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Andy Frank on the Chevy Volt: A move in the right direction

Last week GM unveiled the new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid electric car, claiming it could get 230 mpg in typical use. The Volt is expected to hit the market in 2010.

Like the Toyota Prius, the Volt will have an electrical motor and a gasoline engine to drive the wheels. Unlike current hybrids on the road, the Volt will have a large battery pack that can be recharged from a domestic outlet, allowing it to travel a significant distance on electrical power alone. Commuters who drive short distances around town, for example, might not use the gasoline engine at all.

UC Davis engineering professor Andy Frank is widely regarded as the “father of the plug-in hybrid.” In 2006, he established a company, Efficient Drivetrains Inc. (EDI), which has licensed his inventions to develop them for the market.

I asked Frank what he thought of the Volt, and this is his response.

You are right that the Chevy Volt and the recent cancellation of the US DOE Fuel Cell program is vindicating what I have been saying all along.  However vindication has not brought me any money to carry on my research!

The Chevy Volt is certainly a move in the right direction that the US government would like to see, but it is missing a main point. I showed that such a car could be built 20 years ago. So that is not new! But when introducing a new concept into society it must be:
1. Economically affordable
2. Fit the present energy infrastructure
3. Meet and exceed the performance of the existing product in all dimensions
4. Be able to offer advantages that cannot be met by the existing product.

These are 4 minimal criteria that must be met by any new product.

I think the only criteria that the Volt really fits is the charging with 110-volt standard circuits. But they are encouraging 220-volt charging which means they are eliminating the possibility of charging in public places. Also it means they are not necessarily focused on designing an efficient 110-volt charging system.

They are also not focusing on getting public charging infrastructure which would help their sales.

On the cost issue, the UC Davis system now being commercialized by EDI can bring the cost of the Volt down by $10,000 or more but GM has chosen not to use our technology for now.

The other areas of advantage would be for GM to engineer auxiliary products like integrated systems for home solar and charging systems that can be sold along with the car, thus introducing the idea of buying a car and its fuel for the life of the car.

“We’ll see if GM are really serious,” Frank says.

Chevrolet Volt official site

UC Davis Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle Center

Efficient Drivetrains Inc.

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