Next step for Volt, Green Car of the Year, should be E85 capability

Don’t let all the accolades go to your head, Chevy Volt. You’re still not a truly green car, despite what it says on your new piece of hardware.

The redesigned Volt, a plug-in hybrid, was honored Thursday with the coveted Green Car of the Year award by Green Car Journal at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Fuel Freedom’s faithful Auto Show correspondent Nathan Taft had predicted as much:

The Volt, which has a battery range of 53 miles before switching over to its gasoline engine, is something of a people’s champion among alt-fuel cars. Last year’s Journal honoree was the BMW i3 all-electric, which starts at $42,400. The Volt starts at $33,170. And since the Volt can go 420 miles on a full charge plus full tank of gas, it alleviates any range anxiety a potential owner might feel (even if the issue is overblown).


Green Car Journal editor and publisher Ron Cogan (left) and a Chevy representative at the L.A. Auto Show on Thursday.

But the label of “green car” should come with an asterisk, because Volt drivers who have to use the gasoline engine can use only that fuel — gasoline. As we wrote earlier this month, the Volt originally was dreamed up as a flex-fuel vehicle, but it didn’t turn out that way.

Our friend John Brackett, an automotive engineer and one of the breakout stars of the smash hit 2014 documentary PUMP, righted that wrong by converting his 2013 Volt to run on E85 ethanol blend, just by a software work-around:

How did Brackett do this so easily? The Volt has the same 1.4-liter engine, and the same computer, as the Chevy Cruze from about the same time. “I’ve been working with the Cruze for several years now, and found that it was a piece of cake to go through it,” he said.

This brings up the question: Why didn’t General Motors make the Volt flex-fuel beginning with the very first model year, 2011? It’s a good question.

Brackett went on to say that the 2016 Volt might be just as easy to convert to run on E85, since it has direct fuel injection.

Sadly, the 2016 isn’t flex-fuel. But that doesn’t mean successive models can’t be made so. It sounds as if Chevrolet could easily make the vehicle E85-compatible at the factory. E85 is not only cheaper than regular gasoline, it burns more efficiently, reducing both greenhouse-gas emissions and particulates that cause smog.

The Volt is the first car to win Green Car Journal’s blessing two different times, having won for the 2011 model (this time it beat out finalists the Audi A3 E-tron, the Honda Civic, the Hyundai Sonata, and the Toyota Prius). So who knows? Maybe if Chevy makes the Volt flex-fuel for the next model year, it’ll earn a hat trick.

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