General Motors has taken the first step down a path to establishing its claim on what promises to be one of the most coveted benchmarks of the fledgling 21st century: a formal EPA fuel economy rating in excess of 100 mpg. While still in a preliminary mode, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has granted the new Chevrolet Volt "electric vehicle" status, a decision with far-reaching implications should that recognition be formalized when the extended-range sedan goes into production at the end of 2010. The catch? The Environmental Protection Agency has yet to finalize its own testing methodology for this new generation of plug-in electrical vehicles (EVs) like the Volt. Until detail specifics of the gasoline-versus-electric side of the math are determined, no one can tell exactly how efficient the Volt -- or other extended-range offerings like the Toyota Prius or any other plug-in foes -- may be.

The coveted EPA ratings -- and their impact on GM's Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) marks -- will be the most critical part of the game, but there are other interesting implications as well. Depending on the Volt's final marks, it could bolster its bragging rights with a sizable chunk of the $10-million Automotive X PRIZE being underwritten by the Progressive Insurance Company. In commending GM on its efforts with the Volt, Don Foley, executive director of the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE raised another relevant issue that needs to be recognized, and offered one possible way to do accomplish that goal.

"Reliance on an MPG standard alone will soon be outdated and will not accurately reflect the need for higher fuel efficiency. The Progressive Automotive X PRIZE is a way for all vehicle makers to compete in real world driving conditions, and with our proposed unit of measure, MPGe -- miles per gallon or energy equivalent -- we believe we've found a way to test alternative fuels on a level playing field. Miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe) is a measure that expresses fuel economy in terms of the energy content of a gallon of petroleum-based gasoline. Basically we ask: how much energy was delivered to the vehicle, and how far did it go? We convert the energy to the number of gallons of gasoline containing equivalent energy, and we express the result as miles per gallon. Our goal goes beyond conserving gasoline, but also conserving energy of all types."

"We're pleased that the EPA is looking at how best to gauge the fuel economy of cars like the Volt and recommend that they consider adopting MPGe as a unit of measure that would more accurately reflect fuel consumption of alternative energy vehicles, and we welcome further discussions with them on this topic, just as we invite all automakers' participation in the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE."
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