110 / 15

Horsepower (hp / kW): 160 / 120

Torque (lb-ft / Nm): 236 / 320

Electric mode range: 64 km (40 miles) – full electric vehicle (EV) range

Estimated fuel economy @ constant state of charge: 4.7 l/100 km (50 mpg) during charge sustaining operation

Daily usage equivalent mpg

@ 64 km (40 miles) or less: not applicable – no fuel used

@ 96 km (60 miles): 150 mpg

@ 128 km (80 miles): 100 mpg

0 to 96 km/h (60 mph): 8 to 8.5 seconds

Top speed – 192 km/h (120 mph) (limited duration)

———————

Now for some backstory…..

In late March 2006, Saab unveiled the BioPower Hybrid Concept. It too was a hybrid vehicle offering mechanical and electrical propulsion. The engine was a 2.0litre 4 cylinder unit modified to run on 100% ethanol, producing 260hp. In addition there were a series of electric motors providing a little more power and heaps more torque – as well as the added benefit of reduced emissions and a zero-mode, where the car would run on electricity only.

Saab’s modular hybrid system features a maintenance-free, 300-volt battery bank, a 38 kW rear-mounted electric motor, a 15 kW integrated starter generator and all-wheel-drive with electric power transmission to the rear wheels. The entire system has been packaged without sacrificing cabin accommodation or trunk space, as demonstrated by its unveiling in the Saab 9-3 Convertible.

That quote is from the Saab press release at the time.

What the press release didn’t tell you was that the BioPower Hybrid concept was also configured as a plug-in vehicle in order to recharge the electrical system. This fact was uncovered by Robert Collin of Sweden’s Aftonbladet newspaper. The original press release for the vehicle featured the plug-in capability, however it was recalled just prior to the Stockholm Motor Show where the concept debuted. A new press release was drafted, one that made no mention of the plug-in capability at all. You can see an online copy of the original release here.

Plug-ins have been the darling of the environmental set for some time. They allow for easier recharging of the electrical system, thereby ensuring that the powered propulsion system is always at full charge and minimising the need for the gasoline backup. They could even theoretically act as power stores and contribute power back to a household or electricity grid in times of need.

The fact that Saab had built a Hybrid vehicle that sacrificed nothing in terms of performance was a great development. That they’d done it in a manner where the entire drive system fit into a convertible was even better. The plug-in capability would have been an even bigger ace for the little Swede, but it was hushed up by a corporate parent who obviously had a bigger stage in mind.

Whilst the Volt looks to be an electric vehicle with a combustion engine as a “range extender”, the Saab BioPower Hybrid was intended as an example of hybrid power complementing a performance-based engine.

In essence, the emphasis was on electric assistance with the Saab, whereas the electric drive is the feature in the Volt.

As an electric vehicle, the Volt seems to excel. It has a much bigger range in electric-only mode (the Saab would only manage 10-20 kms in ‘zero mode’) and it’s designed for frugality rather than for hybrid-enhanced-performance like the Saab.

Following are some technical diagrams for both vehicles. I’m not going to pretend to know enough about this stuff to try and explain them, but they appear to be substantially different. The Saab uses several electric motors to boost performance and economy whereas the Volt uses its electrical system to propel the vehicle.

Click the pic to enlarge. This one’s the Volt:

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Following is a similar diagram of the Saab BioPower Hybrid and some explanations as to what’s what.

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1. Saab BioPower 2.0 Turbo – combustion engine optimised to run on pure bioethanol (E100), resulting in zero fossil fuel emission.

2. Integrated starter/generator (ISG) – built into the flywheel, between the engine and transmission. Contributes with an additional 15 kW (20 bhp) and up to 120 Nm of torque

3. Rear Drive Unit (RDU) – transmission differential with an integrated 38 kW (52 bhp) electric motor/alternator. Deliver up to 665 Nm of torque briefly at lower speeds to boost take-off performance.

4. Battery Management System (BMS) – Electronic Control Unit with software for battery supervision.

5. 42 V battery – powers the front electric motor (ISG).

6. 300 V battery – powers the Rear Drive Unit. Compact, high-capacity lithium-ion battery.

7. Electronic Control Unit – for the Rear Drive Unit (RDU).

8. Zero Mode button – switch between Hybrid and Zero Mode. Driving range in fully electric Zero Mode is 10–20 km depending on driving conditions.

9. Electronic Control Unit – for the Integrated Starter Generator (ISG).

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17 Comments

  1. 1) I think they need a break-through in battery technology in order pack more power into every pund of battery. Lithium-Ion is old stuff.

    2) And the same old question (at least here in Europe). Where do you get the all the electricity from that people gonna use in the car? Burning coal? More nuclear power-plants?

  2. “Plug-ins have been the darling of the environmental set for some time. ”

    What I don’t understand is why this is so? Having plug-in capability to recharge your vehicle is fine but it does not address the fact that you have just shifted the CO2 emissions somewhere else.

    Rather than generating your own power (and emissions) with a conventional petrol or diesel engine, you recharge some batteries with electricity generated somewhere else …by a power station.

    Power stations are usually coal-fired, gas-fired or nuclear …all of which have their detractors and all of which have a large environmental impact.

    I do not think that there are enough wind-farms or Salter Ducks (remember them?) or other renewable energy resources capable of providing the sort of power that would be required to charge all of our electric vehicles in the future if, indeed, this is the future?

    I’m not saying it is a bad thing, I am just saying that I do not understand why shifting the CO2 emissions elsewhere is actually making motoring more environmentally sound.

