Is The New Chevrolet Volt An EV Or An Hybrid? Voltec Explained – Video

1 year ago by Jay Cole 81

While we see a fair number of reviews on the new Chevrolet Volt “as a car“, and “how it performs“, but we rarely get an in-depth walk through of how the car actually functions.

Taking On The Voltec Platform (via Alex on Autos)

Taking On The Voltec Platform (via Alex on Autos)

Fortunately, one of our favorite outfits for reporting on plug-in cars – Alex on Autos, is tackling how the Voltec platform operates in the new Chevrolet Volt, and does a pretty great job at explaining it.

Alex doesn’t waste anytime getting starting, coming right out with the question:

“The eternal question of ‘is the Chevrolet Volt an EV, or is it a hybrid’, is a tricky one to explain.  In the truest sense of the word, this is a plug-in hybrid.  Let’s dive under the hood and talk about exactly what makes the Volt tick…”

Hat tip to Scramjett!

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81 responses to "Is The New Chevrolet Volt An EV Or An Hybrid? Voltec Explained – Video"

  1. RexxSee says:

    Throw in some more batteries and get rid of the ICE. KISS

    Hybrids are a mean to delay BEVs.

    1. Breezy says:

      They did throw in more batteries and get rid of the ICE. It’s called a Bolt.

      Some dealers are taking pre-orders. Get yours in today!

      1. Big Solar says:

        Some dealers are taking pre-orders? Really?

        1. Breezy says:

          You bet. This dealer in Quebec had 33 pre-sold as of 4 weeks ago.

            1. miggy says:

              What a great article about the GM EV dealer, good luck to them, we need more like them.

          1. Fabian says:

            what does pre-sold mean? Did they pay the full amount or just a deposit?

            1. JimGord says:

              A $2,500 deposit should do it.

    2. Mikael says:

      Hybrids are a mean to rapidly speed up the rEVolution.

      Something that is a lot more important than purist views.

      1. mustang_sallad says:

        agreed. RexxSee you’re going to scare average consumers away. PHEVs are the gateway drug that we need to lure them over and lock them in.

        1. Scramjett says:

          +1 to both of you!

        2. SparkEV says:

          Except I wish Volt has option for DCFC so some consumers can have “long range on EV” experience as well. Then it’s a hard-core gateway drug.

      2. Speculawyer says:

        Yeah, count me in. I’m a pure EV guy personally. But I recognize that most people won’t go for a pure EV until they can afford one with at least the range & convenience of the Tesla Model S. That is not economically practical for most people right now.

        So the PHEV is a great way to transition people over. And if you have 40 to 50 miles of range, that can cut people’s gas usage by 50 to 90%

        1. RexxSee says:

          ” I recognize that most people won’t go for a pure EV until they can afford one with at least the range & convenience of the Tesla Model S.”
          Exactly! This is why all ICE car makers didNOT build such EVs even if they could have done it 10 years ago… And for the same reason i say that building complicated expensive hybrids is a way to delay good BEVs. People would not need any “transition” as driving an EV is the same than an ICE, even more fun, simpler and easy to plug. There is ZERO learning curve.

          1. Tom says:

            Yes, a pure BEV is simpler, which is appealing. However, describing it as a delaying tactic for BEVs begs a rather large question. Are BEVs the way to go? I have owned both and right now I prefer the Volt’s approach. The reason why is that there are some real problems with a BEV that the Volt solves.
            1. The forgetful man problem. This is rarely discussed, but happened to me several times. What if you just FORGET to plug-in? You are screwed. You have to wait however long before you can go on your trip. With the Volt, no problem you just burn a little gas. It doesn’t happen very often but it is sure helpful when it does.
            2. The highway problem. BEVs are not really practical for long-range driving. I used to think that this was simply a matter of a lack of quick charging infrastructure and small batteries and that Tesla had solved both problems. However, the problem remains even with the Tesla.
            If you watch any one of the dozens of travelogue videos that Tesla owners have posted and do just a little math, you’ll discover that on a long Tesla trip you are lucky to average 40 miles an hour. This is because of the long wait times for recharging. When the Model 3 arrives this will get even worse. The supercharger network will almost certainly be stressed. With the Volt you can easily average 60 miles an hour on long trips. With a 1,000 mile trip the Volt cuts the trip time by more than 8 hours. This is not insignificant.

