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Driving a Chevy Volt


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Volt on road

Last time I covered our reasoning in buying an electric vehicle and the Volt in particular. This time I’ll share some of what we have learned in driving it our first four months.

Test driving a car and driving it as your car are two different things, especially when you add in our goal of maximizing the electric percentage of total miles we drive. Add to that the fact that there probably aren’t 10 public charging stations within the car’s electric range from our house and you get a whole new hobby and a fascinating challenge.

We drive to maximize electric range. It’s a wonderful game to play. We never exceed the speed limit (though the Volt can go quite fast!). Use cruise control as much as possible. We accelerate very slowly. We drive in what Chevrolet calls “Low” to maximize regenerative braking power. The regenerative braking is so powerful we don’t use the mechanical brakes much.

We discipline each other about who needs to use the niceties such as cabin heating or seat heating or air conditioning. When we get home we modify our behavior to match the charging times of our Level II (240v) charger. For example we will watch TV just enough to get a full charge before heading out again to dine out. Waiting one hour at Level II can get back a significant amount of electric power.

During the week, my wife and I share the Volt every other day. We still have the diesel. Right now after four months of use we have managed to log over 4487 miles of pure electric out of 5955 total miles, 75% electric with almost 155 miles per gallon of gas burned! Volt computers capture this data automatically and an independent party (Thank you Mike Rosack) has developed a site (www.Voltstats.net) to display the results of any Volt interested in sharing. Our car is Nicknamed, “cathy’svolt” just enter “cathy” in the search and you can see our latest stats!

Interesting numbers – “P4n1kR1d3” out in Illinois  has almost 12,000 miles and is currently getting 37.2 overall MPG; he might have been better off with a Prius Plugin. On the other hand, “CT GM-Volt” in Connecticut  has 19,905 miles and hasn’t burned two gallons of gasoline yet – 99.9% electric and 5556.5 overall MGP! As I said, pretty interesting site; be sure to read the definitions at the bottom of the page.  

For experimental purposes, we did a pure gas test trip with no charging and got 38.8 miles per gallon. My wife’s two work locations don’t require charging to maintain pure electric mode; good thing, as there is no charging available at either site.  I have found a Level I (120v) plug at work, which I need to use to maintain pure electric mode back to my home.

As I mentioned in my last blog, there aren’t ten charging stations within my electric range, so when we stop at shops or restaurants I talk to everyone about the need for charging stations whether they’re listening or not. I’ve also been talking with a new business, Plugin Stations Online, in the Albany area. They have plans and are making progress – I wish them great success for both of us!

Regarding charging stations, I think one step in the right direction would be for all Chevrolet dealerships to have a charging station available to Volt owners, regardless where they bought the car. My Volt dealer did not reply to multiple requests after the sale. GM Chevrolet finally responded via a phone message that dealers are independent and GM Chevrolet could not influence the dealers in this matter. Remember, this is a new type of car that requires a new type thinking. Chevrolet will have to start thinking differently if they want to keep their production lines busy…

Back to the car, a lot of people asks how it handles. Well it handles wonderfully. The Volt with its large propulsion battery centered low in the car provides for two unexpected benefits; sports car like handling around corners and surprising traction in slippery conditions like an inch of snow on our very steep driveway with stock all season tires. It handles highway and city driving the same.

Whenever something new comes along, there is news or rumors that it doesn’t work or doesn’t work well. The Volt fires are the best example of inaccurate information turning into a firestorm of publicity and low class politics. No Volt owned by any actual owner has caught fire. The Volt batteries that actually caught fire were badly smashed in test crashes and then stored for weeks in a government facility. And GM was very forthright about any information about this event. They first actually offered loaner cars to any Volt owner while the tests where be concluded. Later they actually offered to buy the Volts back if any Volt owner was concerned. It’s a giant non-issue that had political motivations behind it.

Clearly electric vehicles are not for everyone, at least not yet. It will take time for them to catch on and for manufacturers to ramp up production. Batteries need to be improved and they will be. Still, the Capital Region will be like most of the US. The Volt cost $40,000. The Leaf costs $35,000. The Detroit Free Press reported in 2010 that the average new vehicle purchase was $29,125. So people actually spend close to $30,000 for a new gasoline car.  But most people see that $40,000 and move on.  Right now the federal government will give both the Leaf and Volt purchaser $7500 as a tax credit. But one has to wait to claim this benefit.  If this credit could be applied at the time of purchase it may help facilitate more plugin sales. Gas prices topping $5 a gallon will help too.

If you have any specific questions, please ask! I do love to talk about using less petroleum, helping keep our air clean, and keeping dollars in the U.S. 

Mark Raymaker is an Information Services Manager. He and his wife live nearby in Vermont. Besides becoming an electric car aficionado, he bikes, gardens and recycles. He may be contacted by comments to this blog or through Member email.


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