General Motors Co.'s launch of the Chevrolet Volt hit some turbulence last week when accusations erupted that the Volt is not a "pure" electric vehicle.
The core of the controversy centers on the fact that the Volt's gasoline engine at times mechanically assists an electric motor, rather than just generating electricity. To purists, that means the Volt isn't an EV.
On the other hand, it never was.
We at Automotive News have persisted in calling the Volt a "plug-in hybrid." Our authority has been SAE's definition of a hybrid as a vehicle with two propulsion power sources. And the Volt, as we know, has a gasoline tank and engine.
Interestingly, GM first referred to the Volt as a "series hybrid." That's one in which the internal combustion engine feeds power to the electric system, as opposed to a "parallel hybrid," in which the two systems run the wheels.
But GM dropped "series hybrid," probably because the Toyota Prius so thoroughly dominated the public's image of "hybrid." GM came up with a new pitch: The Volt is an EV because the gasoline engine doesn't drive the wheels.
If that isn't true, it gives GM a black eye with EV fans -- or at least those who hadn't already noticed the Volt's internal combustion engine and gasoline tank.
But, really, the Volt's performance is what should matter. Its plug-in hybrid, range-extended, whatever-you-want-to-call-it system is one possible way around the range problem of EVs. When the battery is depleted, the Volt keeps going.
If that appeals to enough consumers, the Volt could help cut petroleum use and CO2 emissions. The extent to which it does that will be its true measure.