Chevrolet Volt: A sneak peek at GM’s plug-in hybrid

It accelerates with a big husky twist of its electric motor.  Actually, you can even chirp the front tires if you push the go-button hard enough — very unlike a golf cart. It corners confidently and brakes crisply and, if it’s no Ferrari, it certainly won’t embarrass itself on the 110 Freeway, otherwise known as the Pasadena Grand Prix.  It’s very comfortable, practical and graded on the curve of five-seat family hatchbacks reasonably attractive.

But the question remains: Will the Chevrolet Volt — General Motors’ radical electric vehicle with a range-extending gas generator on board, due in November 2010 — really work? Will it help GM leapfrog Toyota – currently experiencing its own woes  as a grandmaster of green-car technology?

And by the way, while the Volt is saving GM, will it save gasoline? “Absolutely,” says Andrew Farah, the Volt’s chief engineer. “It’s going to work and work better than people realize. . . . I’m proud as hell of this thing.”

The Volt is a series hybrid EV that is propelled by a 120-kilowatt (160-horsepower) electric motor. Drawing on energy stored in its 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, the Volt has an all-electric range of about 40 miles. If the battery is depleted, a 1.4-liter four-cylinder generator kicks in to supply electricity to the traction motor. The advantage of this design is that if drivers don’t exceed 40 miles of driving daily (and most don’t), and if they plug in at night, they won’t use any gas at all. If they need to go farther, they can, burning gasoline.

The Volt splits the difference between the greenness of an EV and the freedom of a gas-powered car. It will be the first such car to come to market.

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