My week with the Chevy Volt

Thu, 05/24/2012 - 01:28
General Motors has been touting its plugin gas-electric sedan since before it went on sale in late 2010. Despite slower-than-expected sales and a pause in production, the carmaker charges forward with a consumer outreach campaign that pairs everyday consumers and online influencers with a Chevrolet Volt. In late April, I connected with the regional folks who set up consumers with GM brand vehicles and put my week with the Volt on the calendar for early May. The timing couldn’t have been better – there were a slew of events happening in D.C. those seven days that the Volt would be mine. I typically take the metro to and from work, but luckily there’s a small parking lot conveniently located next door to my office. I decided to test out the Northern Virginia-to-D.C. commute in the Volt on the first morning. As I ventured into the city, I was surrounded by a sea of Prii (yes, that’s the plural of Prius). I was the first car in line when I reached the stop light in D.C. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the pedestrians about to cross street would notice the unique car I was driving. My curiosity ended when one guy turned to me, jogging in place, and gave me a ‘thumbs up’ and a big grin. Driver impressions Acceleration in the Volt is smooth, without a notch to be felt in the transmission. On day one, I had 15 miles of all-electric power remaining; I consumed nearly all of them on my 12 mile round-trip commute. The appearance of a sleek, all-glass roof line is just a mirage. A high dashboard and missing moon roof made the cabin feel closed in and too low even for my average height. While the seats were comfortable, the finishing touches surrounding them left much to be desired. Visibility was mostly acceptable, but the large A and D pillars added challenges in seeing pedestrians when at four-way stops and cars in your blind spot. My least favorite aspect of the Volt was its center console, which I’m deeming the ‘text cluster.’ A flat panel of word abbreviations makes it nearly impossible to memorize where key functions – like radio, climate control and navigation – are by touch. There are no raised buttons, making it difficult to identify what it is you’re selecting without taking your eyes off the road to actually select it (not great for the distracted driving factor). City living with an EV The urban settings that were once deemed perfect for electric vehicles have actually posed one of the greatest challenges. It turns out that city life, where personal parking spaces and places to plug in are scarce, is not ideal – at least not yet – for these cars. The Administration and other advocates are working to implement infrastructure inside the beltway so that more people who work and live in D.C. can plug and play. I live in an older high rise building whose management team is unlikely to encourage tenants to use their electricity to charge a car every night. I have a covered spot in the smaller building next door, and much to my surprise, there was an outlet on the wall in front of my spot. I figured I would take my chances with management for one night and plug it in. Eight hours later I returned to see that the plug was still intact and I didn’t have any nasty notes from management. Unfortunately, the car hadn’t charged a lick. It must have been the cord. I tried to resolve the cord issue, but the instructions that came with the car only told you how to use it properly. There were no instructions on how to troubleshoot the plug. So, I was destined to use gasoline. Even without all-electric mode, the Volt was incredibly efficient, lightly sipping on gasoline wherever we went. Parting ways & final thoughts My friends in D.C. seemed more saddened than I was to see the funky Volt return to its home. They were largely intrigued by the anomalous hybrid and enjoyed taking a closer look and a ride in the car. All in all, the Volt is a pretty cool car to have for a week. And I can even understand the appeal it has to the buyers who drop roughly $40,000 to drive one. The gas mileage consumption is minimal even when running without a charged battery. It’s fun to see how far you can get on just electric juices, too. I think that while the Volt has a long way to go for massive adoption, it is in a unique league of quirky cars that are aiming to get drivers to think (and drive) a little greener, while also lessening U.S. dependence on foreign oil. I have to admit that there was an unexpected level of American pride driving around in the Volt. I wanted people to notice it, and I wanted to see their reactions when they did.

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