A Diesel Powered Earwig And the Chevy Volt

This morning when I was going through all the mail from all the various accounts I had, and deleting out all those spam from Canadian Pharmacies that seem to exist only as a scam, I stumbled across a comment on one of my earlier posts. 

I had written here about a picture of a Chevrolet Volt being charged up in Fort Lauderdale at a wall socket.  There was a comment at the bottom about Chevy releasing an SUV in India based on the same technology. 

Good idea but does everyone need an SUV?  Sure, they’re roomy and all, but everyone does not need one.  If we did, we’d all be driving one.

I do think it is an interesting application of technology but I am left with two problems with it from a “functional” view.

First, the biggest problem that it has is that big battery pack.  It’s big, it’s expensive, and you are carrying along a giant pile of batteries resembling the sale bin just before the Xmas shopping binge.  You need a lot of D cells to power your toys and many of those packs are similar – a lot of commodity rechargeable batteries wired together.  Get into an accident, they will burn if the pack is broken in the right way.  The other problem with that battery pack is that they wear out.  Cells will wear out after a couple hundred to a couple thousand charges.  The packs are typically not built to be repaired.  Where do the packs go after they’ve been worn out?  Recycle what you can and landfill the rest.  Not great, but better than the pollution of all of that gasoline.

Second the Volt has a gasoline motor to run the generator to top off the battery pack.  It isn’t a large motor, only a 1.6 Liter.  It isn’t used to drive the car until it gets into conditions of high speeds or heavy load.  Since it is a generator, you want to have the smallest motor that is available to do the job.  The higher the efficiency of the motor, the lower your fuel consumption would be.

That raises the question:  Why a 1.6 Liter Gasoline Motor? 

Why not Diesel?

Volkswagen has an effective comparison in their offerings.  Using the US Government’s numbers, you can ask why is it that we’re using a Gasoline engine at all?  Typically, and those figures bear out the rule of thumb, for the same size motor, a given Diesel motor will be 1/3 more efficient than a given Gasoline model.  Bearing in mind that the power output of a Diesel is slightly different (More Torque vs Horsepower), they are effectively interchangeable, especially when you have a turbocharger on them. 

So if you have a 95MPG Equivalent Volt, would that mean that dropping in a Diesel motor will you get 130 MPG?  Perhaps.  The EPA is notoriously inaccurate in measuring the MPG of a Diesel car.  That Jetta that is rated at 30MPG regularly gets 40MPG in real world numbers.  It is a “Clean Diesel”, which means if you were standing behind it, you may notice a slightly different smell but it wouldn’t coat you with soot like the older cars may have. 

If you drive it gently, a Jetta TDI has been seen to give 50MPG on the highway.  In the Hypermiler communities, it raises the question of whether you need a hybrid at all.  The real world numbers of a Jetta TDI tend to be almost as good as and in some cases better than that of the darling of the Green World, the Toyota Prius. 

So press releases aside, because that comment in my older posting reads like one, I still am confused as to why we don’t have more Diesel in this country.   The memories of the old Oldsmobile 98 Diesel are still out there, but fading.  It’s time we bury that, and move on.  With $4 a gallon gas and the prediction of gas hitting $5 a gallon before the end of this year, this country needs every extra MPG it can get. 

A Chevrolet Volt in Fort Lauderdale

Here is something you don’t see everyday and that’s really quite a shame in my mind.

It’s a Chevrolet Volt, and if you look at the front wheel you’ll notice that there is an electric cord plugged into the car. 

The Volt is a next generation hybrid car.  It runs off of electric fully until the car is going faster than 70MPH, then the gas motor kicks in and helps it out.  The batteries are what drives the electric motor, and the electric motor is usually being used as a generator.  You can even use the car’s motor generator to power your house in an emergency.

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a car geek.  If I were to get a car, and had money to throw at it, this would be the one.  For just about everyone out there, this car would not have to use gasoline to get around.  You would drive it home at the end of your day, plug it into the wall, and by the morning you’d have a full battery pack to get you where you need to go for a normal commute.   If your batteries ran flat, the gas motor would kick in and get you where you are headed.

If your gas motor never kicked in, you’re driving an electric car.  The pollution doesn’t go away of course, you’ve shifted that to the power plant that supplies the electricity to your home or place of business.  If we had solar panels on the roof like we were all promised we’d have by now, that would mean free power and no pollution.  All that takes money, and the infrastructure is not quite there yet, not even in South Florida, but since the United States has the largest Alternative Energy market in the world, we’re on our way.

Considering that an electric motor is 90% efficient in producing power where a gasoline motor is at best 50%, GM’s claims of getting 90MPG in a traditional sedan is certainly plausible.  Just don’t turn on the heater.

Until we get all this straightened out, you can just think about this lucky person who is filling up their gas tank, er Battery Pack, on the office’s dime!