If you intend to enter the hybrid market you better be prepared to go up against Toyota and its Prius.
That is the assignment that General Motors has given to its up and coming Volt. And it might be up to the task.
AutoWeek recently examined both concept (Volt) and car’s (Prius) strength and weaknesses. It found the Prius is at its best when it is entangled in city traffic, delivering its best fuel economy in heavy, stop-and-go traffic. On the highway, however, where the speed of travel is steady and consistent, it uses the gas engine for propulsion. Unfortunately, its battery system becomes so much dead weight at this time. That is why its fuel economy ratings show a great 60 mpg in the city but a lower rating of 51 mpg on the highway.
GM’s Volt has both an electric motor/battery and a gas engine like the Prius. However, it is the electric motor that propels the car, not the gas engine. The 1.0 liter, three-cylinder turbocharged engine is actually used to charge the battery instead.
The Volt gets better fuel economy ratings on the highway than the Prius does because it is designed to travel 40 miles on a single charge of the battery pack. So it is possible for the car to function as a pure electric vehicle, or EV, under some circumstances. As a result, if a driver of the Volt has a 60 mile commute from say home to work and back home again, the Volt can achieve a fuel economy rating of 150 mpg. Only after the car has traveled beyond its 40 miles range and the battery pack needs charging does the gas engine kick in. By the way, the batteries can be re-charged by plugging the car into a common wall socket. GM says that this method of re-charging takes about six hours. Toyota is also looking into updating the Prius into a plug-in hybrid.
So where you drive your car can determine whether the Toyota Prius or the General Motors Volt is best as far as fuel economy is concerned. Both companies designs are based on their native countries. Japanese drivers, for example, spend more time in the congested traffic of the city than the average American (though not necessary the average Los Angeles or Atlanta native). So the Prius is ideal for Japan.
However, in the U.S. drivers spend more time on the highway. So is the Prius the best option in that case? Let’s see if purchasers of hybrid cars keep that in mind when the Volt is available in around 2010.