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Published on May 21st, 2016 | by Steve Hanley


2017 Chevy Volt — 1st Impressions

May 21st, 2016 by  

Editor’s Note: We have already had a few reviews of the 2nd-generation Chevy Volt. See Robyn Purchia’s first piece, Robyn’s second piece, and Nicolas Zart’s article and video review. Technically, those were the 2016 Chevy Volt, while Steve got the 2017 Volt, but there’s not much difference. Check out why GM dropped a 2017 Chevy Volt on Steve’s doorstep, his initial impressions, and some of his musings and background experience with dealers in this Gas2 repost:

My Chevy Volt arrived Tuesday afternoon. It’s not mine, exactly. Chevrolet is letting me borrow it for a week. I’m sure they are expecting me to say nice things about it. Based on my initial impressions, I think they won’t be disappointed. I am predisposed to like the Volt. For most drivers on most days, it is an electric car. But it’s one that comes with no range anxiety issues because it has an internal combustion engine in the usual location under the hood.


My Volt is a 2017 car with the 1.5 liter four cylinder engine that uses regular gas. It is finished in a very pleasant dark gray. It is a welcome change from the ubiquitous electric blue that Chevrolet uses in most of its commercials and press photos. It is tasteful and understated.

The car was delivered by a team of Chevy representatives who spend their days delivering cars to members of the press and other select individuals. I was given an introduction to the car, asked to sign a few papers, and then they left. They will be back next Tuesday to pick the car up and deliver it to some other scribe or favored personage. It arrived with 1,734 miles on the odometer.

This all started last month when a story I wrote about the Volt got a lot of unfavorable comments from readers. It turns out many people have had negative experiences at their local Chevy dealers. In several instances, salespeople had no idea the car had a battery in it or that it needed to be plugged in. I tweeted Mary Barra, CEO of General  Motors, about these dealer issues and she put me in touch with GM’s customer care team.

Those folks asked the Gas2 readers who complained to contact them and share details about their unfavorable experiences. Several did. One of them has since purchased a Chevy Volt of his own. I understand that Chevrolet offered him a discount on an option package to compensate him in some small way for his negative experience.

Elon Musk and Tesla insist they cannot sell their cars through a dealer network because conventional dealers don’t know enough about electric cars to market them correctly. Not only that, many of them have no desire to learn. For them, an electric car is a curiosity and a distraction. The problem is not confined to General Motors, of course. Selling an electric car requires educating consumers about what makes them special. That takes time.

The conventional sales process for new cars seeks to minimize the amount of time it takes to sell each car. The goal is to slam as many people as possible into a new car each month. Manufacturers offer sizable incentives to dealers who successfully meet sales quotas. Salespeople can earn substantial bonuses for meeting similar targets. It’s a “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” process. I was in the car business for 6 years. Trust me, I know what I am talking about. The pressure to move product is intense. Nobody wants to slow down to smell the roses — or educate consumers.

So far, I have only driven the Volt about 10 miles on back roads near my house. My initial impressions are all positive. It is quiet and smooth. It accelerates well. It rides and handles well. Right now it is sitting outside plugged in, waiting for its first full day of use. Stay tuned for updates.

Photo by the author.

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About the Author

writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

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  • Roger

    From my volt buying experience you just have to call ahead to talk to a manager and find out the “volt expert” at their dealership. IF you just show up at a dealer and expect the average salesperson to know anything, other than trying to sell you an ICE car, you will be disappointed. I found if you do what I suggested and find the expert they are extremely knowledgeable about the car.

  • Pat Campbell

    Maybe there should be a factory certification process for EV sales people. Frankly, some of us have had it.

  • scott whitaker

    I bought my 2016 Volt about 2 months ago and have been very pleased. I learned in the process that the dealerships in this area are allotted one a quarter, no more. I happened to find mine at a dealership about 40 miles away. The young salesman was helpful and obviously crammed before our announced visit but clearly had little knowledge of the car’s operation; he mistook the 12 volt battery for the lithium battery. The car itself is very nice and I am pleased that we decided against waiting until possibly 2019 for a Tesla 3. Clearly Chevy is serious about the EV category as they built this car as an EV first and ICE second.

