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Answers to electric-car questions

Jim Seida / msnbc.com

Msnbc.com's Alan Boyle lingers in the back seat of a Chevy Volt to finish a blog posting at San Francisco International Airport.

We've fielded hundreds of questions and comments in the course of our "Electric Road Trip" between Seattle and San Francisco in an electric-powered Chevy Volt, but some of the most interesting questions require answers from a real expert. So during the last 150 miles of our odyssey, we fired questions at Tim Perzanowski, a senior project engineer at GM, as he took his turn behind the Volt's wheel. Here are the paraphrased questions and answers:

Q: Why didn't they make a diesel version of the Volt? Wouldn't that be more efficient than a gasoline-fueled car?

A: New rules on vehicle emissions would make the production of a diesel-powered Volt prohibitively expensive, but the idea of developing a diesel Volt for European markets has been under discussion. And looking ahedad, Perzanowski says a new technology called HCCI would bring diesel-like efficiency to gasoline-fueled engines.


Q: How can an electric drive system that draws energy from a relatively small (1.4-liter) gasoline engine produce 40 mpg fuel efficiency, considering that energy would have to be lost in the conversion process? Here's the flip side of the question: What's so great about a gasoline-fueled system that produces 40 mpg fuel efficiency, considering that my Prius or diesel-powered Volkswagen gets as good or better mileage?

A: If you're impressed by the engine's performance, it's because of a) magic, b) good engineering, or c) advanced software and electronics. If you're not impressed by 40 miles per gallon, just remember that the equivalent efficiency in battery-only mode can be 50 to 100 miles per gallon ... based on the assumption that a full charge of the battery costs $1.50, or about half the cost of a gallon of gas.

Q: How much luggage space does the Volt have?

A: Perzanowski says the Volt's luggage space is comparable to that of other small hatchbacks. Chevrolet says the Volt has 10.6 cubic feet of cargo space, compared with Toyota's claim of 21.4 cubic feet for the substantially larger Prius. The Volt's split back seats fold down individually to provide extra space.

Q: I heard that the Volt is not really an all-electric car, but is just a hybrid like the Prius, which costs less. So what's the big deal?

A: This relates to a controversy that arose over the past few days and was addressed in an earlier item, but Perzanowski said that the Volt's power system is substantially different from the Prius, and even from the after-market plug-in Priuses that are popping up nowadays. Of course Perzanowski thinks the Volt's system is much better, but that's the sort of thing you should judge for yourself. There'll always be folks who are hard-core Prius fans, or Leaf fans, or Volt fans — who will argue with each other just as Mustang and Corvette fans did a generation ago.


Revisit the entire collection of postings from the "Electric Road Trip," or check out the short updates from @boyle on Twitter.