The Chevy Volt is displayed at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev.
The Chevy Volt is displayed at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: The new new thing in the automotive business hasn't even hit the streets yet. The Chevy Volt won't be for sale for at least a couple of months. But we've been hearing at about the thing for years. How it's going to be all-electric, not one of those part-gas plug-in hybrid things. But since the Volt's patents were approved last month, auto experts have gotten a better look under the hood, leading to some questions about how electric the Volt really is.

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports.


Jeff Tyler: The Volt arrives in dealer showrooms later this year.

Tony Posawatz is the lead GM engineer behind it.

Tony Posawatz: With the Chevrolet Volt, you can burn rubber and not petroleum.

Which is not to say the car never burns gasoline. It has a back-up gas engine.

Posawatz: This is where the Volt differentiates itself from a typical battery electric car. It offers an additional 300 miles of range, so a Volt can be your everyday car. And so the engine runs to create electricity when the battery's state of charge dips below a certain point.

Dan Neil, auto critic for the Wall Street Journal, says GM erred in describing the Volt as completely electric.

Dan Neil: General Motors has denied over and over again that it was a plug-in hybrid kind of vehicle. And indeed, it's barely a plug-in hybrid vehicle. But in fact, it works a little bit like a Prius works.

So, the Volt relies mostly on electricity and a little bit of gas. So what? Neil says this amounts to bad PR when many are still upset about the auto bailout.

Neil: People are looking for a reason to be skeptical or derisive or dismissive of General Motors and the Volt. GM has just handed its critics a stick to hit them with.

What about consumers who want to buy an electric car? Jack Nerad is with Kelley Blue Book.

Jack Nerad: There's a percentage of the populous out there who is gung-ho about electric vehicles. And if this is operating more like a hybrid and less like a pure electric, that might give them pause.

So far, the federal government hasn't changed its perception of the Volt. As an electric vehicle, it qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.