    But as we all know, we have so far to go. We had a gathering at our house last night and we were asked if it could go over 30 mph, if it could be driven on the highway, and the kicker, what company makes Tesla!!!

    • Steve Hanley

      When I was selling Saturns, we frequently got asked who made them. Most people thought Toyota made them.

  • Lynne Whelden

    Let me add to the chorus of folks with negative experiences. I went to the local, big Chevy dealer for a test drive. They didn’t even have a 2017 model on the lot. I had to drive some 100 miles to the next closest dealer. I liked his “here’s the key, go drive it alone” attitude but he gave me wrong information on how it works.
    I’m finding myself leaning towards the Prius Prime because the “gas side” has better mpg (55 vs 42) for those occasional long drives. Chatting with other Volt drivers, my understanding is that said gas-mileage takes a while to “kick in” (about 15 miles) with the initial miles in the mid-30s mpg range….call it the “warm-up” time if you will.
    Thus I envisioned my own typical commute being….getting there using battery but coming home on gas, not enjoying the actual 42 mpg until I’m finally home. Winter would be a whole other experience trying to get the cabin warm. Only a warm seat and steering wheel just wouldn’t cut it in the dead of winter personally.

    • Jim Smith

      Sorry to hear you would go to the inferior, ugly, gas guzzling, polluting Toyota. I love my Volt. It burns zero gas on my daily commute and driving. I have around 2500 miles on the odometer with 3/4 of the original tank of gas. Not having to go to smelly, dirty, gas stations every week is a much better thing that i imagined it would be. Not to mention needing an oil change only every two years.

      The Volt does not require one to do anything other than drive. You can use Mountain mode if you are climbing very long steep grades to sustain power. This is a very rare thing as most people are not driving up mountains every day.

      • Lynne Whelden

        Note that I’m waiting for the Prius PRIME. Really the only difference being, its battery will deliver 22 miles rather than the 53 miles of the Volt. The advantage being it gets better mileage on the gas side (which you have as well). Some of us have longer daily commutes that don’t fit neatly into the “averages” auto makes calculate.

        • Jim Smith

          according to the US Department of Transportation ~85% of daily commutes are <50 miles, which would be 100% EV in a Volt. Sorry you have to drive so much and burn so much gas.

          My round trip is ~44 miles which i do with ease in the Volt, while burning zero gas.

    • Winston

      How long are your occasional long commutes and how often do you do your shorter commutes?

      I get about 60 miles of ev range right now from the volt 2 and on the forums the members calculated the T you’d need to travel at least 200 miles for the prius to break even in gas consumption compared to the volt.

      I’ve considered moving from my 3rd Gen prius to the 4th gen, I don’t really care about looks but the volt is jus T so much smoother and quiete. It tides much nicer imo. So I went with the volt.

      • Lynne Whelden

        I drive at least 100 miles most days. I have the occasional long trip like the 900 mile one to NH last week.
        I’d love to buy a Volt. But being the mayor of “Real-ville” (smile), I have to face the fact that some three to four months each year the temps are cold, cold, cold. That “200 mile” cross-over point is probably cut in half.

    • Dan Hue

      It would be tough to do 100 miles/day on electricity alone with a Gen 2 Volt, even in mild weather. It would only be possible if you can recharge at work, and/or if you can do lots of opportunity charging during the day. That said, the Volt performs very well on the gas engine, especially on the highway, where the noise if drowned out by wind and road noise anyway. So if your commute has a good portion of highway, you can always use the gas engine during that leg of the journey, saving the electrons for back roads and city driving.

      Mountain Mode is really not that complicated to understand. It’s basically a hybrid mode which generates extra power to recharge the battery. It’s noticeable by the fact that the engine revs higher than normal (and burns more gas). Hardly anyone needs it in the US, and only those traveling through a mountainous area would perhaps consider using it, if they are about to face a long and steep climb at high speed.

      The Volt is a great car. Very poised, with a solid road feel and excellent road manners. To those who enjoy driving, it’s definitely a notch or two above the Prius.

