Three Decades Before the Chevy Volt, There Was the GM Silver Volt
The 1980 plug-in hybrid had plenty of promise but never made it to production
The Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid has a little-known ancestor from 1980: the General Motors Silver Volt. The Electric Auto Corporation built the Silver Volt as part of a special contract with GM. This plug-in hybrid car could hold five passengers and was based on a Buick station wagon.
At the time, EAC said the Silver Volt had a range of 80 to 100 miles, with a top speed of 70 mph. The car’s lead-acid battery pack could be charged from a 120-volt or 240-volt outlet and reach 80% in less than an hour. The Silver Volt also carried an “auxiliary power unit” that powered the car’s heating and air conditioning. It also served as a backup generator that could kick in to extend the battery’s range.
EAC said the Silver Volt’s battery could last 40,000 miles before needing a replacement. That’s not adequate today, but it would have been pretty impressive in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
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According to the standards of the day, the Silver Volt was a luxury car. It featured aerodynamic exterior styling, flexible urethane bumpers, and retractable headlights. The brakes, steering, seats, and windows were all powered.
GM had plans to build a test fleet of Silver Volts, but the car never actually made it into production. Its estimated $14,000 price (quite expensive for 1980) might have had something to do with that. Or maybe the Silver Volt was just too far ahead of its time.
Oddly enough, the Silver Volt did surface again a few decades later, making a brief appearance in the otherwise-forgettable 2003 movie Agent Cody Banks. By that time, GM was already busy building on the Silver Volt’s legacy with the Impact concept car and the EV1, leading to the introduction of the Chevy Volt in 2011.
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