Volt: GM's car of the future?

Sep 26, 2011 By Cory Nealon

The Chevrolet Volt is many things: an attention grabber, a potential cure for an oil dependent nation - the list goes on.

It is not, however, designed for an apartment dweller.

Without a garage or driveway, I parked the in the street. This presented some concerns: Would my neighbors steal the charging plug? Would I need an extension cord to reach the socket in my apartment? Would rain blow up the car?

It was after 10 p.m. Thursday - the answers were not readily available, so I left the car uncharged among its gas-guzzling peers.

Fortunately, the Volt has a traditional gasoline-powered engine, which I used Friday morning to start the car and drive to work.

That, in a nutshell, is the promise of the Volt: It offers about 35 miles of pin-drop-quiet, gasoline-free driving. When the battery dies, the combustion engine kicks on - I hardly noticed it while driving on the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel - in a seamless transition.

"The fact of the matter is: It's an awesome vehicle," said Scott Gregoire, a salesman at Casey Auto Group, which lent its Volt to the newspaper for a day. "It's going to change the way people drive."

Before discussing that, here's a primer on the Volt:

Introduced in select markets last year, the Volt is the most anticipated car from General Motors in years. It is expected to reverse the fortune of the cash-strapped automotive giant, out-compete foreign competitors and prove that plug-in cars are viable to a nation of wary motorists.

Charging issues aside, I had no difficulties with the Volt. The four-door hatchback has plenty of pep, is easy to handle and has enough gadgets to satisfy the most tech-savvy drivers.

For example, the Volt's touch screen center console shows the energy created from applying the brakes being directed to the , a 435-pound, T-shaped colossus that sits under the seats.

There's another feature that shows how fuel efficient the car is performing. The gauge fluctuates from 35 miles per gallon to hundreds depending on the power source. For the record, a full tank of gas - 9.3 gallons - and a fully charged battery deliver 379 miles, according to tests performed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

GM says the Volt will help wean the nation off imported oil, which contributes to high gas prices. What it doesn't say - at least not as loudly - is that electric cars will be a significant drain on the nation's power grid.

While a novelty now, one report estimates Virginia, for example, will have 86,000 by 2020. That includes the Volt, the Nissan Leaf and the all-electric Ford Focus, which has already been shown in Richmond.

The cars will require 270 megawatts of energy, about what a small power plant produces, said Tom Kazas, a spokesman for Dominion Resources, the state's largest utility company.

The U.S. Department of Energy states that electric vehicles on average emit less carbon dioxide, which most climate scientists link to global warming, than conventional or hybrid vehicles. Its figures are based on a blend of the nation's power sources.

The axiom may not apply to regions heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Virginia derives most of its fuel from coal-fired power plants, though it also relies on nuclear power and is moving toward natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal.

Starting in October, Dominion will offer a program that gives electric vehicle owners discounted rates for charging their cars overnight when power demand is at its least. Drivers will pay more when charging during peak hours.

Virginia Clean Cities, an environmental group that works to reduce oil consumption in the transportation sector, supports the program. Alleyn Harned, the group's director of business development, hopes electric vehicles will help spur renewable energy projects, such as wind and solar farms.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure needed to support electric vehicles is growing. The number of charging stations in Virginia grew from four in January to at least 28 currently, Harned said.

"Things are going gangbusters," he said.

Most stations are in northern Virginia, where Volts debuted nearly a year ago. Despite the hype surrounding the Volt, more people are buying Leafs.

Nissan sold 3,875 Leafs the first six months of this year, compared to 2,745 Volts during the same time frame. The Leaf does not have a ; its battery runs for 100 miles before needing recharging.

Both cars cost a little more than $30,000, though Volt owners must apply for a $7,500 federal tax rebate.

I eventually charged the Volt after finding a socket outside the newspaper office. I eventually found that using an extension cord is not recommended, which could be a problem for street-parking motorists.

Recharging the Volt's battery with a standard 120-volt socket takes about 10 hours - I had it plugged in for five hours at work, plenty of juice to get it back to the dealership in electric mode. Motorists can buy an adapter that cuts the charge time in half.

As for the rain, GM says it's not a problem provided the hookup is properly set. Whether or not my neighbors would tamper with the thing, well, that's another story.

Explore further: Many tongues, one voice, one common ambition

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User comments : 17

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cyberCMDR
not rated yet Sep 26, 2011
I just drove about 380 miles on a tank of gas (less than 10 gallons) with my Prius. If the Volt has a similar range with a fully charged battery, that's not much of a range advantage. Where the Volt may shine will be in local commuting, if you can recharge each time and use no gas.
that_guy
not rated yet Sep 26, 2011
The charging issue for apartment/condo/town home dwellers (at least the ones that don't have a garage) is so obvious in retrospect, even though I would never have thought to consider that issue.

