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The Chevy Cruze's Fuel Saving Voltage Control

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author photo by Autotrader May 2011

When we try to save money, chopping out one big expense is not always an option. Instead, we’ll make little adjustments here and there, perhaps by buying a smaller cup of coffee than usual, for example. As J. Paul Getty once said: “If you look after the pennies, the dollars will look after themselves.” It’s the same approach when car companies want their products to save fuel.

Take the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, a big-for-its-size compact sedan. The Eco model can return 42 mpg on the highway, but even the thirstiest variants can still manage 36 mpg. A lot of clever stuff goes into achieving those numbers. Most of it is pretty much what every car maker does: variable valve timing, direct fuel injection, drive-by-wire throttle, etc.

The Cruze, however, has something extra going on, a patented technology called Regulated Voltage Control (RVC). Normally, we would think of a car’s electrical system as being somewhat inflexible. It does what it does – turns the starter motor over, provides a spark for the spark plugs, sends power to the lights and the radio – and that’s it. RVC is more intelligent and adaptable.

At the heart of every electrical system is the alternator, powered by an engine-turned belt. This is the component that actually creates the juice. Under normal driving, RVC reduces the amount of voltage sent from the alternator to the battery from the usual 14 volts to 12.8. At times like these, the battery doesn’t need all those volts (especially if it’s new or still fully efficient).

As a result, the alternator can focus its output on the spark plugs, so they can ignite the fuel with maximum efficiency, which means maximum horsepower, optimum consumption and fewer emissions. And when the alternator needs less energy, this translates to less drag on the engine, making it not have to work so hard. The upshot, again, is more efficiency.

If the battery’s charge falls below a certain level, RVC takes steps to rectify the situation. There is also a regenerative battery recharging function that kicks in whenever the car is decelerating, a feature found on many hybrid vehicles.

“Engineers left no stone unturned when it came to implementing fuel-saving technologies on the Cruze,” said Doug Dickson, electrical engineering specialist with General Motors’ Global Energy Center. “We estimate RVC improves economy by up to 1.5 percent.” Dickson reckons this adds eight miles of range to a tankful of gas. “Fuel economy is becoming a greater factor in purchasing decisions,” he said.

And it looks like he’s completely right. Chevrolet enjoyed March 2011 sales that were 11 percent higher than a year ago, with the Cruze being a rock star of the marque’s portfolio, finding more than 18,000 buyers in just that month. Meanwhile, parent company General Motors has also put RVC into the following 2011 vehicles: Buick Regal, Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and Cadillac SRX. The Cruze is the only one so far with the regenerative recharge function, though. Daniel Flores, spokesman for GM, said: “We are looking for opportunities to expand the technology into more vehicles in the coming years.”

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Used 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The Chevy Cruze's Fuel Saving Voltage Control - Autotrader