4 Days with a Chevy Volt

Sunday, June 12, 2011 11 comments
Chevy Volt charging at the Central Florida Zoo
General Motors was nice enough to lend me a Volt for 4 days to see what it is like to live with one.  The car had 1,800 miles on it when I got it and I drove it 250 miles and used 3.6 gallons of gas for an overall gas mileage of 67.3 mpg.  Overall, the car performed flawlessly and impressed everyone I showed it to...and I showed it to LOTS of people.  Here is a short review...

Overall Impressions
  • Whenever I drove it around or parked, I looked for people to notice the car...most didn't - it simply looks like a nice looking midsize Chevy car.  However, once I told people what they were looking at, they were very impressed, as they assumed the new EVs all looked like two person Smart Cars - the Volt shattered stereotypes.
  • Although most people thought the price was a little high (sticker was $45K), it didn't shock anyone...and most assumed the gas savings would pay for the difference fairly quickly. 
  • I was able to get 37 miles per charge pretty consistently for my driving with the AC on and no headlight usage.
  • The biggest surprise for most people was the price of fuel: $1.10 of electricity to go 40 miles.
  • The Volt feels quick because the electric motor is so responsive...the power is immediate and smooth.  Using Dynolicious on my iPhone 4, I was able to get a 0-60 MPH time of 8.7s in dry conditions from a standing start...certainly isn't as fast as the Tesla, but it's not bad for a heavy midsize car (3781 lbs).

    Regenerative Braking Rocks!
      Chevy Volt charging at GoElectric Scooters
    • When I drove the car in traffic...especially busy Interstate traffic, I would shift the Volt into "LO" (pull back the shift lever all the way back).  This boosts the effect of the regenerative braking so that you don't have to even hit the brake...all you have to do is lift your foot off the accelerator to slow down.  It's like driving a manual transmission car in 2nd or 3rd gear.  The best part about this "feature" is that you are extending your range each time you lift your foot off the accelerator.
    • Even though the Volt I drove had 1,800 miles on it, the disk brake rotors still looked new...and you could still see "milling" marks in the disk.  This got me thinking to pull a trick on some friends by touching the rear disk brake after I drove up to prove how effective regenerative braking is (they didn't see me use my IR Thermometer before I touched it to make sure I wouldn't get burned).  Less disk brake usage means fewer brake jobs and cleaner rims.

    Charging
    Chevy Volt charging at Wekiva Island
    • Since the Volt only has a 40 mile range, I found myself wanting to charge more frequently so I didn't run the gas engine. This means Volt owners might be using public charging stations more frequently than Leaf owners.
    • Charging car at night with the 120V (Level 1) cordset worked great...if you have 8 hours each night to charge.  However, trying to use the Level 1 during the day between short trips was a waste of time - you need a 240V (Level 2) charge to do any significant charging quickly.
    • Removing the charging cable while the Chevy Volt is locked and charging will cause the horn to honk a few times...and if you don't put it back, the alarm will go off.
    • The key fob has a button on it to open the charging door.
    • The Chevy Volt doesn't currently show the charging stations on it's GPS display (like the Nissan Leaf), but you can call On-Star (included with car) and they will navigate you to the nearest one.

    Possible Improvements
      Strange guy with Level 1 Charger
    • The "ball feature" which shows your energy use doesn't seem to properly show braking from regenerative braking when lift off the accelerator...especially when you are in "LO" and regenerative braking is aggressive.
    • While the center console looks clean because of the touch sensitive buttons, it would be nice to group the buttons better with graphics and provide some tactile feedback on button areas (rougher or depressed areas where you press) so you knew where to push.  Remembering where buttons are is a memory exercise when you're driving because you don't have time to look.
    • The Call button on the steering wheel needs a way of triggering the voice control feature of today's phones...like the iPhone (e.g. hold it down to activate the iPhone's voice control like you do with Bluetooth headsets).
    • While the black roof on red car is cool looking, it's very very hot in the Florida Sun which works against your battery life to cool it down.  I'd rather have a pearlescent white roof.  
    • Split the door on floor of trunk so that I can get to the Level 1 charger if something is in the trunk.  As it is now, I have to move everything to get to charger.  Make a smaller door on left for charger.
    • Give the drive electric/gas usage for current TRIP after each drive.  It now tells you for the current CHARGE...which is good, but I want to know about the trip I just took vs. my average.  The idea is to incent me to drive more efficient than my last trip. 

    Leaf vs. Volt
    Chevy Volt and a Nissan Leaf charging at the Central Florida Zoo
    Everyone asks me what I like better...the Leaf or the Volt.  Since 4/20/10, I've been waiting (and waiting and waiting) for a Nissan Leaf..and I'm still planning to get one...however this drive certainly tested my conviction (the Volt is very impressive).  Here is how I see the two automobiles...
    • Nissan Leaf: Great for people who understand their driving habits and don't mind living within the range of the car.  Since we've got two cars in the family, I've got an alternative if I need to drive farther.  My big thing is that I rather have the Leaf's larger EV range and simplicity vs. have the security and weight of an on-board generator.
    • Chevy Volt: Great for people who frequently drive farther than 100 miles in a day or "don't want something else to worry about"...like range anxiety.  Personally, I think the Volt looks much better than the Leaf, both inside and out.
    In summary, the Chevy Volt is a very impressive car...inside, outside, and under the hood.  GM has done a great job of hiding lots of complexity from the driver, as the Volt drives and operates better than a "normal" car.  If you're in the market for an EV, go drive a Chevy Volt, you'll be very impressed.

      How to Drive your EV for Free!

      Friday, June 3, 2011 1 comments
      Here's a brilliant video from the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) that simplifies how you can drive your EV for free using energy savings from upgrades on your home.  You can make these upgrades even cheaper by leveraging incentives from federal, state, and your utility...which can be easily checked at the Department of Energy's database of incentives: www.dsireusa.org.

      Which upgrades should you perform?  Check out FSEC's site which has results of real world testing they've done on energy efficient upgrades...and of course, lots of info on Solar Power.

      Go Florida Solar Energy Center and UCF!