By Douglas Elbinger, Energy Policy Analyst, GreenLancer
Let me tell you about my Chevy Volt, now that I’ve been driving it for one year.
I remember back in 2011 when the Volt was first announced. I admired the boldness of GM to bring out a range-extended plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) in the midst of such economic uncertainty. In accord with the automotive reviews at the time, I thought the Volt was too expensive.
My previous automotive experience has been with Audi. I’ve had five different Audi’s over the last fifteen years. Before that, I drove Oldsmobile. One of the reasons I got a Volt last year is that the Chevy dealer offered me so much more for my trade-in than other dealers, I thought I’d better sign a deal before they changed their mind. The Volt was the only car on the lot that intrigued me. It turns out they have very affordable three-year lease plans that have improved considerably in the last year. I recommend a two-year lease because if you upgrade, I’m sure the 2016 Volt will be much improved in terms of electric cruising range and performance. I like to think of my Volt as the Model-T of electric cars.
Not having driven an American car in nearly 15 years, I took a test drive and was immediately impressed. The very knowledgeable and patient sales person taught me how to drive it and understand all the dashboard displays that are slightly different from a gas powered vehicle.
Included in the deal is the installation of a 240V in-home charging station. The retail value for the home charging units is $490 (plus installation costs). The home charging unit is a 240-volt (Level II) charger, and, according to General Motors, can replenish the Volt’s batteries in about four hours. Consumer Reports has advised buyers to budget up to $2,000, which I believe to be true, as many older homes, including mine, may need a substantial electrical upgrade since the US National Electrical Code requires that the charger have its own dedicated 220-volt, 30-amp circuit. The whole process took about two months before the inspector approved the installation and turned on the power. In the meantime, I used the 120V charger that came with the car.
What people really want to know is… does it save you money? That being asked, I’ll just bring the bottom line right to the top. Yes and no, but mostly no. You can purchase a car with equal power, performance, and style for much less money. Other than that… the Volt has many redeeming performance characteristics, technology, and value-added features that far exceed saving a few bucks on gas or car payments. Let me summarize based on real-life data. I have a daily roundtrip commute of approximately 44 miles, from Telegraph & Maple in Bloomfield Twp, to the David Stott building in downtown Detroit. On a full charge, when the temperature is above say 50 degrees F (battery range is less in cold weather… you are also running the heater and fan which takes up almost all your electric charge), I get an electric range of 36 miles per charge that covers 80% of my daily commute. At 24 miles per gallon, approximately $4/gal based on my actual results, I save about $40 per month. I should mention here that the gas tank only holds 11 gallons and takes premium. With a full tank and full charge I have a driving range of about 330 miles. If I don’t do any long-distance driving, I only need to fill up once a month. In the first couple months of ownership, I almost forgot how to use a gas pump.
According to Edmunds.com, the price premium paid for the Volt, after discounting the $7,500 US federal tax credit, takes a long time for consumers to recover in fuel savings, often longer than the normal ownership time period. Edmunds compared the Volt (priced at $31,712) with the same-size gasoline-powered Chevrolet Cruze (priced at $19,656) and found that the payback period for the plug-in hybrid is 15 years for gasoline prices at $3 per gallon, 12 years at $4 per gallon, and drops to 9 years with gasoline prices at $5 per gallon. The EPA rating considers a conversion factor of 33.7 kWh of electricity being the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline. With special utility rates (I have a separate meter installed with my charger) for charging during off-peak hours, the cost of electricity is almost negligible. My mileage results vary greatly (on the down side) from the Chevy Volt data published in Wikipedia, but I’m still pretty impressed.
The next thing everyone wants to know is how does it perform?
For me, the true test of any car is how it handles in the worst weather… and we had plenty of that last winter. Compared to the Audi, I felt completely safe driving in white-out blizzards, freezing rain, and icy roads. It has the most responsive braking and steering system, comparable to any luxury car you may be driving. The Chevrolet Volt is packed with standard safety features that include 4-wheel anti-lock brakes with traction control; Stabili-Trak electronic stability control system with brake assist; tire-pressure monitoring system; and 8 total airbags: dual-stage frontal, side-impact and knee for driver and front passenger, and roof-rail side-impact for front and rear outboard seating positions, with a passenger sensing system. A safety cage, built of ultra high-strength steel, surrounds the passenger compartment to keep the space intact in the event of a crash. Crush zones framing the trunk and the engine crumple to absorb crash energy before it reaches occupants.
One of my most pleasant discoveries is how quiet this car is. It is so quiet I often leave the radio and telephone off to just drive and relax in peace and quiet. The other discovery is great ‘pick-up’.
You don’t have to worry about having enough power or speed to pass other cars driving in heavy aggressive traffic.
Talk about connectivity!
The Bluetooth phone feature allows you to keep both hands on the wheel while using the voice-activated phone. I got to like this because the car is so quiet you can talk in a normal voice. On-star comes standard. I used it once when I was locked out and it worked. Satellite radio is a nice add-on feature and the sound system is just a little better than OK. You will be emailed monthly performance reports, such details as the car monitor of tire pressure and when you need an oil change… which isn’t very often. The Volt features an OnStar Mobile application for owners to access vehicle information without being in or near the car. This smartphone application features the ability to check fuel efficiency as well as the vehicle’s current electric range. It also helps monitor the charging, giving owners key information about the current charge level and the amount of time it will take until it is fully charged. The application also is able to control features such as locking/unlocking doors, and acts as a remote starter. A three-year OnStar Directions and Connections service was bundled into the 2012 Volt’s base price.
I could ramble on more about what this car is and isn’t, but on the whole, I very glad I got this automobile. When I first started driving the Volt, I didn’t see many on the road. Just the other day, I saw three of them in one parking lot! Electric cars will really take off when two things happen: 1. The “energy density” of the batteries improves to the point that you can get a range of over 300 miles or more, and 2. The price of gasoline goes above $5/gallon. Then you’ll see a lot more electric cars on the road.
One last anecdote. Late on a freezing winter night, I pulled into a gas station outside Ann Arbor.
A young man at the gas pump next to me smiled and said, “I thought you didn’t need to fill those up?”
I replied, “…that’s why I do it at night.”
About the Author: Doug Elbinger’s career spans over 35 years as an innovator in management and corporate communications. For many years, as an environmental journalist and producer for EnvironmentalNewsNetwork.com, he focused his efforts on acquiring an in-depth knowledge of advances and investment opportunities in the renewable energy industry. For more information, comments or dialogue, please contact Doug Elbinger:
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