Overall, the volt is a pretty terrible proposition. The gas mileage on your prius is better over long distances (The volt only gets in the high 30s in gas mode), and it is 5-10k cheaper than the subsidized volt.

The volt only makes a value proposition if you own a home with a garage, work close to home, and don't like the cheaper leaf (Which also gets the same subsidy as the volt(unmentioned int he article), making it comparitively cheaper.)

Dear GM, it was a great concept, but consider economics this time, and redesign the car.
Newbeak
5 / 5 (2) Sep 26, 2011
Overall, the volt is a pretty terrible proposition. The gas mileage on your prius is better over long distances (The volt only gets in the high 30s in gas mode), and it is 5-10k cheaper than the subsidized volt.

The 35 mile electric only range of the Volt covers most commutes.You have to remember the Prius and other parallel hybrids burn gas CONSTANTLY in support of the electric motor,which makes the Volt environmentally superior for trips under 35 miles.The Prius is at it's best in stop and go use in town- thats why cab companies love them.On the highway,I bet the mileage it gets isn't that much better than the Volt.Finally,if you drive a Leaf,you need a second car if you want to go on an long trip.
Shelgeyr
not rated yet Sep 26, 2011
@Newbeak said:
You have to remember the Prius and other parallel hybrids burn gas CONSTANTLY in support of the electric motor,which makes the Volt environmentally superior for trips under 35 miles.


Depending on where they're deployed, a great many Volts basically run on coal. So how is this "environmentally superior"?

I ask purely out of curiosity, of course, since I would never purchase a vehicle from Government Motors.
joefarah
5 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2011
NewBeak, if you want to go on a long trip, you can probably rent a car for the week from the money you'll save on a single "fill-up" (currently around $80 for me).

Also, power grid issues are not a problem - most recharging will be done overnight (off-peak). On top of that, if the smart grid comes to be, electric vehicles can be used to trim peaks off of the high-demand periods - so they will actually reduce peak power demands, not increase them!
TTcarnal_force
not rated yet Sep 27, 2011
Unless you are charging your Volt from a wind turbine or solar panel, I don't know if it can be considered "environmentally superior".

I would love to own one, and my commute would be ideal for it, but as mentioned, it is not really an option for those living in apartments, which is something all plug in electric, or plug in hybrid electric car manufactures need to take into mind. The cars ideal demographics would be those living in urban areas, but a people in urban areas tend to live in areas where they have no garage or a way to practically charge them.
John_balls
not rated yet Sep 27, 2011
@Newbeak said:
You have to remember the Prius and other parallel hybrids burn gas CONSTANTLY in support of the electric motor,which makes the Volt environmentally superior for trips under 35 miles.


Depending on where they're deployed, a great many Volts basically run on coal. So how is this "environmentally superior"?

I ask purely out of curiosity, of course, since I would never purchase a vehicle from Government Motors.


Who can talk to you , you watch foxnews and listen to rush limbaugh.
Shelgeyr
3 / 5 (2) Sep 27, 2011
John_balls, anybody can talk to me. Why? Do you only talk to people who agree with you? Also, why do you assume that someone/anyone led me to my views?

For what it's worth, I rarely watch Fox News because I rarely have time for TV, and although I like Rush Limbaugh, I pretty much never get to listen to him because I'm at work before, during, and after his show - and I'm not one of his subsribers so I don't catch it online either.

But seriously, how are Fox News and Limbaugh even relevant to a discussion of the Volt?
that_guy
5 / 5 (2) Sep 27, 2011
@shelgyr - you're the one who brought politics into this conversation by calling gm Government Motors. Regardless of the political situation or how badly run GM has been, this conversation is specifically about the volt. By going out of your way to use a political pejorative to describe the company and your opinion about buying one of their cars, you show us beyond a shadow of a doubt that the actual merits or drawbacks of this car are not of any concern to you.

I'm not even disagreeing with your opinion of GM - I'm disagreeing with you bringing politics into a conversation that has nothing to do with politics.

The ONLY acceptable political dialogue in this conversation, at least to start with, would be commentary on the pros/cons of the electric/hybrid car subsidies, but you elected to avoid that relevance.

And while on that topic, I'll point out that the prius no longer gets federal subsidies. How about that.
Newbeak
not rated yet Sep 27, 2011
@Newbeak said:

Depending on where they're deployed, a great many Volts basically run on coal. So how is this "environmentally superior"?