            In additional to solving real problems with BEV use, the Volt brings no obvious new problems of its own. With the 2016 Volt you are on battery power almost all of the time. The few times I have used gasoline so far have been in circumstances in which it was greatly appreciated. The only downside I can think of is purely theoretical. The added weight and complexity of the Volt driver train is concerning, but the practical implications are, so far as I can tell, nil. The concern for the environment is, again, mostly theoretical. In the real world you burn so little gas that’s it is not much of a concern. Most Volt drivers will routinely get well over 100 miles to the gallon.

            I am a convert, at least for now (I used to drive a Leaf).

      3. RexxSee says:

        A rEVolution happens quickly, by definition. This is a delayed technological advance, a regression since the first wave of BEVs around the turning of the century.

    3. Speculawyer says:

      I’d definitely buy the new Volt if it had 60KWH of batteries in it.

  2. Tim says:

    So where is the Full 2016 review? There was no link in the video and its not on his channel.

    The technology and the incredible engineering that went into the process of producing this car is incredible. The only contradictory information is that GM spent the time developing 4 drive modes that distinctly handle the ICE engine yet as Alex pointed out its more important the Malibu has better MPG.

    1. Jay Cole says:

      Hey Tim,

      Alex apparently decided to released this video on the Voltec operation ahead of the full review…so the graphic to view the review has not been embed yet (he probably will do that once it is live).

      Hopefully, it should be later today or this weekend. As long as he isn’t strangling kittens or lacing his dialogue with profanities, we will host it here as well when it is out, (=

    2. Scramjett says:

      Alex usually posts his full car reviews on Fridays. Any related media to the car he’s reviewing (carseat reviews, etc.) tend to get posted a day or two ahead of the main review.

  3. carcus says:

    It’s a “Voltec tootsie-pop”, so the real question is “How many licks?”. The EPA says you can lick the tasty EV candy shell 53 times before you hit the gooey tar-ball center (yuck!).

  4. Aaron says:

    It’s a PTPHEVPTEREV. Part-time plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, part-time extended-range electric vehicle. Simple.

    1. ffbj says:

      Thanks for the clarification.

  5. 2013VOLT says:

    These arguments are ridiculous. The car is a hybrid, plain and simple. I would even go so far as to say the car is a mild hybrid given how little the ICE contributes to driving the vehicle.

    1. SparkEV says:

      Strange way to phrase Volt as mild hybrid. I’d call it super duper hybrid or best hybrid.

      1. ggpa says:


        best hybrid by far.

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Not a good idea. The term “mild hybrid” is already in use, meaning a car that operates almost entirely as a gasmobile, with only a mile assist from electric traction motors.

      The Volt is the most robust hybrid being made today.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Ack! Typo alert! That should be:

        …only a mild assist…

        1. Scramjett says:

          Haha, that’s ok. I actually read that as “mild assist” anyway, typo not withstanding. 🙂

    3. Michel says:

      If you never plug it it’ll run like an hybrid .
      I plug mine every night and I’m at 85 % EV drive . That mean 15 % hybrid the rest of the time.
      About the BMWi3 and i3 Rex . One is anEV and the other is an hybrid??

    4. Michel says:

      We have some guys her in Quebec they go as far as don’t put gas in the tank of their Volt in winter because they don’t want their engine running due to cold weather. Can you name an hybrid that can do it

  6. Bobby says:

    It’s too complicated it would’ve had to been cheaper just to add more batteries
    You got a love when engineers out do their selves

    1. SparkEV says:

      I’d agree except for charging network. Without gas engine, Volt is pretty much a city car even with 100 miles range due to lack of charging infrastructure and lack of DCFC.

