There has been some speculation that the E-flex system could perhaps operate without batteries and still achieve a remarkable 50mpg. Intrigued with the possibility of this, I decided to go directly to the source, GM's car czar, Bob Lutz. Mr Lutz was quick to respond to my questions and indicated that no, the E-flex system cannot operate without the battery stack. As a matter of fact, the ICE propulsion system is connected to the batteries, not the electric motor, so the batteries must always maintain charge for propulsion to occur. This means that when the batteries are near depletion, the ICE comes on to quick-charge the batteries. The batteries are then able to do more work for an additional 350 miles or or so, until the ICE runs out of fuel. At that point, just refill the tank and continue on, all while maintaining a very respectful 50+ mpg in "e-rev" mode.
What was perhaps more interesting is that Bob offered up to me a better question, then proceeded to answer it... "What if we could do a Volt that's cheaper, without engine and all the plumbing, and have a pure electric with more range?" He later indicated that the folks at GM are pondering just that question as an answer to the California mandate that they produce a couple thousand zero emissions vehicles. He actually indicated that some inside GM were lobbying for fuel cell vehicles to answer the mandate (owing to the fact that some folks have "career equity" in fuel cells), but he agreed with me that pure EV was the most sensible route compared to expensive hydrogen powered fuel cells.
This is the first time that we've heard that GM is seriously contemplating an all electric Volt, although they have made the suggestion in the past. It would be a huge development for the American car company with such a colorful past regarding pure electrics (having produced, and later recalling and crushing the infamous EV1 some 5 years ago).
But Bob wasn't finished there, in perhaps even more of a blockbuster revelation, he indicated that in just ten short days from today, he will hop into the very first Volt prototype for a test drive. (Editors note: Bob actually used the word prototype, but all indications are that Bob's ride will be in a Malibu skinned "mule" vehicle with production Volt internals.)
It does speak to the confidence of the development team to allow the company chairman behind the wheel at this stage with some 30 months to go before we see Volt's roll into dealer showrooms. It would definitely appear that the 2010 launch is imminent. And from today's revelations, it's certainly worth speculating if GM just might have an early launch surprise up it's sleeve. Such a move would be a dramatic kick start of the race to electrify the automobile. More importantly for GM, it would serve to ambush the competition and establish an early lead for market dominance over rival Toyota.
It's going to be a fun ride on the E train to 2010!