Yes,that's true.I happen to get my power from hydro.BTW,how clean is the Leaf if it charges up with coal power?
Newbeak
not rated yet Sep 27, 2011
Unless you are charging your Volt from a wind turbine or solar panel, I don't know if it can be considered "environmentally superior".

I would love to own one, and my commute would be ideal for it, but as mentioned, it is not really an option for those living in apartments, which is something all plug in electric, or plug in hybrid electric car manufactures need to take into mind. The cars ideal demographics would be those living in urban areas, but a people in urban areas tend to live in areas where they have no garage or a way to practically charge them.

Well,I meant superior in the sense that it doesn't burn any gas if it stays within it's electric range,whereas the Prius is always burning gas,even if it is sipping it.
If you live in an apartment,I feel for you.That problem is urgently in need of a solution.
di0nysus
5 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2011
Could someone explain the animosity Prius owners have against the Volt? Please? I've had my volt for 5 months and have only used 10.8 gallons of gas. My total distance as of right now, 5543. That's 513mpg!! I have a 42 mile round trip to work each day, and consistently get 47 miles on a charge (if you believe the estimated 5 miles left on the charge each day). So how in any way shape or form can someone tell me the Prius is better? You can't. So if you are like me, and a lot of people are, and have a reasonable trip to work every day and dont travel every weekend, then this car is perfect. I love my volt. I've owned Acura, Infiniti and Honda cars in the past. This is my favorite car to date, it drives extremely well, and I for one applaud the work of GM for making it available, even though they should stuck with what they started 15 years ago, and we'd be even better off today because of it. So please, Prius owners, get a grip, we're all after the same thing.
kaasinees
not rated yet Sep 27, 2011
prius is a horrible designed car...
they are jealous of the volt.. :)
Shelgeyr
not rated yet Sep 28, 2011
@that_guy said:
By going out of your way to use a political pejorative to describe the company and your opinion about buying one of their cars, you show us beyond a shadow of a doubt that the actual merits or drawbacks of this car are not of any concern to you.

You know what? I'll grant you that. You're correct. At least partially, by which I mean that while I am actually interested in the actual merits or drawbacks of this car, those don't override my other reasons for never buying one, so score one for you.

I actually think hybrid technology is terrific (mostly, and the "cons" in my opinion are minor). But my feelings for GM are what they are, and yes I'll admit they aren't really relevant. If I had to come up with an excuse for introducing them, it would be because this article seemed more like an advertisement, but really it is mainly because I had an axe to grind.

You got me.

Good call, by the way!
that_guy
not rated yet Sep 28, 2011
I've had my volt for 5 months and have only used 10.8 gallons of gas. My total distance as of right now, 5543. That's 513mpg!! I have a 42 mile round trip to work each day, and consistently get 47 miles on a charge

This is why you're one of two people in your town who actually has a volt. Just kidding...sort of.

The prius is a good buy economically for someone who drives a lot (15k-20k or more a year). The Volt is a "good" buy for someone who drives a limited amount on a very regular basis.

So, someone who drives a prius would pretty much have a terrible view of the volt, because it doesn't really offer the advantages they get with their priuses. There is virtually no hope of a volt ever saving a prius owner money, given the 5-7k difference in sticker price.

I'll grant that the volt looks much nicer than the prius, but for the majority of people, it is just not a good economic choice.
that_guy
not rated yet Sep 28, 2011
Let's say gas prices went up to $4 a gallon. Assuming your numbers are completely accurate, it would take over 10 years to bridge the gap in price between the prius and the volt. And you are the absolute ideal volt driver.

Or you could buy a standard midsize car, like a fusion, sonata, or a malibu for 20k or less - and the payback time would still be close to ten years - UNDER IDEAL CIRCUMSTANCES.

NONE of these other cars I'm comparing get any federal subsidies that the Volt does, and they are still a better deal for most people. Without the subsidy, the volt would not be able to compete on any level.

Buying a volt is not a consumer choice. It is a statement, and only a statement.

di0nysus
not rated yet Sep 28, 2011
.. And you are the absolute ideal volt driver.

snip

Buying a volt is not a consumer choice. It is a statement, and only a statement.


True, which is why I purchased it, and I do make a comfortable living, so 45K was not a factor. And from an outsiders point of view, it could be viewed as a statement. But for me, it's more about supporting technology that I believe in. How on earth is any tech ever going to evolve and get better (and cheaper) is no one supports it? And why does a Prius owner always feel obligated to chime in on anything Volt related.

Reminds me of Mac owners that see a post on 'how do I fix my windows computer' and their reply is 'Buy a Mac'. It's ridiculous and adds nothing to the discussion.