      At 200 miles range with DCFC, it would be city + “CA car” as CA is just about the only state with enough chargers for state wide travel.

      1. Scramjett says:

        You’d actually be better off in Washington and Oregon for DCFC. California opted to renege on it’s part of the deal in building the West Coast Electric Highway. Only recently have they started to pick up the pace (and don’t expect anything of significance for the next couple years).

    2. DonC says:

      Wow. Just wow. With those analytic skills hopefully you’re not in marketing or planning. LOL So funny you think that.

      That aside, it will be interesting to see whether consumers prefer the Volt or the (more expensive) Bolt EV. That will be a good test of which approach works for more people. My guess is there will be a “dollar split” answer.

    3. ffbj says:

      Right. For me the ‘complex engineering’ comments are not a selling point, rather more of a, well just more expensive things to go wrong.

      1. Scramjett says:

        That’s a fair point. OTOH, transmissions are pretty complex (especially the modern multi-gear multi-clutch systems) and are certainly not for the faint of heart. You’d be better off getting a new car. Fortunately, automakers have also considerably reduced the failure rate of transmissions (and I think we can expect the same reliability out of the Volt 2.0 as the Volt 1.0).

        1. ModernMarvelFan says:


          Don’t tell Pushmi-Pullyu that.

          If you do, he will just post a video or diagram of Voltec powertrain again regardless what a multi-speed transmission looks like inside.

          1. Bill _Howland says:

            THe new GEN 2 Volt is 100 pounds lighter simpler by virtue of the fact they’ve gone down from 3 hydraulically operated clutches to 2. Plus a simple overrunning one similar to bicycles.

            The fact that they more fully utilize the parts is by definition a more elegant design.

            The car is built down to a price, but apparently is a better value for the consumer, and provides a larger profit to GM. SO hopefully it will appear in other products. Of course, it doesn’t have every feature known to man, the most power, the biggest battery, biggest charger, etc.

            So people who want to find fault with it will.

            I just wish they’d take this drivetrain (which apparently is the same as the hybrids they made years ago), put a big battery in it, and sell more phev models.

            The car runs on electric until the engine starts. Big deal what its called. Who cares.

            1. ModernMarvelFan says:

              Yes, GM is stupid for not putting it in more GM vehicles that needs “help” in competing against other brands….

    4. ClarksonCote says:

      Cars are too complicated. It would have been better to stick with horses.

      Oh wait, the complexity adds capability and convenience? That’s why they made the Volt the way they did! Almost forgot.

  7. vdiv says:

    Why can’t it be both?

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Indeed. Asking if the Volt is an EV “or” a hybrid is as meaningless as asking if Lassie is a dog “or” a collie.

      1. Ziv says:

        Well said, push.

    2. SparkEV says:

      If it’s carrying around traction motor and gas engine 100% of the time, it’s a hybrid.

      1. vdiv says:

        It also has a plug, an onboard charger, a fat-ass battery, and a 100+ kW of electric motors making it a plugin electric.

        Other hybrids don’t.

  8. Jeff N says:

    Nice job! Love the graphics. 🙂

    If you want to read more detail, Alex’s nicely done presentation is based on:

    For the backstory on power-split hybrid design and how Toyota, Ford, and GM have converged on hybrid design see:

    And finally, why does the 2016 Malibu hybrid get better mpg than the Volt:

    1. Breezy says:

      He should really give you guys some credit for that article.

      1. DonC says:

        For sure. But he does a nice job presenting the video.

      2. Scramjett says:

        I was re-watching the video and I noticed that he actually did. If you look below the diagram, he had a note along the lines of “image from”

    2. Phr3d says:

      Thanks Jeff N!

  9. Big Solar says:

    So, the i3 REX is the only EV with on board generator?

