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How electric is the Chevy Volt?

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.

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