    What’s more, if the UK went totally green tomorrow, we would have absolutely zero impact upon the global environmental problem since expanding economies such as India and China are not as environmentally aware as some European countries.

  3. Is it just me, or did Chevy completely rip off the majority of the Aero-X concept?

    I hope the popularity of the X doesn’t mean that all GM brands are going to start merging styles with SAAB.

  4. Power stations have way better power ratio than individual cars.

    And nuclear has no smoke stack at all.

    Systems like windmills are steadily replacing old tech. Having wide market of EV cars would blow up demand for solar panels.

    Not forgetting future power sources like fusion.

    EV is the solution and electricity can be made cleanly and is already made with some extend depending on country.

    And of course all cars of the world are not going the be EV tomorrow like all power sources are not going to be clean, its phase by phase process where is hugely important to have EV cars on the market.

  5. Well, was is ‘best’ isn’t always what can be done.

    There are strong movements among peolpe and politicians against more nuclear power in Europe – partly because of what to do with the waste.

    In Sweden people complain about windmills. It takes *a lot* of them to replace something else, and no one wants all these tens of thousands of towers in the landscape or in the costal areas. Also the cost for building such an infrastructure is a problem.

    Solar panels needs to be more efficient before you can build ‘power plants’ with them. Only option I see is to make the car itself one big solar panel through some nano technology.

    Fusion is – well – fusion. The same old dream for 50 years now. Don’t count on it.

    What I mean is, that you must think in a bigger way . It’s just not “electricity is good and always better than gas” and “we can produce it somehow”. It’s more complicated than that. A big step towards saving the environment is to have cars with max 100 bhp enginges running ethanol together with smal electric motors running from battery like in the Saab BioPower Hybrid Convertible. That would make a difference and the technology is ready to use today. But no one dare to go that way.

  6. There is strong movement in Europe to build more nuclear power to counter climate change. Where I live(Finland) they are building one right now and planning another one.

    Other countries have plans also.
    With windmills I heard that demand is exceeding production capacity in some places around the world.

    With solar planes I meant private houses, if you charge your car, it makes sense to have solar panels dependening on climate.

    Solar power plants are ALREADY being build and large numbers are planned to be made.

    Fusion energy is totally possible energy source 50-100 years from now.

    Some people just wont want to accept it but combustion engines are dying breed.

  7. Here in sweden we are closing down nuclear power plants and buying coal-fired electricity from germany/poland instead, really great…

  8. The same with the Baltic states. And in december (I think it was) Bulgaria closed some plants as well. All being replaced with coal. And all you hear in the debate is how we can cut down on the use of electricity, not adding more demand… It is actually so bad, that if this winter had been a little colder than a normal one Sweden would had have to shut down the power gird for periods of time to be able to handle the situation…

  9. I don’t mind particularly that the plug-in capability of the Hybrid convertible was masked in order to maximize the impact of this vehicle — the Volt is significant enough that it warrants the attention.

    I do mind that the Volt’s appearance is a complete rip-off of the Aero X.

  10. Greg,

    You are correct. The raised headlights, dropped center grille, spoiler vents in a triangular shape.

    Even the rear looks similiar with the offset narrow tail lights in the same color as the Aero-X.

    This is like reverse design utilization where the Saab design is being used elsewhere.

    I’m not sure this is going to go over well. It kind of makes the Aero-X design kind of boilerplate now.

  11. Aero-X is great, beautiful in person. Volt is disgusting.

    Just like in Psycho Dave’s post, 9-X is gorgeous, the Nomad is hideous…

  12. I was never keen on the Aero-X design but the first thing I thought when I saw this was Aero-X. The blacked out a-pillar for a start….

    BTW I think this Chevy is reVOLTing.

  13. Which is it gonna be ? Let the wager begin !

    http://www.boston.com/cars/news/art…_drive_in_2007/

    Ten to drive in 2007
    Car makers take different routes to build more excitement into the new year

    By Royal Ford | January 7, 2007

    We’ve put our 2006 favorite drives in the rearview mirror, so let’s look at 10 cars we can’t wait to drive this year.

    A Saab yet to be revealed
    All I know is that sometime this summer, I’m going to Sweden to drive a Saab with a new all-wheel-drive system. Saab has long held a place in the hearts of New Englanders, and General Motors let the brand drift in the wind for too long. Coming back to these shores with a new and advanced all-wheel-drive system could turn things around, just in time.

  14. This has nothing to do with Chevy Volt.

    On Swedens largest TV sport program they today showed some clips from there archive of Erik Carlsson during the Safari Rally 1966. It’s all in Swedish but there are some nice Saab images and sounds to enjoy. For those who knows swedish it’s funny to hear him talk, there are some natural Swedish “rasism” in there that was perfectly natural during that time.

    http://svt.se/svt/play/video.jsp?a=733604

  15. Well, I had a post from another computer, but I have no idea if it went through, so here’s a repeat:

    Greg: I hear you, but I prefer to believe that Saab’s designers are having greater notice and impact within the GM organization. Certainly, the AeroX was heard loud and clear.

    TuuSar is on the money. The reason that plug-ins are a big deal is two fold:

    1.Electric power plants have much better thermal efficiency than do cars, and even coal creates clean energy within a modernized plant. Plus the emissions can be controled, regulated and monitored much more easily at the power plants than for millions of cars.
    2. Even though the CO2 emissions are sifted to the plant, in many cases the shift itself is a huge benefit — Los Angeles, Rome, Mexico City could all use a huge dose of emissions shifting!

    I like it. And I think that the Saab version will be even better.

    Plus, you don’t think that Chevy will really build this thing, do you? It will be changed 80 times before 2010 or 2012 or whenever.

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