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2013 Flex Run

JB-Volt-Fillup3The Chevrolet Volt was originally meant to be a flex-fuel vehicle, capable of running on ethanol blends up to E85. So all John Brackett is doing, really, is restoring the car to its original capability.

Brackett, an automotive engineer featured in Fuel Freedom’s 2014 documentary PUMP (he’s the mutton-chopped guy, hence the moniker Fuelverine), recently bought a 2013 Volt. That car isn’t flex-fuel, of course: It’s a plug-in hybrid powered by electricity until the battery runs out, then
the gasoline engine kicks in. For Brackett, this basic engineering fact wasn’t good enough, so he converted the engine so it would run seamlessly on E85.

Brackett pulled it off by making a few simple changes to the software in the vehicle’s on-board computer.

How did Brackett do this so easily? The Volt has the same 1.4-liter engine, and the same computer, as the Chevy Cruze from about the same time. “I’ve been working with the Cruze for several years now, and found that it was a piece of cake to go through it, ” he said.

This brings up the question: Why didn’t General Motors make the Volt flex-fuel beginning with the very first model year, 2011? It’s a good question. In January 2007, AutoBlog wrote about the Volt, which had just been unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show as a concept car. The blog wrote:

… the Volt ICE is fully flex fuel capable and can run on any combination of gasoline or ethanol up to E85.

It didn’t turn out that way with the car sold to the public. Even though, Brackett says, based on what he’s seen under the hood, it easily have been made an FFV at the factory.

“They just did not turn it on; they didn’t activate it, ” he said. “To make things even worse — easier for me, worse for GM — they have all the ethanol tables already pre-filled, and they actually looked like pretty good tunes for just the ethanol side of things. So they put effort into making this into a flex-fuel car.”

So how easy is it to convert the redesigned 2016 Volt? It has a larger-displacement engine (1.5 liters) with more horsepower (101, vs. 84 in the current model). But it also has direct injection, “which is much more efficient, and it’s much more usable with alcohol fuels, ” Brackett said. “So as soon as somebody comes out with the hacking program for them, we’re going to have some good opportunities to be able to alter those as well.”

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