    1. DonC says:

      Not really. If you look again you’ll see instances when the engine drives MGA which sends power to MGB. Note that the “MG” stands for “motor generator” though that can refer to regen.

      If you mean the only EV that uses more or less a pure serial hybrid mode, then I think the answer is yes but I may be forgetting one.

    2. Brian Swanson says:

      The Fisker Karma would fit in that list as well. Everything else has some mechanical linkage between the gas motor and the wheels. ( The key word for this is Series Hybrid )

  10. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    Thumbs way up for this presentation! It’s quite rare to see something this complex explained so well, so clearly, and so quickly — in just over eight minutes! And a great use of diagrams, well placed into the presentation; those pictures really are worth 1000 words!

    All those TED Talk presenters who spend 45 minutes to an hour — or even more — droning on about their subjects should take note.

    1. HVACman says:

      Have you actually seen a TED talk that went “45 minutes to an hour – or even more”? They normally have a rigorously-enforced 18 minute time limit. It is part of their core format. KISS – Keep it simple and short.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Hmmm, okay, a brief YouTube survey shows most TED talks are less than 20 minutes, and I don’t see any longer than 22 minutes plus some odd seconds.

        My memory says that of the TED talks linked during many, many TheEESTory forum discussions, they were all at least 45 minutes, and some were well over an hour. So either my memory is playing me false (wouldn’t be the first time), or else what was discussed there was a highly non-representitive sample.

        18 minute time limit rigorously enforced? Clearly not. Go to YouTube and do a search on “TED Talk” for yourself.

        1. Phr3d says:

          There are variables, so I can’t jump on the ‘rigorously’ bandwagon, but they are Predominantly much shorter than you described, I’m thinking the reason he responded the way that he did (I catch them in ‘groups’ on a subject, have never seen one over 20m on Netflix).

  11. ClarksonCote says:

    It’s an EV, until it runs out of battery. Then it’s a bunch of things that behave very much like a hybrid after that. 😉

  12. sven says:

    Good explanation on why the Malibu gets better MPG than the Volt when its driven on gasoline. I wonder what’s the price difference between the Volt motor and the Malibu motor with its rare earth magnets.

    I wonder if GM will ever consider offering the more expensive (and higher MPG) motor with rare earth magnets as an option in the Volt like they offer smaller, larger, and turbo engine options in their ICE cars. People who drive their Volt’s further than it’s AER on their daily commute or who take many long-distance road trips would chose the more expensive motor if it where an option.

  13. HVACman says:

    Alex reminds me of an adult version of “Brick” from ABC’s “The Middle”.

    (Looking down)

  14. Yawn…..the eternal Volt question…..Again.

    Sorry Volt…..but you are hybrid.

    1. ClarksonCote says:

      You clearly didn’t watch the video.

      What other “hybrid” gives full vehicle performance until the battery has emptied without using gas?

  15. Chris O says:

    The “is the Volt a real electric car” conundrum is easily solved once one settles on an appropriate definition for electric cars.

    Within the framework of green cars the best definition is one that focusses on energy rather than the type of traction device.

    I would propose: a car is an EV to the extend it’s powered by electrons from an external source.

    According to this definition the new Volt will probably work as an electric car ~90% of the time. It’s still a hybrid though, so for that remaining 10% it’s just a good old gasser.

    1. ClarksonCote says:

      I’d propose a slight variation: 90% of the time it is an EV. 10% of the time it is a hybrid.

      The naysayers will say that means it is a hybrid. But then again they also complain about the Bolt, so…

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Chris O said:

      “I would propose: a car is an EV to the extend it’s powered by electrons from an external source.”

      Actually, all (well, nearly all*) EVs have their electric motors powered by electric current from an onboard source*. In batteries, the energy is stored as chemical energy; the electricity is generated onboard by chemical reaction, even if they are recharged by electricity from an offboard source.

