The Chevy Volt definitely lives up to its hype.
I took a leap of faith last August when I put a deposit down on a 2011 Chevy Volt, sight unseen. Connecticut had just been named as one of only a handful of launch markets to receive a limited allocation of production units. The car arrived at my local Chevy dealer six months later.
Three months in, my satisfaction with the vehicle continues to grow – and it’s not just the fuel economy. The build quality easily matches that of luxury imports. The handling is tight and sporty, and, dare I say, the torque in “sport mode” will shock you.
The Volt is a fully electric vehicle that can go about 40 miles powered by electricity alone. Once the large, lithium-ion battery is depleted the vehicle activates a gasoline-powered generator that continues to power the electric motor. It will smartly disable to the gas engine when idling or if sufficient charge has been gained from braking or downhill coasting. All of this happens in the background without any driver intervention. The car just works.
At current rates, electricity is mile-for-mile significantly less expensive than gasoline. So far I’ve driven more than 3,200 miles, 72 percent of that driving strictly electric at a cost of $87.15. When adding in the $103 spent on the 24.7 gallons of gas the car has used since its February arrival, the total cost of operation to date is $190.15. Based on my specific usage pattern I am getting just under 130 mpg, but it’s important to note that this figure accounts for electric usage. When measuring just the miles per gallon when running on gas, the figure is 36 mpg.
However, that overall $190.15 figure compares favorably to the vehicle my Volt replaced — a 2008 Mercedes C300. The Mercedes would have cost $535.76 to go the same distance at its average mileage of approximately 25 mpg – a savings of nearly $115 per month. At the current rate, the Volt will save about $4,100 in fuel costs before my lease concludes in 2014.
Watson Collins, the electric vehicle project manager for Northeast Utilities, is tracking charging data generated by the few dozen Volts currently in operation across the state. He is also heading up a study through Connecticut Light and Power to determine how daytime charging will work. The company is in the process of helping customers install charging stations throughout Connecticut in an effort to determine how drivers will use them in between home charges.
“The cars are good to go,” Collins said. “They are well tested. It’s the infrastructure and business models around charging — we’re going to try some different things and see what works.”
He predicts most vehicles will be charged overnight — a potential growth opportunity for the utility to bring in additional revenue during the overnight hours when there’s plenty of room on the wire for growth.
“Home is the cornerstone of the infrastructure,” Collins said, “A lot of synergies come together with overnight charging. The cars charge while you sleep. Environmental emissions are half of what they are during the daytime in the overnight period.”
The Volt can fully charge to its 40 mile range using a standard electric outlet in about 8-10 hours or in 4 hours using a 220 volt charger. “Top off” charges take less time.
Watch Lon’s tour of his Volt:
Despite all of the marketing and publicity, Volt supplies are scarce. General Motors has sold only 1,500 vehicles since their commercial availability in the last quarter of 2010. Some 16,000 were slated to be produced in 2011 ahead of a nationwide rollout of the 2012 model. GM is temporarily closing its Detroit production plant next month in order to retool for higher output with the hopes to delivering the remaining 2011 models and an additional 60,000 of the 2012 models by the end of next year.
GM distributed much of its April production run to dealerships as demo units in anticipation of greater availability later this year and next.
One of those dealers is Linda Grossman, of Grossman Chevrolet Nissan in Old Saybrook. She says every Volt allocated to her dealership has been sold and willingness to commit to the purchase is strong despite the long wait for production.
“They have all agreed to buy the car without even driving it,” she says of the early adopters who’ve ordered a vehicle. Her dealership also will carry the Nissan Leaf, a fully electric vehicle that should be available later in 2011. Grossman expects demand to be equally strong despite the Leaf’s lack of a gasoline backup engine.
But electric vehicles are not for everyone. At least not yet.
The Volt’s sticker price places it far beyond that of competing high efficiency vehicles. Before a $7,500 tax rebate, the base price is $40,280 – nearly double that of a high mileage Volkswagen Jetta TDI. And while the mileage running on gasoline is excellent, the 36 mpg I’ve obtained in the Volt when running on gas is less than that of a Prius or the diesel powered Volkswagen. The value proposition begins to take shape for those with commutes that fall within the 40 mile electric range, or if there are charging opportunities to extend the range while parked.
But I’m sure like many others I didn’t buy the car to save money. I considered it an investment in what is without question the most innovative piece of American automotive technology in decades. And I spend most days driving around utilizing energy produced right here in Connecticut.