What is all the fuss in the automotive media about the Chevrolet Volt not being an electric car while GM says it is. - Ryan in Peterborough, Ont.
It's all a question of definition.
The purists - and competition - say that in order to be purely electric, a vehicle cannot have a tailpipe or more accurately a secondary, fuel-burning means of motivation.
The Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi MiEV - the two cars likely to be the first pure electrics on the market in Canada - have electric power only. The Volt on the other hand, while relying almost entirely on electric power, has a small internal combustion engine designed to operate as a generator, recharging the batteries of the electric system as they become depleted.
The outcome is a considerably longer range than a pure electric vehicle. Where the others will come to a complete halt after 100-to-150 km and require a tow to a recharging station, preferably with a 240-volt outlet - or in the case of the Leaf, a 480-volt outlet - to be recharged in a few hours, the Volt can carry on with the little engine resupplying the batteries. It is thus labelled an "extended range" vehicle.
But what causes the fuss is that under some, mostly high-speed highway or mountain-climbing conditions, that Volt's IC engine also supplies some power to the drive wheels. Accordingly, the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) calls the Volt a plug-in hybrid. Under SAE rules, a plug-in hybrid is a vehicle that has two or more onboard energy storage systems that provide propulsion. Because the Volt has a gas tank and storage batteries, it is labelled a hybrid.
I drive an Audi and use high-test gasoline. My husband claims I am wasting my money since gas stations don't actually have different tanks of fuel - they just label it differently and have separate pumps in order to gouge the public. He says stations do not get separate deliveries for the three levels of fuel, that it is all one gas and gas companies are ripping us off. He also says gas companies use every excuse in the books to jack up prices. What do you say? - Marti in Toronto
He's wrong on the separate fuels issue, but I'd be hard pressed to argue with him regarding why fuel prices go up, every winter and in tourist season when more people are driving.
But, as for the separate fuel issue, there are only a dozen or so refineries across the entire country. Each of them not only produces different levels of fuel - i.e. octane ratings - they apply different additives for each customer. Shell, for example boasts of the cleaning qualities of its fuel and requires refineries to use the required additives even if the fuel is coming from an Esso or Irving refinery.
It is common practice for refineries to supply many different brand names and far less expensive than having that fuel transported from a particular refinery across the entire width of this huge country. Each of those customers may have different requirements for what is added after the fuel has been refined but before it is delivered.
Tell your husband to take a look at the pump the next time he fills up and look for a little label telling when the federal government most recently inspected the pump for not only the accuracy of the measuring device, but what is coming out the nozzle. Gas stations sell different grades of fuel, each at a different octane level and with different additives and content.