“Disruptive” typically has a negative connotation. Usually when someone is disruptive, in school, at work, in a public place, they get into trouble.

But in business, technologies that disrupt the status quo are sought after and encouraged. Every company dreams of creating a product that transforms a market like mini mills changed the steel business or Apple’s iTunes changed the music industry.

The propulsion system in the Chevy Volt is such a disruptive technology.

For 100 years, making a practical electric vehicle always has been about making better batteries. Now General Motors engineers demonstrate with the Voltec propulsion system there is a way to make a practical EV without a miracle battery.

It’s called an extended-range EV and now every auto maker in the world has to start rethinking its future product strategy.

A gas-powered back-up generator allows drivers to do a daily commute only under electric power, but eliminates range anxiety, a sweaty emotion that anyone who has driven an EV understands.

The generator enables the Volt to be driven hundreds – or thousands – of miles like a regular car when necessary, yet it’s almost impossible to tell when it is operating.

The EREV concept also allows a smaller battery to be used that can be recharged more quickly than an EV powered solely by a battery.


The idea of adding a backup generator to a serial, plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle is not the least bit new. But GM put components and software together into a brilliantly executed package whose intricacies are invisible to the consumer and can be added to more vehicles and platforms in the future.

As good as the powertrain in the Nissan Leaf EV is, it still is evolutionary. The drive system in the Volt is revolutionary.

Detractors say the Voltec system is too complex and expensive and that it never will make GM money. These are the same arguments made against the Toyota Prius HEV when it was launched more than 10 years ago.

Prius batteries did not wear out and residual values did not plummet as a result, like critics claimed. And Toyota and its retailers do make money on the HEV, in part because it attracts affluent buyers who add lots of pricey options.

But even though the Voltec powertrain is getting rave reviews, its disruptive effects are having a negative impact on many.

It is angering pundits such as Rush Limbaugh who want to see GM fail. It is disturbing competitors who thought the EREV strategy would not work, and now have to play catch-up. It is upsetting state and federal regulators, whose metrics and testing regimens now must be reconfigured.

It is confounding former “Car Czar” Steven Rattner, who does not understand the value of anything that does not show an immediate profit.

And it is disturbing to just about everyone else as well, including the Ward’s 10 Best Engines team, which is struggling to categorize EREV technology.

No matter. This is the price of progress. Bravo, GM, and full speed ahead.