The development of the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car was so complex that it's now become fodder for a research paper.

The 29-page paper by Presidio Graduate School Professor Dariush Rafinejad, titled "Chevrolet Volt: A Disruptive Innovation Bridge to Electrified Transportation," covers the plug-in Volt's research and development process.

2007 Chevrolet Volt Concept

2007 Chevrolet Volt Concept

According to, Rafinejad spent a year interviewing General Motors executives for the paper. He hopes the final document will show business students how large corporations can manage innovative, sustainability-focused projects.

Rafinejad describes the Volt as a reaction to the Toyota Prius, saying GM was trying to "leapfrog" the Toyota's technology. However, he portrays the Prius itself as a reaction to GM's EV1 electric car of the 1990s.

But competing with green cars like the Prius was only part of the reason that the Volt was proposed and built, Rafinejad argues.

The Volt allowed General Motors to kick off development of technologies such as battery packs and battery charging infrastructure, he says, that could later be used in all-electric cars--while still leading to a plug-in vehicle that could be sold in the short term.

Aside from the "why" behind the car, fans of the Volt will find many interesting points in Rafinejad's work--including the story of how GM arrived at its unique powertrain configuration.

Saturn EV1

Saturn EV1

The idea to give the Volt a range-extending gasoline engine also came from GM's experience with the EV1, he writes.

The paper quotes EV1 engineering chief Andrew Farrah, who says that GM built generator trailers for prototype versions of the electric two-seater, because certain tests required more range than the batteries alone could provide.

When it debuted, the Volt cost around $40,000, although the price was eventually lowered to $34,995 for 2014 models. Nonetheless, the paper quotes product manager Cristi Landy, who said the Volt was always intended as "an electric car for the masses"--hence its Chevy branding.

Meeting the car's performance goals took precedence over an initially lower price, the paper says. GM banked on the interest of early adopters who would be willing to pay a premium for a car with brand-new technology.

Almost three years after its launch, the Volt is still with us--reaching a new sales high in August 2013 with 3,351 units sold--and remains the highest-selling plug-in electric car in the U.S. market.

For a blow-by-blow account of the Chevy Volt's gestation, read the full paper here.


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