By Luigi Fraschini

The Chevrolet Volt may or may not be an electric car, depending upon whom you ask. But it has certainly became a lightning rod of controversy during this past election season.

Chevrolet execs associated with the revolutionary model recently admitted that the Volt is not quite the electric vehicle they first claimed. The car’s biggest “innovation” was that, unlike today’s hybrid cars, its wheels would never be driven by its on-board gasoline engine. Instead, its 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine would strictly keep the battery pack properly charged. But in the past couple of weeks, a storm began brewing around the car when General Motors revealed that under specific circumstances, the gasoline engine will drive the car

What are those circumstances? Chevrolet spokespeople say that at speeds of 70 mph and beyond, the Volt switches into an extended-range mode. In this mode, the gasoline engine starts up and engages via a series of planetary gears to help propel the car. Chevy stresses that the gasoline engine strictly optimizes the car’s overall efficiency and drivability. Using both electric motor and gasoline as power sources could allow the Volt to travel up to 10 to 15 percent farther before requiring a refill or recharge.

Political pundits have pounced on this to call the Volt the first of the “Obamamobiles” from “Government Motors,” an allusion to the Obama administration’s bailout of General Motors through the Treasury Department’s purchase of a controlling interest in the automaker.

Since the compact Volt is priced at a lofty $41,000, pundits say the car is unlikely to sell in large numbers -- and taxpayers will be on the hook. Investor’s Business Daily was critical of the Volt in a recent editorial, calling it a fraud and “an electric Edsel.” Commentator and radio personality Rush Limbaugh suggested that the $7,500 income tax credit available to Volt buyers is simply an admission that the car requires a government incentive to attract consumers

The Obama administration cited GM’s plans for the Chevy Volt as a key reason it decided to bail out the company in the first place. Since the government’s involvement in GM, four CEOs have held the helm. Rick Wagoner was forced out by President Obama before the bailout was completed. GM veteran Fritz Henderson followed Wagoner, but he was forced out and succeeded by telecom industry veteran Ed Whitacre. Whitacre since quit the job and was followed by Daniel F. Akerson, another telecom industry veteran. 

Luigi Fraschini Based in Cleveland, Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini writes frequently about auto safety and other auto industry issues.



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Driving Today Auto Review - Chevrolet Volt Becomes a Political Issue