GirlDriver, USA

GirlDriver, USA
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Monday, September 10, 2012

Chevy Volt? It's Complicated.

Real person charges her Volt.
It's one thing to drive the Chevy Volt around a parking lot on the West Side Piers of New York City.  It's another thing to own the car for a weekend.  First, let me say that  General Motors has spent a wad on developing electric technology for the car, although someone told me last weekend that his great-grandmother drove around in an electric car.  But that was then.  GM developed the EV1 and we all know what happened there--they crushed almost all of them after spending a billion dollars on a car that had a range of 60 miles and only a handful of customers.  Oops honey I have an MBA and forgot to add a gas engine for range.  That said, Reuters just published a story estimating how much money GM loses on every Volt.  GM came back with the statement--accurately--"Reuters’ estimate of the current loss per unit for each Volt sold is grossly wrong, in part because the reporters allocated product development costs across the number of Volts sold instead of allocating across the lifetime volume of the program, which is how business operates. The Reuters’ numbers become more wrong with each Volt sold."  GM notes that the investment in all the Volt technologies are applicable across many platforms--meaning we'll see those technologies in other GM cars.

Door for electric charger.  Door for putting gas in the car is on the passenger side.
Door open and charger plugged into the Volt.
Ordinary household outlet taking the Volt charger.  Photo is sideways because blogger is inept.
The current situation is that GM has an electric car that comes with a gas tank, the Chevy Volt.  They call it an extended range electric vehicle differentiating from a hybrid which is defined as a vehicle that is propelled by two powertrains or propulsion systems, battery electric and gasoline.  The Volt is a battery-operated, plug-in hybrid.  Here's how it works:  fully charged battery propels the car on battery only for 40 miles--in my case 37.  A 9.3 gallon gas tank holds premium fuel.  When the battery runs down completely after 40 or so miles, the gas fuels a generator that sends a charge to the electric motor as needed and stores remaining electric in  the battery.  The car continues to be propelled by electricity.  When you brake, energy is captured and used to recharge the battery.  That is called regenerative braking.  When you get home or to where you are going, you plug one end of the battery charger into a outlet of there is one available.  Then you open the door for the electrical charger, plug that into the car.   A green light goes on on the dashboard indicating that the car is charging.  A screen on the instrument panel tells you how long it will take to charge the battery fully--in my case using 120v it would take 13 hours, less if I had 240v.  What is downplayed by GM in the promotion of the Chevy Volt is that the gasoline engine does in fact help to power the car at high speeds.

Great looking car proving that new environmentally conscious cars don't have to look weird.
If you are supportive of the need to develop new technology to power automobiles, you'd be wowed by this vehicle. It is a trip to be in a plug-in hybrid and to know that you can travel, as I did, 435.4 miles on 6.3 gallons of gasoline, averaging 68.5 mpg.  And it is very sophisticated technology.  Those GM engineers know what they're doing.

Even though intellectually I knew the range of the car was in the 600 mile area, I saw those bars depleting on the battery on a dark, not-well-traveled road at night and I thought--hmmm, has AAA ever seen a Volt before?  Yes, GirlDriver had a brush with range anxiety, which is good because consumers who think about buying these new technologies have it lurking in their subconscious.  And to that point, most consumers are not buying either the Volt or the Nissan Leaf.    GM has sold about 16,000 Volts since its debut last year.  GM just idled the plant because it has too much inventory.  The major difference between the Leaf and the Volt is that the Leaf is all electric--there ain't no backup folks.  Range anxiety city.

I found driving the Volt a genuine pleasure.  I love its get up and go and had it running at 80 with no hiccups at all.  It's a real car.  It has a full complement of safety equipment and is gets five stars from government testing.  It does not have blind spot detection or some of the newer safety measures like pedestrian detection.  I didn't like the placement of the cup holders--high and too far back because of the battery storage in the center panel.  I had a hard time putting my drink in the holders and had to look down.  I really didn't like the very limited range of the AM and FM radio.

Other than that I thought the car was great.  There's one other problem and this is the biggest problem facing GM.  This 4-seater compact sedan cost $46,000.  There were $5,670 worth of options on my car with a base price of $40,000.  With compact sedans on the market that get 40 mpg and don't take premium fuel and additional expense for electric, it will be the rare consumer who buys this car--even with generous givebacks from the government. In addition, fuel economy on cars with only an internal combustion engine keeps improving year.  The monroney (sales sheet) says the consumer saves $7,600 in fuel costs over the average new vehicle.  I don't know what that means or what new vehicle they calculated against but, again, it does not include the cost of kilowatt hours you use to charge the battery.  In New York State the average rate currently is 6.668 cents per kilowatt hour.


  1. Well this sure is a new view on the Volt. I had no idea that the volt even could take gas. I really have no idea even how they work. I guess it may be time to go down to the Chevorlet in Grand Rapids to find out more on this car. Thanks so much for the information!

    1. Yes, it is a good idea to keep up with the new technologies that are powering our vehicles, Brielle, because the future is here. Thanks for your comment. GirlDriver

  2. The Chevy Volt’s an amazing car! As you’ve mentioned, it is equipped with a reliable battery that relies on electrical power. This can surely help those who want to cut down their gasoline consumption and carbon emission. Of course, it has a backup engine that uses gasoline so you’ll still have fuel if you use up all the charge of the battery. Now, that’s a certified green way to drive! ;)

    Tyra Shortino

    1. It's getting greener Tyra. But there's more to come. The auto companies and their suppliers are reaching for new solutions every day. Just recently an announcement was made about the development of a hybrid that doesn't use any batteries, but uses hydraulic power instead. That's cheaper and greener than batteries. We're getting there. GirlDriver