Unless you’ve had your eyes glued to the Chevy Volt’s development, you probably aren’t aware of a new controversy which has come up over it.
The Volt’s battery is designed to last for the life of the car (10 years or 100,000 miles). As such, it stays constantly charged. In fact, when only about 20% of the battery charge is drained, it discontinues EV-only mode, and turns on the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) to recharge the battery. Still, this gives you 40 miles per trip (so you can drive to work, plug in, and drive home… for a total of 80 miles of gas-free driving per day). That’s a good thing.
But, there’s a moral hazard in this. What happens if you run out of gas? The battery stays at least 50% charged at all times. There’s nothing technical from preventing the battery from powering back on, and letting you get home or to a gas station to refuel. Of course, if you do this, you hurt the life of the battery each time… quite significantly, when you’re considering the battery has to last a decade.
So, the question now arises, will the Volt have an emergency mode? Will it have a panic button that lets you power on the vehicle, outside of operating specifications? That’s something that GM says they’re mixed about internally. They realize that there is interest in an Emergency Mode, but they also realize that they have to warranty the battery for a decade, and that this mode will be abused by some (careless drivers who run out of gas a lot).
So, here’s my proposal. I haven’t seen this proposed elsewhere.
Having an Emergency Mode is essential, I don’t even want to debate that. If you’re in a natural disaster, or in a dangerous situation… it’s just as bad as a derelict cell phone that decides to update brick itself. So, give users a little bit of leeway, but set requirements (in the Volt’s computer) for voiding the warranty.
Here’s how it would work. Lets say you run out of gas. The Volt’s computer pops up with the option to continue driving, but notifies you that you can only do this five more times. After that, the warranty on the Volt’s battery is voided. This allows users to chose… they can wait for a tow truck to give them gas, or, they can hit the panic button and keep going.
Once all five incidents are used up, the Volt would connect to OnStar (since all Volts will have OnStar), and sends a notification that the user has exceeded the allowed number of Emergency Mode events. GM then updates the warranty status on their computer, to note that the Volt’s battery is now out of warranty. The Volt will then continue to allow Emergency Mode, simply the user is now out of warranty. Of course, only the battery’s warranty would be affected. The rest of the warranty would remain intact, since this method of operation doesn’t impact other functions on the car.
Really, this could be in GM’s interest to offer from a financial standpoint. Well, first, GM wouldn’t have to worry about wrongful death lawsuits (stemming from people killed in situations where an Emergency Mode could have saved their lives). More key however, it would give GM a way to strip warranties from users who abuse their batteries.
And, this wouldn’t be hard to do at all… all the technology is there. I’m going to put my foot down and say that if there isn’t some form of Emergency Mode, I won’t be buying a first-generation Volt. Hopefully Chevy will listen.