Because it will have both an electric and a gasoline motor on board, the Volt will be a hybrid. But it will be like no hybrid on the road today. Existing hybrids are gasoline-powered cars, with an electric assist to improve the gas mileage. The Volt will be an electric-powered car, with a gasoline assist to increase the battery’s range.
Electric drive is as old as the automobile itself. Anyone who has ridden in a golf cart has experienced it. Compared with the fire-breathing internal combustion engine, an electric motor is simple, quiet, and clean, and it provides marvelous acceleration and torque. For a century, though, the deal-breaker has been the battery. Any battery with nearly enough power to drive a full-size car was prohibitively large and heavy, prohibitively expensive, unable to go more than a few miles on a charge, or (usually) all of the above. Only recently has the advent of lithium-ion batteries brought a full-range electric car into the realm of the practical. Even so, the battery for the Volt doesn’t yet exist, at least not at a mass-market price, and building it poses formidable challenges. Loading enough energy into a sufficiently small, lightweight package is hard (the battery isn’t much good unless it fits in the car); keeping it cool lest it burst into flames is harder; making it durable enough to last 10 years on bumpy roads is harder yet; manufacturing it in high volumes and at mass-market prices may be hardest of all.