Posts Tagged ‘Chevy Volt’


September 8th, 2009 Comments off

I’ve said (as have many others) that the Toyota Prius, (new) Honda Insight, and Chevy Volt all look similiar, at least insofar as the overall shape of the vehicles.  (My personal opinion is that that Volt is much better looking than the other two, with the new Prius coming in second, but this isn’t really related to shape.)  The reason for this is that they are all efficient vehicles, so one of their design goals was a low drag coefficient.  An article in this month’s Automotive Engineering International (Aerodynamics Soar) speaks to this, mentioning “complaints that cars like the Honda Insight and Chevrolet Volt, which balance similar missions of efficiency and cabin space, are derivative of Toyota’s Prius, when actually they are all recognitions of the fact that similar goals will produce similar designs.”

A recent video on the Chevy Voltage website talks a bit about the work that went into optimizing the aerodynamics of the Chevy Volt.  One remarkable data-point is that aerodynamic work on the Volt increased the all-electric range by 7 MILES from the original prototype!  Aerodynamic efficiency makes the Volt a PHEV-40, rather than a PHEV-33! To my knowledge, GM still has not announced what the Cd for the Volt is, except to say it’s the lowest of any GM vehicle since the EV1 (which had a Cd of 0.195).  For comparison, the Prius has a Cd of 0.25, and the new Ford Taurus (a modern vehicle for which aero is important, though not as high a priority as it is for hybrids) scores a 0.32.

The drag coefficient (Cd) is directly proportional to the amount of power needed to overcome the force of the air pushing against a vehicle in order to maintain a steady speed.  This power is also directly proportional to the frontal area of the vehicle, the density of the air, as well as the cube of the vehicle’s velocity.  So, fuel economy can be increased by improving the aerodynamics, reducing the size of the vehicle, driving in less-dense air … or, to an even greater degree, slowing down.  The third option seems difficult, and the fourth a bit boring…

If you still think that aerodynamics don’t matter, check out the extreme, where Cd is optimized at the expense of downforce, causing this Mercedes at Le Mans, and this Porsche at Road Atlanta, to become airborn!

Mercedes CLR at Le Mans, 1999

Mercedes CLR at Le Mans, 1999

Does the Insight Hurt the Cause?

July 1st, 2009 Comments off

I have not driven the new Honda Insight (Honda’s “affordable hybrid”).  I did read Jeremy Clarkson’s scathing review of it last month (and if I didn’t link to it, like every other auto-related blog has done, then this wouldn’t be a bona fide car blog).  And although the Top Gear host is admittedly anti-hybrid (his being obtuse is a trait I chalk up to part of his schtick as a TV entertainer), I tend to think his view of things automotive sync up well with mine.  (After all, I did declare the Alfa Romeo 8c Competizione the most beautiful car of the modern era, even before he did.  Unlike Clarkson, unfortunately, I was not offered the opportunity to drive the 8c on a test track, which may be just as well, since Clarkson was thoroughly unimpressed.)

Honda InsightBut now, Consumer Reports has given the Insight another horrible review.  And while I’ve never given any credence to CR’s automotive reviews (they tend to approach cars as if they were appliances), the fact that the Insight has now earned two black marks from both extremes of the auto review spectrum makes me think there may be some truth behind the negativity.  (Heck, I even winced a little when I saw the first photos of the Insight revealed before the vehicle’s introduction.)

Now, I love the fact that there are more and more hybrid vehicles being introduced to the market … but, if one of the most anticipated and talked-about hybrids is really a piece of shit as bad as they say, then this doesn’t really help the cause for powertrain electrification!  If consumers get in their mind that hybrid = crap, then fewer hybrids will be sold.  Purchasers of hybrid vehicles should not have to compromise when making their purchase; otherwise, there won’t be any purchasers of hybrid vehicles.

Tesla Motors had the right idea with their Roadster – make a car that people want.  Sure, most of us can’t afford a Tesla Roadster, but that’s how technology works – when it’s brand new, it’s expensive.  Many more folks will be able to afford Tesla’s Model S.  And you know what?  It’s also a car that people want.  The Toyota Prius – the most successful electrified (in its case, hybrid) vehicle thus far, isn’t necessarily a car that people want, but it doesn’t really force its owner to compromise, either.  (OK, the last-generation Prius that I drove over the Rocky Mountains did struggle to maintain a constant speed, but that’s likely true for any normally-aspirated internal combustion engined economy car going up steep hills at 10,000 feet.)  The Chevy Volt – although similar in shape to the Insight & Prius (where aerodynamics may trump style) – is actually a decent looking car, in my opinion.  And hopefully, GM’s recent claims that the vehicle will be sportier than the Prius will hold true.

So, automakers, take note:  don’t make crappy hybrids.  Or crappy PHEVs.  Or crappy EVs.  …Better yet, just don’t build any more crappy cars.