New gasoline engines show a fuel-efficiency comparable with hybrid powertrains

Article by Christian Andrei, on January 23, 2012

By looking at the new vehicles displayed at the Detroit Auto Show, it becomes apparent how the manner that electric-vehicle concepts are introduced have evolved – from being glitzy in the past years to being less flashy and more realistic. What automakers are playing up are the high-tech internal-combustion engines. Dozens of hybrids and EVs were presented at the 2007 Frankfurt Auto Show by German car companies. Analyst David Leiker of Baird Equity Research said that during the latest Detroit show, there was “less electrification hype.” He cited two major reasons.

One is that EVs and hybrids are no longer novelties. Secondly, the payback period for a hybrid (much less an EV or plug-in) has become longer amid the improving efficiency of refined gasoline engines and the relatively stable price of gasoline. The fuel-efficiency of advanced gasoline engines rivals that of hybrids, according to Susan Cischke, a group vice president at Ford. She pointed out that the EcoBoost engine has “fuel economies that approach hybrids.” She said that when looking at the performance, it’s noticeable that an oil-based product “can still do as well as with a hybrid."

Even those who were firm supporters are now being cautious about electrification. General Motors Vice Chairman Steve Girsky said that it will be May or June before it can be determined just how far this technology would go and if the plug-in hybrid technology in the Chevrolet Volt has staying power. For the long term, automakers will continue to promote different forms of electric drive. Unfortunately, consumers have not been so enthusiastic about electrification. Hybrids – the most inexpensive and most-familiar form – have remained at 2 to 3% share of the U.S. market.

The attention to detail done on the Chevrolet Volt is one of the reasons why this model is one of the market’s most energy efficient and most aerodynamic. Indeed, everything about the Volt was designed and then analyzed to determine its efficiency. Example of elements where this was done include, to name a few, the lightweight wheels, tires that have been specially designed for the Volt, aerodynamic exterior, and the premium energy-saving stereo system. However the main attraction of the new Volt would have to be the Voltec propulsion system.

By using a pure electric drive and then combining it with the range-extending and efficient engine, the Volt delivers total range going as far as 350 miles. The pure electric drive is powered by the long-life battery which has a lithium-ion battery pack capable of 16 kWh. This pack comes in a T-shape, weighs 198.1 kg (435 lbs.), and measures 5.5 feet. Manufactured at the brand’s factory located in Brownstown Township, Michigan, the battery was made to make sure that it is reliable and durable. This battery was designed to showcase performance, safety, quality, and value.

Proof of this is that the battery comes with a 100,000 mile/8-year warranty. Going as far back as 2007, engineers at GM made sure that the battery packs, including each of the 9 modules, and the 288 prismatic cells, underwent and completed validation testing composed of at least 4 million hours and 1 million miles. Since 95% of the battery’s total 161 parts were designed and made at GM, various team members needed to make sure that the parts would met the needed specifications and validated each one.

This battery is responsible for making sure that the electric drive unit (111 kW/149 bhp) would get the needed energy to move the Volt. Running purely on the power from the battery, the Volt can from 25 miles to as far as 50 miles, all emission free. Of course, actual distance travelled will also depend on a number of factors like the terrain, current temperature, and the driving technique. Should the energy inside the battery be depleted, the Volt immediately shifts to extended-range mode. Under this mode, the power is now sourced from the 1.4-liter gas engine with output of 63 kW (84 hp). Running in this configuration, the Volt gets an extra range of 310 miles.

Topics: united states

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