Chevy Volt’s chief engineer says “this ain’t no hybrid”

This morning I talked with Andrew Farah, chief engineer for the Chevy Volt, and we talked a lot about the reporting in the press that the Chevy Volt is actually some kind of hybrid car. Turns out it could be seen as some kind of “super hybrid” because the gas engine does kick in at some points and can have its energy transmitted to the road. In practice, though, it doesn’t do that in a way that any hybrid owner would recognize (I own a 2010 Toyota Prius, which is a hybrid car. That car uses the gas engine almost constantly to drive the wheels. You can hear and feel the gas engine kick in on almost all accelerations. On the Volt, when I drove it back at the SXSW conference, the gas engine never kicked in.

Anyway, we cover a few of the interesting points of the drivetrain and battery technology that’s underneath this interesting car.

Why do I care?

Because I think, as an American, that one of the most important issues of our time is to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. To do that we need all sorts of innovations to reduce our use of gasoline. Plus, I’m now seeking out conversations every day about world-changing technology and this definitely applies (if you have a world-changing technology you’d like to talk with me about, send me email at or give me a call, like Andrew did, at +1-425-205-1921. Using CinchCast on my iPhone I can record our phone call and put it up within minutes for everyone to listen to.

Will the Chevy Volt win in the marketplace? I don’t know.

Is it fun to drive? Absolutely. It accelerates faster than my Prius does.

Does it use less gas? Absolutely. For the first 40 miles you don’t use much gas at all. Since most of the time that’s more than the miles I drive every day that would be perfect for me (you plug it in at night to charge it up).

Anyway, Americans love their cars and I love talking car tech with smart people who build these things. Hope you enjoy and hope you consider one of these new electric (or super hybrids) ones for your next car purchase. Here you can watch my test drive of the Chevy Volt (I will try to do another test drive of the final car soon):


12 thoughts on “Chevy Volt’s chief engineer says “this ain’t no hybrid”

  1. The Volt is not a hybrid. It can operate on pure electric drive everyday if your commute is less than 40 miles or so.

    The confusion came when it was said that at speeds over 70mph the electric drive would switch over to a mechanical source, and that only happens when the battery is depleted.

    The other point was the confusion around how the generator (ICE) was there to recharge the battery system. All the generator does is keep the battery from being entirely depleted, and to engage the drive unit at speeds above 70mph to maintain the most efficiency with regards to the overall electrical system.


  2. The problem here is that when it comes to the ceaseless holy quest for world changing technologies, one is always very eager to buy what one sells. Others…. not so much.

    “In the past, and based on GM’s claims, we’ve gone so far as to call the Volt GM’s “Jesus Car.” And why wouldn’t we call it that? We were told the Volt would achieve 230 MPG fuel economy and would always use the electric drivetrain to motivate the wheels ā€” only using the onboard gasoline engine as a “range extender” for charging the batteries. It now turns out that not only were those fuel economy claims misleading, but the gasoline engine is actually used to motivate the wheels ā€” making the Volt potentially nothing more than a very advanced hybrid car and pushing some automotive journalists like Scott Oldham at to claim “GM lied to the world” about it.”


  3. The Volt is an electric car with a range extender. The gas engine is used to generate electricity to top up the battery if its low. Hence you don’t get the fear of being stuck if the car runs out of battery.


  4. Super hybrid or not, I like the car. You get the option of using the mechanical power whenever it runs out of battery. Unlike those electric powered cars where you have to find the nearest charging station when battery runs low.


  5. I’d argue nuclear is an excellent option to strengthen our power grid in favor of building more coal-fired power plants. Nuclear technology has really come a long ways since the days of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island – pebble bed reactors are a good example of an innovation that makes them much safer to operate. This, combined with getting electric or hydrogen-powered cars into the hands of consumers and businesses would be a great step in reducing our dependence on oil to power our economy.

    Speaking of which, why are people busting Scoble’s balls about reducing our economy’s reliance on oil to function? The fact of the matter is that the US is the #1 consumer in oil (about 20 million barrels per day), and with countries like China and India having their economies ramp up, their consumption will be increasing as well. The simple law of supply/demand says that prices will begin skyrocketing, and our economy will take a serious hit for it (oil is the backbone of this economy, make no mistake). This isn’t even accounting for a possible global shortage if a ‘peak oil’ scenario hits.

    So yeah, I think it’s a wonderful goal to begin moving our country away from an oil-based economy any way possible. Nuclear, solar, wind, more oil wells drilled in the US (whilst new energy sources are being constructed/researched). I just makes sense, if you ask me.


  6. Been using green products for some years and slowly dropping my carbon footprint each year. I was a -two- to-three flights a year sort. Notable places were Melbourne and North Africa. I feel we must turn attention to changing fuels in cars and avaitation.

    I have friends in testing hybrid cars in UK so I no we are in the UK are heading in that direction. Changing my business to be more ethical has made the difference financially and helps me sleep better at night. I am still in the process and think this makes for a more talkable business.



  7. Um, if you drive more than 40 miles it’ll just use gas. So, on the way out you’ll be electric, on the way back, it’ll use gas, like a typical hybrid. Except it’ll recapture some breaking energy, like my Toyota Prius does, so should still get pretty good mileage. I get about 42mpg on my Prius (I have a lead foot, if you drive more carefully you can easily break 50mpg).


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