      Looking at the broader picture: If an electric car was powered by an aluminum-air fuel cell (which some call a “battery”) or a prototype nuclear-electric generator, would you still insist it’s not really an EV? Seems like a rather useless definition, to me.

      If the car is designed and built to be propelled by electric motors alone, then it’s an EV. That’s true even if it is a “switch hitter” and can also operate as a gasmobile… in other words, a PHEV; and the “EV” in “PHEV” certainly does mean “electric vehicle”, contrary to what you’re arguing.

      Any attempt at a different definition is going to fail in some circumstances.

      *I originally wrote “all”, but that’s not true of carnival bumper cars, nor slot cars, both of which do qualify under the term “EV”.

      * * * * *

      About that prototype nuclear-electric generator:

  16. Breezy says:

    Yes, the new Chevrolet Volt is an EV or a hybrid.

  17. HVACman says:

    The Voltec drive train is the Swiss army knife of plug-in electric vehicle drive trains…dig deep enough and you’ll probably find tweezers and a toothpick inside.

  18. Bone says:

    Isn’t it incredible, that it’s 2016 and simply saying “Volt is a plug-in hybrid with 53 mile all electric range” still isn’t enough to clarify the issue to layman.

  19. Bill Howland says:

    Since the wheels are always connected, I’d like to be in the car when MGA has to overspeed and the gas engine starts to see what it ‘feels’ like. I feel a slight transition between modes in my GEN 1 cars at low speed (can’t feel it at high), but I wonder if some torque change works it way to/from the wheels since the computer can’t know precisely when the engine will ‘catch’ unless its very high speed, which is more likely these days. Since at most starts the vehicle is already going 15 mph or so, it probably practically doesn’t make much difference, but I’d still like to ‘feel’ if the effect is sensible or not.

    Interestingly even though I just mentioned it (since it looks like the only way it could be done), none of these explanations explain explicitly how the engine is cranked.

    1. Jeff N says:

      “Since the wheels are always connected, I’d like to be in the car when MGA has to overspeed and the gas engine starts to see what it ‘feels’ like.”
      I’m not certain what you mean. I’m guessing you are referring to what happens on the Prius where things are geared in such a way that when the engine rpm is zero, MGA (MG1 on a Prius) reaches its maximum rpm limit well before the top speed of the vehicle is reached. In order to prevent MG1 from exceeding its rpm limit they have to start the engine so it’s spinning will allow the MG1 gear to spin at a slower speed in the planetary arrangement. On the Volt, the gear ratios and MGA rpm limits are such that MGA never needs to have the gas engine start while driving on the battery.

      “Interestingly even though I just mentioned it (since it looks like the only way it could be done), none of these explanations explain explicitly how the engine is cranked.”

      The engine is started the same way as the Prius engine. The hybrid computer increases the speed of MGA and this causes the engine to start turning. Once the engine rpm is up to around 1000 rpm and the oil pressure is stable it’s given gas and spark and starts turning under its own power. They have engine rpm sensors so they can do a little dance with engine motor rpms to make the transitions smooth.

      1. Jeff N says:

        “The hybrid computer increases the speed of MGA and this causes the engine to start turning.”

        Sorry, the correct answer is that the hybrid computer decreases the speed of MGA and that forces the gear with the engine attached to it (ring gear) to spin faster (faster than zero). I was in a rush to reply and I’ve got a bad cold and didn’t think clearly about things.

        1. Bill _Howland says:

          “…DECREASES the speed of MGA…”

          Please explain step by step how this happens, assuming the vehicle is slowing down at the same time, coincidentally.

          You said this causes the engine to crank, please elaborate supposing simultaneously the vehcile is in the process of decelerating.

          1. Jeff N says:

            Planetary gears are non-intuitive for me also. I have to put myself into a trance-like state to visualize the gear relationships.

