As promised, I've taken possession of a Chevy Volt, a gasoline-and-electric vehicle being marketed as a green or environmentally friendly vehicle. It's parked in my driveway in all its red fire truck glory with the Avnet Express logo splashed on the hood and a side sticker from TE Connectivity. After a brief ride to the Philadelphia airport to drop off the Fuller brothers -- Brian, editorial director for EE Times' EE Life engineering community, and the younger brother who accompanied him on the road trip -- I am eager to take the car on the road for a full workout. (See: Driving Miss Volt.)
Here at Last: The Chevy Volt and the Fuller Brothers
Here's my initial take on the car. First, I am really glad I didn't delete a post by EBN reader Kevin (that's all I know about him) about the Volt that I thought was objectionable because of the acronym WTF. Kevin explained that WTF stands for "Where are the facts?" and not the odious phrase I had in my mind. My apologies to Kevin, and I want to thank him for taking the extra step of spelling out the phrase.
The car started soundlessly. There was no wheezing or purring (even in gasoline mode). It just started, and I had no idea the engine was already running until I got a gentle reminder from Brian Fuller to start rolling. This is going to take some getting used to, but I can handle the silence.
The Volt is comfortable and roomy inside. It seats four comfortably and five with a gentle squeeze. The trunk has enough space for a family traveling with a full suite of luggage, and the car feels, well, like a regular car.
That's the good news. Now back to Kevin's valid point about the Volt. It isn't an all-electric vehicle. Properly described, it's a hybrid, and even that term doesn't fully explain what it is. It runs on electricity for a limited number of miles (about 40). In my opinion, this means the Volt isn't all it's been cranked up to be. We have reported on this exhaustively in the past, and I wanted to see and experience it firsthand before taking the issue further. You'll see in coming blogs a thorough evaluation of the on-road performance, as well as the opportunities for electronics companies.
Before you think I am going to be running a thorough round of negative blogs about the Volt, though, I'd like to disabuse you. My interest in the vehicle lies in the opportunities (current, missed, and future ones) for electronic part vendors, component distributors, system developers, software makers, and contract assemblers when it comes to supporting and servicing the nascent environmentally friendly automotive market. Companies supplying sensors, connectors, batteries, processors, and a swath of other products can gain sales by supplying this market.
Avnet Express, a unit of Avnet Inc. (NYSE: AVT), is co-sponsoring the Drive for Innovation program with EBN's parent, UBM Electronics. Like many in the industry, Avnet Express is interested in the innovation behind the car and opportunities for future innovation. Avnet says engineers can bring a lot more into the environmentally friendly vehicle market, and it has taken on the task of having UBM reporters interview engineers and designers throughout America about the product and its shortcomings, advantages, and possibilities.
Kevin's point on its nomenclature is well noted. I queried Brian exhaustively about the car, and I can tell you it's more of a gas combustion vehicle than an electric car. But there's also a lot to like about the vehicle. I'll chronicle these soon. However, this vehicle and others like it (hybrid, fully electric, etc.) offer electronics OEMs and component vendors the opportunity to strut their stuff. We've tried to get a complete list of components from the electronics industry in the Volt, but this effort has been like pulling teeth. OEMs typically don't allow component vendors to say much about their design scores, and General Motors is cut from the same cloth.
The battery technology in the Volt imposes major limitations on the potential for market acceptance. It needed a full charge by the time Brian delivered it to me, and this will apparently take about 12 hours on a 110V electric line. So I've taken the Volt for a ride the traditional way –- consuming gasoline like many other vehicles on the road. That was a major letdown. Brian assured me that I would like the car a whole lot more once it's fully charged. I can't wait.
By the way, a teardown of the Volt is scheduled for sometime next spring. UBM Electronics will take the car apart and give us a peek at its innards. Then we can tell everyone whose products are designed into the Chevy Volt and how much they represent breakthroughs and sales opportunities for the industry.
Keep your skepticism -- there's a place for it. But don't write off the Volt. It promises more than it has delivered so far, but a market exists for it, and electronics vendors will help deliver the electricity-based high performance it aims to deliver.