Chevy Volt on Track For Production, EPA Still Doesn’t Know How to Rate Mileage

In an update on the Volt, GM says they’re charging ahead towards full scale production of the Volt for general release later this year. They’ve completed all sorts of harsh weather testing in the cold and will be conducting extreme hot weather testing this Summer. They’ve done marathon test drives and taken the car up to the tops of the mountains.

After all the testing this last year — 500,000 miles spread across all of their test mules — they say they’ve been able to eek out the average claimed 40 mile EV-only range and haven’t come up against any showstopping problems. So, as we come to the end of testing, it seems the only major question yet to be resolved is how the EPA will treat the vehicle when it comes to fuel economy ratings.

After their ill-chosen 230 mpg claim last year, GM has been loathe to even broach the subject as of late. As most Gas 2.0 readers know, the Volt can go 40 miles on one full charge of its battery without using any gas, but after that the on-board generator will kick on and provide a charge to the battery that can take the car an up to an additional 300 miles. GM has estimated that in this “charge sustaining” mode, the Volt will average 50 mpg.

So you can see the issue. If a driver never takes the car more than 40 miles in a day, they will never use any fuel. Even if they drive 80 miles in a day only 40 of those will use gas. Trying to rate this in terms of an average fuel economy is tricky… you might even say it’s a pointless endeavor. Which is why the EPA is having so much trouble figuring it all out.

Some of you might say that it’s not even worth worrying about because in this new era of vehicles fuel economy is a concept that almost means nothing, and we simply need to come up with a different way of conveying how much energy a given car uses. But for auto manufacturers, they view the EPA fuel economy number as key to early adoption of their plug-in hybrids, pure electrics and extended range electrics. According to MIT’s Potential Energy blog, Andrew Farah, the Volt’s chief engineer has said that consumers “have to know what they’re getting,” and that what the agency decides could be key to how consumers accept the vehicle.

While that kind of talk is clearly meant to force some kind of decision soon (I mean really, we’re only 8 months away from launch), it is also probably true to some extent. The longer the EPA drags its heels on the issue, the more confused the average consumer will be and the less time they’ll have to work out the kinks with the manufacturers.

What’s your take on this? Should the EPA simply come up with some average expected fuel economy number, or should we take this opportunity to modify the entire energy efficiency/fuel economy rating system?

Sources: MIT and GM

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.