Aug 12, 2011

A Volt Driving Experience Part 1

A nice article on the new Chevy Volt EV(Electric Vehicle) selections from NYTimes.com 6/26/11.
We'll split it into 2 blogposts for you since it's a bit windy but well worth the read

 THE moment I realized that driving the new Chevrolet Volt was fundamentally a new experience was not when I first turned it on and went around the block. Yes, it was whisper-quiet, powered by its 16 kilowatt-hour, 400-pound battery, but it still felt like a “normal” automobile. And it wasn’t when I drove the 100 or so miles from Manhattan to Southampton, N.Y., either.

Although the battery’s range is only about 40 miles, the car kept going even after the battery was drained; it just switched to its gasoline engine, in a transition so seamless I barely noticed it. It wasn’t even when I arrived in Southampton that evening and plugged a special cord into an electrical outlet in the garage, to recharge the battery overnight.

No, what made the experience truly different — and what got me thinking about the Volt’s potential to change the way we think about gas consumption — was what happened after that.

You know the story of the Volt, don’t you? As the General Motors entry in the race to build a viable electric car — a race that includes the all-electric Nissan Leaf, a raft of Fords in various stages of development and an electric sedan that Tesla will soon begin selling — it may well be the most hyped American automobile since Lee Iacocca rolled out the Chrysler minivan. Begun four years ago, and championed by the legendary auto executive Bob Lutz, the Volt project managed to survive G.M.’s descent into bankruptcy, and emerge as the company’s great, shining hope, a symbol of what American car manufacturers could accomplish. Or so it’s been claimed.

Cars like the Leaf and the original Tesla — a Roadster that cost more than $100,000 — are “pure” electric vehicles powered solely by their batteries. Classic hybrids like the Toyota Prius use a battery as a kind of add-on, to boost the gas mileage of a combustion engine. The Volt, however, is engineered differently. As long as the battery has juice, the car acts like an electric vehicle. When the battery dies, the combustion engine takes over, and it becomes an old-fashioned gas-consuming car. Once you recharge the battery, electricity takes over again.

The experience of driving it meshes with the way we think about using a car. There is no need to plan ahead, for instance, to make sure the car won’t run out of battery life before we can recharge it. And the gas engine eliminates the dreaded “range anxiety” that prevents most people from embracing an electric vehicle. Indeed, G.M. likes to call the Volt an “extended range vehicle.” Motor Trend, the car enthusiasts’ bible, was so impressed that it named the Volt its 2011 car of the year.

The Volt went on sale last December. But because Chevrolet has been so cautious in rolling it out — dealers in only seven states have gotten cars so far, with fewer than 2,500 sold — it can sometimes seem like the world’s most publicized invisible car. (A bigger rollout is planned for next year.) Which is why I asked G.M. if I could test-drive it over the Memorial Day holiday. I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

For four days, I drove it around town, used it to pick up the groceries, took it to visit friends. Sometimes, when I walked out of a store, someone would be standing next to “my” Volt, wanting to ask me questions about it. Though I am no automotive expert, I was pleasantly surprised by the car’s power, pickup and handling. “People think it’s going to be a dorkmobile,” said Mr. Lutz, who retired last year. “But it’s fun to drive.”

Here’s what really got me, though: on the dashboard, alongside the gauge that measures the battery life, the Volt has another gauge that calculates the vehicle’s miles per gallon. During the two-hour drive to Southampton, I used two gallons of gas, a quarter of the tank. Thus, when I drove into the driveway, it read 50 miles per gallon.

The next day, after the overnight charge, I didn’t use any gas. After driving around 30 miles in the morning, I recharged it for a few hours while I puttered around the house. (It takes 10 hours to fully recharge, unless you buy a special 240-volt recharging unit.) That gave the battery 10 miles, more than enough to get me where I needed to go that evening on battery power alone. Before I knew it, my miles per gallon for that tankful of gas had hit 80. By the next day it had topped 100. I soon found myself obsessed with increasing my miles per gallon — and avoiding having to buy more gas.

Whenever I got home from an errand, I would recharge it, even for a few hours, just to grab a few more miles of range. I was actually in control of how much gas I consumed, and it was a powerful feeling. By the time I gave the car back to General Motors, I had driven 300 miles, without using another drop of gas beyond the original two gallons. I’m not what you’d call a Sierra Club kind of guy, but I have to tell you: I was kind of proud of myself.

When I began to describe for Mr. Lutz the psychological effect the Volt had had on me, he chuckled. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s like playing a video game that is constantly giving you back your score.”


 PEOPLE who follow the car business like to say that this particular moment in automotive history is the closest we’ll ever come to seeing what the industry was like a century ago. Back then, there were dozens of auto companies, all experimenting with different ways to power a car, a race ultimately won by the gasoline-powered combustible engine. For good reason: nothing else provided more power, more efficiently.

We read recently that Chevy has added capacity to their Michigan facility that makes the Volt. Proving to us that Green jobs are lasting jobs. The demand for the Volt far outweighs the supply currently.

Conservastore.com has always felt that a switch to a Green economy will give America all the jobs it needs for the next 30 years. Sadly the politicians are more schooled in law than engineering and cannot see that.

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