NEW YORK -- General Motors Co. said drivers of its Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid have been traveling 1,000 miles (about 1,600km) before they need to visit a fuel station, enough to make it more practical for daily use.
The $41,000 Volt runs on batteries and then switches to a gasoline-powered electric generator when the charge dwindles. The Volt and Opel/Vauxhall's version of the car, the Ampera, goes on sale in Europe in November. The Ampera will be priced at 42,900 euros and the Volt will start at 41,950 euros.
Like the Volt, the Ampera will be powered by electricity at all times. For the first 40km to 80 km (25 to 50 miles), power for the drivetrain comes from electricity stored in the 16-kilowatt hour lithium ion battery pack and the car has zero emissions. For longer trips a gasoline-fueled engine/generator sustains the battery charge and extends the driving range.
GM sold 1,210 Volts in the United States in the first quarter, according to Autodata Corp. of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.
"A sample of our early Volt customers suggest that they drive 1,000 miles before they fill up the gas tank," Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director for the Chevrolet Volt, said at a conference in New York Wednesday.
The estimates suggest automakers' dreams of selling viable alternative-drivetrain cars are getting closer to reality.
"Demand for the product is very, very high," Posawatz said. Consumers "can't get enough of them."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated the Volt's electric-only driving range at 35 miles. Drivers may go another 344 miles on the gasoline generator, reaching a combined range of 379 miles, GM said in November. Consumers who don't regularly drive very far can plug in the car to recharge and won't use much fuel.
Nissan Motor Co. has sold more than 10,000 of its Leaf electric vehicle globally, Andy Palmer, senior vice president at the Yokohama, Japan-based company, said Wednesday at a panel discussion with Posawatz.
The $32,780 Leaf uses only batteries and doesn't have a fuel-powered generator. In fuel economy tests it traveled 73 miles on a fully charged battery, the EPA said in November.
The company has estimated the driving range at 62 miles to 138 miles, depending on conditions, before it must be plugged in to recharge. The company has sold 452 Leafs in the United States this year, according to Autodata.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has said that 95 percent of drivers travel fewer than 100 miles a day, making the Leaf a practical fit for most people.
Automakers plan to meet growing demand by introducing six plug-in electric vehicles this year, either battery-only models or those with back-up generators such as the Volt and Ampera, and 14 more next year, said Albert Cheung, lead analyst for energy smart technologies at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Total production capacity worldwide will almost double this year to 450,000, from 124,000 in 2011, and is expected to almost double again next year to 823,000, Cheung said.
Source: Bloomberg with contributions from Douglas A. Bolduc