            First, go look at section 3 of the Wikipedia entry for “epicyclic gearing”. It describes the gear relationships and what happens if you turn one gear or another while preventing a second of the gears from turning. Think of what happens when the car is stopped at an intersection and the engine needs to start. The HowStuffWorks site also has a good description of planetary gears.

            The third generation Prius and second generation Volt each have two planetary gear sets. We can safely ignore the second gear set for now and just focus on the first gear set (the power-split gear set) to which the gas engine and small motor/generator are attached.

            The Volt engine is attached to the ring gear and the final drive going to the wheels is attached to the planetary carrier plate. Since the car is stopped, the carrier is effectively being held in place so when the small motor on the Sun gear turns it will only turn the ring gear. In this case, the Sun and ring gears turn in opposite directions because that is what happens when the carrier is prevented from being turned on a planetary gear set. The engine always turns forward with a positive spin (there is a one-way clutch on the Volt that keeps it from spinning backwards). In order for the engine to spin the Sun gear must turn backwards or with a negative spin. It does so, and the gas engine is successfully started. Success!

            Starting the Prius engine works very much like this as well except that the roles of the ring and planetary carrier are swapped (the Prius engine is on the carrier instead of the ring). The practical result of that change in gear assignment is that the small motor on the Sun gear spins forward to spin the engine forward instead of the motor spinning backward as it does on the Volt’s arrangement.

            In other words, to spin up the engine on the Prius the Sun gear motor must spin in a more positive direction while in the Volt the Sun gear motor must spin in a more negative direction.

            Now, if you are driving along on battery with the engine at zero rpm in the Prius this means the Sun gear motor is spinning at a negative rpm. To force the gas engine to spin, the Sun gear motor must spin in a relatively more positive direction which could mean a slower but still negative spin or it could begin spinning in a positive direction. It all depends on how fast the car is going (thus, how fast the Sun is already spinning negatively) and how fast we need to cause the engine to spin to enable engine startup.

            Again, for the Volt it is the same except it needs to adjust the Sun gear to spin in a relatively more negative direction.

          2. Jeff N says:

            As for your specific scenario of starting the engine while the vehicle speed is changing (slowing down or speeding up), that’s just a matter of the hybrid computers calculating the appropriate relative rpm targets as the vehicle speeds change

            It’s a little tricky but motors are very quick to react. The correct Sun gear motor rpm change can always be calculated in the Volt to use a relatively more negative spin and in the Prius to be relatively more positive spin so that the gas engine gear reaches the right rpm for engine startup.

      2. Bill _Howland says:

        I just said that. Sometimes Disqus drops chars and my posts are missing letters or punctuation. Too many ads overloading my puter.

  20. Phr3d says:

    Thanks for the link Scramjett! I’ll add that I YTD downloaded it and played it at 80% speed in VideoLAN, plus pauses, lol. I read that Oregon is the fastest talkers, should I guess where Alex is from?

    These efforts will not apply to most of you, but wow, my uboob doesn’t respond fast enough when streaming to pause and track what he’s talking about And reference the drawings. It was brilliant once I could..

    Thanks again to Jeff N for the add’l links

    If the Volt don’t sell gangbusters, there’s “no such thing as Dr. Seuss, Disneyland and Mother Goose..’ i.e., I’ll just give up and Shut Up.

    1. Phr3d says:

      P.S. Dear GM, remember the Hurst Olds?
      Please consider Giving Volts to Enterprise or Hertz, as many renters only use the car in-city. Returning the car after 50mi and not needing to ‘fill-up’ will send clear, memorable messages – maybe not even for the renter, but they might anecdotally mention it to others.

    2. Scramjett says:

      No problem Phr3d. I couldn’t say where Alex is from originally but I do know he lives somewhere in the Santa Monica mountains here in California. It’s one of the reasons why I like his auto reviews. He really can gauge handling in a car because he lives somewhere that he can fully test a cars handling.

      You’re not wrong about his fast talking though. I often have to back up to catch what he said. He also close captions his videos (most of the time) so that helps too.