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Innovation & Startups

The Chevy Volt hums on over to CMU, Chargecar opens the Electric Garage


Motor Trend's Car of the Year, the electric and gas-powered 2011 Chevy Volt, generated a buzz in Pittsburgh last week at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show.  

It also made a pit stop on campus at Carnegie Mellon University, which received $70,000 from the General Motor Foundation for education initiatives. GM and CMU have been partners for more than 10 years on autonomous driving research, having collaborated on the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge which was won by a driverless Chevy Tahoe.

For supporters of CMU's ChargeCar initiative, the project that will make all-electric-all-the-time cars available to the region this year, the Volt failed to impress. While the car offers a sustainable electric option, the price point is not exactly geared for college students. Undeniably sporty and loaded with options, the Volt's lithium-ion battery plugs into a 120-volt outlet and--after a 10-hour charge--is ready to go 30 to 50 gas free miles at a reported electric cost of $1.50 a charge. For longer trips the Volt switches over to extended range mode and a gas-powered, 1.4 liter, 84-horsepower engine. With the federal tax rebate, it is selling for about  $33,500.

"It's great because of the flexibility. You get what you pay for," notes Illah Nourbakhsh, director of CREATE Lab and the ChargeCar initiative. "They're doing a great job of engineering a car from the top down. We have a different philosophy, engineering a car from the bottom up."

Nourbakhsh is focused on the future of an all-electric option for commuters and local driving. ChargeCar recently opened a recharge station on campus, Electric Garage,  where campus ChargeCar commuters can plug in and recharge. The Electric Garage, located at the old Exxon gas station on Panther Hollow, will have four to six charging stations. The garage was made possible through funding from the Heinz Endowments and CMU alum Donna Auguste.

ChargeCar also plans to take its first orders in March through several Pittsburgh mechanic shops. With the purchase of conversions packages in bulk, Nourbakhsh hopes to bring down the price of the electric car conversions to below $18,000, which is about the price of a single conversion.

Writer: Deb Smit
Souce: Chevrolet Volt; Illah Nourbakhsh, CMU

Image of the Volt courtesy of General Motors



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