  • Jim Seko

    Car salesmen don’t know much about gasoline cars. It will be super difficult to educate these people about plug in cars. I suspect the upcoming Chevy Bolt will not sell very well at all.

    • Epicurus

      Edit: electric not gasoline in the first sentence.

      • Steve Grinwis

        No, he’s saying that car salesmen don’t even know about the gas cars they sell, so we shouldn’t really expect them to know anything about electrics…

        • Harry Johnson

          I’ve always felt it’s a bit of a cop out to claim dealers don’t sell plugin cars because they don’t know how they work. You don’t need to be an engineer explaining the technical minutia and most consumers wouldn’t care as most don’t even know how to change their oil. Dealers don’t like the cars because the dealership makes less money from far less maintenance they can charge the sucker who bought their gas hog.

          • Steve Hanley

            I have had people tell me they have meet salespeople who didn’t even know the car had a lithium ion battery or that it was designed to be plugged in. That’s the level of incompetence people are complaining about.

          • Harry Johnson

            Having a very basic knowledge shouldn’t require very much and certainly most dealers don’t really know how an ICE works either. It is their unwillingness to learn the very basics of a plugin because they don’t want to sell them. This is a management issue going all the way to the top.

          • Epicurus

            And, I bet, the salesmen make a much smaller commission on the plug-ins.

            To sell a plug-in, about all you have to do is tell people how much money they are going to save (what is the diff–about $.03/mile versus $.09/mile or more?) and calm their range anxiety.

      • Jim Seko

        I fixed it.

  • Fritz Redeker

    The Bay Area Chevy dealers seem to have people with some knowledge on the Volt, i.e. Volt Specialists. But if the dealer doesn’t support the vehicle, it can’t be successful. The Volt is a good car. It’s been considerably improved in the second generation. I drive mine everywhere and 72 percent of the miles are electric. I think it’s a good transition vehicle and look forward to an afforable all electric car ( like a Model 3 which I have a reservation for )

    • Epicurus

      One really can’t sell plug-in cars aggressively without pointing out their advantages over ICE cars, and since the dealers make most of their money from ICE vehicles, they don’t want to do that. I bet in most dealerships around the country, the salesmen actively steer customers away from their plug-in models. There are exceptions where a dealership happens to have a plug-in enthusiast on the sales staff.

      • Fritz Redeker

        I have no doubt the sales staff would like to sell ICE over electric, but my experience at three Chevy dealers in the Bay Area is if you ask for a Volt they don’t steer you away.

        • Epicurus

          I have no doubt that’s true in the Bay Area, Fritz, and perhaps that’s true of all the dealers in enlightened California, but I think it’s a different story here in Texas and the rest of redneck America.

  • super390

    I can’t imagine sending Henry Ford II a letter back in the ’70s to complain that his Pintos keep exploding and expecting any kind of response. This is a positive sign that GM is trying to get its dealers under control before the Bolt rollout.

    • jeffhre

      …and yet. This is about giving insight into how to have dealers sell more of a perceived good product. Not reminding the CEO that he is sending crappy products to dealers.

    • Mike333

      I wish they’d respond to the rear seat headroom issue.
      Clearly, the hatchback hardware has destroyed rear seat headroom.
      A wagon version, witch would require very little structural change, would get the hatch opening joint out of the worst location possible.

      And in the age of robotic manufacture and Computer aided design, I just can’t see why this can’t be done.

      Then again the Model 3 also has a suboptimal hatch.

  • Marion Meads

    go to the volt forum and you’ll learn various nuances such as maximizing electric range or going high speed even on a steep climb and other nifty tricks. unlike BMW and Tesla, the Volt has overwhelmingly delivered for us in the know. Of course you can be an idiot like Consumer Reports by going against the recommendations in the manual to make the Volt under deliver but it will give you a hard time to make it under deliver.

    • Steve Hanley

      The Volt forum is a very active and supportive environment. Thanks for mentioning it, Marion.

  • Illuminati

    So Elon Musk had good reasons not to trust the dealers.

    • jeffhre

      …and always has.

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