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Local helps drive Volt to Car of the Year

John Doane with the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. The car can get 35-40 mpg. Photo by Patrick McAbee. (click for larger version)
January 12, 2011 - Like many local commuters—John Doane makes a daily trek from his Goodrich home south to his job in the Detroit area.

And like many area travelers, he returns home in the evening.

However, unlike daily drivers Doane has a unique option—he can travel gasoline free.

Doane, an engineer for General Motors for the past 20 years, was assigned to electric car design and the Chevrolet Volt project in December 2008. He works in the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford as one of about 100 calibration engineers and now drives a Volt each day.

"There's a top speed of about 100 mph on full electric," he said. "These are fun to drive cars. I ran this car through a variety of tests over the past few months—from driving through Canada and Michigan to out west."

According to GM officials, the engine powers a generator creating electricity to power the Volt. The vehicle can drive for up to 375 miles on lithium-ion cells (battery) and gas power. A liquid thermal cooling and heating system keeps the battery at a comfortable temperature as it's being charged and discharged. Doane's task on the Volt is to calculate how to keep the 1.4 liter four cylinder engine operating at peak effiency as it recharges the battery.

The Volt was named Motor Trend Car of the Year and was also recently named the North American Car of theYear at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

"The battery is the key," he said. "The next generation will be lighter than the Volt's 450-pound battery, which is located between the passenger and driver seats. And the range will be greater."

The Volt is available in California, Texas, and in parts of the northeast.

"This has been the highlight of my career," said Doane, a Central Michigan University graduate. "I've worked on some great vehicles in my days, including Buicks and Oldmobiles, but the Volt is by far the most unique. People have range anxiety when it comes to electric cars—the concept will only get better. Our goal is to be 100 percent electric."

According to GM, most people can commute gas- and tailpipe emissions-free for about $1.50 per day with the Volt with a range of about 40 miles before it needs to be recharged. The Volt will cost about $32,000 and will be available in Michigan later this year.

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