Chevy Volt is the only, fully electromotive-driven car except for the Tesla and the Nissan Leaf, but appeared at the NAIAS with only the slow-charge, 110v version plug-in.
Ford Fusion, a full sedan with an ICE, showed well, but the Fusion Hybrid won NAIAS Car of the Year.
The Chevy Volt appears like any other car on the road; and that is good for the image of the electrification of the automobile. For certain, Electric Avenue at the NAIAS didn’t help as much as promoters believe.
The Ford Fusion Hybrid, by comparison, is truly a high-production offering, which won NAIAS Car of the Year and Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 2010.
Each is a great car in its own rite. So, it’s not a matter of which is better, but how each vehicle is different from the technical view; how each contributes choice among the transportation offerings in terms of approaching green. After all, green is often subjective, a matter of degree and style.
The Volt cannot be considerd equivalent to the Ford Fusion or its Hybrid version from the strict standpoint of size. The Volt seems to be closer to the B class than the C class size of the Fusion.
Fact is the Volt fits four passengers comfortably. The Fusion, promoted as comparable to the Camry in size, transports five comfortably. Then again, a hump-positioned, rear passenger is likely uncomfortable in any sized car.
Again, the key differences I want to focus on are their technologies, their price deltas and their interface with the environment.
Like the Fusion, the Volt is no full EV, like some of those three and four-wheeled puddle jumpers on Electric Avenue. However, each could be made full EV capable by being made much lighter with some fancy aluminum extrusions for body structure like the Tesla.
Question: When will Ford and GM come out with a super-light body structure that will act as a full-EV platform? The Volt Concept car had it, for example. I’ll bet they’re waiting for battery technology to catch up first. Hold that thought for another article!
On the power front, the Volt was designed to be transparent in its migration from strict fossil-fuel power to electromotive power. I think it succeeded. It is a transition vehicle to say the least. In reality, The Volt still uses gasoline for longer trips, but in a more indirect and controlled way that limits emissions, because it merely uses the IC engine to drive the generator.
Point is the Volt’s ICE (internal combustion engine) does not drive the wheels directly EVER! All power to the wheels is delivered through the electric motor that derives its energy from a lithium-ion storage battery.
Ford Fusion Hybrid
Like the Prius, the Fusion Hybrid uses the traditional combustion engine to drive the wheels directly through a 6-speed automatic transmission. The mixture of engine technology is anything but traditional, though. Ford’s EcoBoost technology alone has already advanced the combustion engine to a more efficient level; and the nickel-metal hydride battery provides the electromotive component.
According to Ford’s website, the Fusion Hybrid combines that innovative nickel-metal hydride battery with a 2.5L hybrid engine to produce the most efficient power for any driving situation, up to 47 mph in electric mode alone. Energy derived from braking recharges battery, while engine and battery combine for up to 191 hp. It also has component function monitoring.
Different Kinds of Technology, Different Kind of Cars
They’re still cars, though. Keep that in mind. The purpose of every vehicle is to go from point-A to point-B as comfortably and efficiently as possible; at a cost that is affordable, and in way that least impacts the environment.
Nevertheless, here is where I challenge non-automotive, media-types who blindly consider all hybrids and electric cars as “alternative vehicles,” as if they are freaks, or a car has a lifestyle choice. What’s next, hate crimes when accusing cars of being gasoline or electron phobic?
I mean, what’s the big deal whether a car is powered by gasoline as long as its exhaust is cleaned, or uses natural gas, ethanol, diesel fuel, hydrogen, electrons or some combination thereof, better known as a hybrid? As I wrote before, green is often subjective and certainly by degree. So-called “alternative vehicles” are just vehicles with different power sources. What’s important is their ability to transport humans safely.
Got that greenies? Safety comes first. Just ask those people who crashed their Toyotas for stuck accelerators!
OK, somewhere in here I wrote the “A” word – affordability. Fact is the Ford Fusion Hybrid is cheaper than the Chevy Volt; by some measure, probably around $10k. That is significant in my book. Nonetheless, both cars use gasoline, but each uses the fuel in a specific way, and thus the efficiency is in a different way.
If you drive only 40 miles round trip in a day, then the Volt offsets its higher cost by saving you gasoline money by using battery power; albeit recharging nets you a slightly larger electric bill which is probably burning coal or natural gas. On the other hand, Ford’s cam timing, injection and turbo-boost allow for leaner, more efficient combustion. Its high-tech capability means lesser gasoline consumption and a smaller initial cost.
I also wrote the “E” word, efficiency, which relates to that other “E” word, environment. One auto supplier, Denso, says it best. “Cars should impose as close to zero burden on the environment as possible in their lifetimes.”
Well, in this economy, it’s a matter of approaching zero burden efficiently at a price that people can afford; supported by an infrastructure that still allows people to go about their lives without a giant paradigm shift. Ford uses high-level engine and hybrid technology for higher mileage; GM uses high-level battery and electromotive technology.
Examiner Final Comments
This is not intended to be a Ford vs. Chevy tech debate. Go watch a Nascar race for that. I merely want to point out the differences to drive a few important tech points home.
Fact is the electrification of the automobile is here. I repeat: The electrification of the automobile is here; and it’s here to stay! One visit to any auto show around the country will have you convinced, unless you walk through blindfolded. That means the auto industry has awakened and the market is getting more and more plugged into the auto industry‘s new offerings.
Question is: What is the preference of the people? Do they want low-emission and low-cost IC engine cars? Will they pay up for hybrids? Or will they go for the full monte like a full EV?
For sure electric cars and hybrids are getting more and more popular. I can joke about eco-nuts, greenies and political types who cater to pandering, but fact is the public is also fine with the electrification of the automobile, provided it‘s affordable. And that’s key to this discussion – technology affordability.
Combustion engine technology has made a giant leap in efficiency, too, which enables them to put up a great fight for survival. More important the ICE (internal combustion engine) competes well on cost alone since all electric-powered vehicles have those high cost, lithium-ion batteries. The green gap is not that great anymore either, considering the leaner burning engines which net lower emissions.
Another fact is the battery technology, although advanced, is in its infancy. It has a long way to go to achieve its energy-density potential. As I write, lab rats are working on ionic fluids to replace the standard electrolytes. That will make the need for lithium go down, because cheaper metals and metals with higher energy-density capability will be used, like zinc. Think metal-air or zinc-air batteries.
But don’t think for one second the IC engine is down and out. Ford is working on lasers to replace spark plugs, the final frontier for lean combustion, in my opinion. Furthermore, combustion has the potential to get even leaner with help from Ford’s twin cam timing and GM’s newer HCCI technology. And to clean up the final bit of exhaust pollution, post treatment is in the works just like it is for diesels. That means we might still pull fossil fuels out of the ground for some time, but the net effect will be a far smaller carbon footprint and at a cost that is indeed affordable.
I know, I know. The green heads are about to take my head off with that last remark. So to set the record straight, let me be clear (I heard that line somewhere) in a language all can understand: As soon as batteries get their energy-density act together, it will be a new ball game for the internal combustion engine from which it will unlikely recover, especially for cars.