Why I bought a Volt

I swore I would never buy a new car… and yet, December 23, 2010, I took delivery of my brand new, cyber gray metallic Chevrolet Volt – number 186 off the assembly line – and I couldn’t be happier. The car is amazing. But don’t take my word for it – to date the Volt has won over half a dozen awards, including 2011 North American Car of the Year, 2011 Best World Green Car, 2011 Motor Trend Car of The Year, SAE’s Best Engineered Vehicle of 2011, and a 2011 Edison Gold Award. Not bad for a car that has barely been out for six months. But awards aren’t everything, and I’d like to focus on some of the reasons that I decided buying the Chevy Volt was right for me. Some of these reasons are altruistic, while others are more selfish in nature,but each of them has influenced my personal decision.

The Environment

Perhaps one of the most common reasons people purchase some form of electric vehicle is to reduce one’s impact on the environment. Whether the car is a Prius, a Volt, or a Leaf, electric vehicles enjoy the distinction of being environmentally friendly. The simple conclusion here is that, typically, less gasoline usage equates to less emissions. 

This statement deserves a more detailed analysis that includes carbon footprints of the full manufacturing cycle, gasoline emissions, and electric plant emissions in the case of vehicles with a plug, but for the sake of brevity let’s assume this statement to be generally true. 

In my particular situation, I am a one car household that travels roughly 20 – 40 miles a day, and has a 400 mile trip a few times a year. This type of driving pattern scores high for the Volt. Its EPA rated 35 miles of all-electric driving means that most days I don’t use a drop of gasoline, but its gas-powered electric generator means that I can take it on my long trips without stopping to recharge. Thus far, I have driven about 4000 miles and have averaged nearly 190 MPGG (miles per gallon gasoline –  the explicit notation of gasoline is to stress that electricity usage is not being included in this calculation). Environmentally, my Volt has thus far been impressive. And since I purchase 100% renewable energy, the carbon footprint of using my Volt is even smaller.

The Economy

The whole of the national economy is a complex, multidimensional money machine that deals with everything: education, employment, energy, retail, agriculture, manufacturing, finance and on and on. If we focus on energy, however, the United States relies heavily on a single source: oil. Because of this, any fluctuation in the price of oil has a dramatic effect on our country’s prosperity. When oil prices increase, our economy suffers proportionally. Even the simplest investor knows that to minimize risk, they must diversify their portfolio. 

Energy diversification is easy when it comes to electricity because it can be created from a variety of fuel sources. If natural gas is cheap, we can generate electricity with natural gas. If that gets expensive, how about coal? If all hydrocarbons become expensive, photovoltaics can be used to power a larger percentage of the grid. Whatever the source, the impartiality of electricity allows us to reduce our dependence on a single commodity. Therefore, the purchase of electric vehicles like the Volt and the Leaf provides a means of energy diversity that, ultimately, can lead to greater economic stability. Even further, we can choose to use domestic energy sources that will simultaneously keep more Americans employed while reducing our trade deficit.

National Security

Reducing our trade deficit also has a positive effect on national security. A study by the International Center for Technology Assessment estimates the true cost of our gasoline at around $15.00 per gallon. Driving electrically reduces oil use for transportation – in 2009, less than 15% of our country’s energy production came from oil. Every gallon of gasoline derived from foreign oil that we can eliminate lowers the US trade deficit, increasing our country’s sustainability, and therefore, our national security. 

It is also no coincidence that many of the countries in which the United States has a military presence are also net exporters of oil. Reducing our dependence on oil through electric car adoption will reduce the need to put the lives of our troops at risk, lessen animosity towards America in the nations that we occupy, and ultimately, increase our national security. 

So far I’ve presented a trifecta of altruistic reasons to own any fuel efficient vehicle, including a Volt, but there are other, more selfish, incentives to choosing a Chevy Volt…

Versatility

The Volt is a versatile ‘no compromises’ vehicle. Critics of electric vehicles and their feasibility in the broader vehicle market often cite range limitations and long recharge times as barriers to mass market adoption. The Volt eliminates both of these potential barriers with its range extending gasoline engine that can create electricity on-board whenever the battery runs low. 

A study by the US Department of Transportation concluded that 75% of Americans commute 40 miles or less to work each day. Using this information, Chevrolet was able to design the Volt in a way that would minimize battery cost while maximizing electric-only driving. As a result, the Volt is a vehicle that allows 75% of Americans to commute to work using very little, if any, gasoline. They can use the Volt all day long, plug it in before they go to sleep, and they’ll wake up with another full charge and 35 miles ready to go. At the same time, though, the Volt allows those same Americans the ability to take a 1000 mile, fuel-efficient, cross-country trip without ever having to stop and recharge the battery. It is the versatility of the Volt thatwas, and is, so appealing to me. I can commute to work every day without using a drop of gasoline, but I can also take a long trip whenever I desire. That means no additional vehicle or additional planning is required.

Instant Torque

Currently in the United States, the most popular electrically-propelled vehicles include the Chevrolet Volt, the Nissan Leaf, and the Telsa Roadster, and there are more to come. A major benefit of these vehicles and their electric motors is the fact that they allow for instant torque from a stop. 

Don’t be fooled by the more common ‘hybrids’ that are available. Cars such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid are known as parallel hybrids, which means that the electric motor typically works in parallel with (or at the same time as) the gasoline engine. These electric motors add some horsepower to a small combustion engine, but are not capable of producing sufficient torque to propel the vehicle under high acceleration without the engine’s help. 

With a Volt, your first 35 miles or so are driven purely on battery power using only the electric motor. It doesn’t matter if you’re flying down the road at 100 mph or flooring the accelerator when the traffic light changes from red to green, the car is propelled by the electric motor. Period. After the first 35 miles or so, the Volt has a gas engine to create electricity to keep the Volt’s electric motor propelling your vehicle. As an aside, there are also some scenarios where the Volt indirectly links its gasoline engine to drive the wheels through the electric motor without first creating electricity. This has some people criticizing the Volt, but in reality this is a semantic argument. By doing this at highway speeds, the Volt is even more efficient than it otherwise would have been, and performance isn’t compromised one bit.

The acceleration of a fully electric drive train feels nothing less than amazing and it gives the Volt a much sportier feel than your typical hybrid that is available today. The Volt is certainly no golf cart!

Luxury

Let’s face it, people want luxury. They want a car that is comfortable and loaded with features. The Volt fits this bill. 

The feature list is awfully long, and I’ll bore you if I list them all here, but to list a few: it comes standard with a 30GB hard drive for storing music, a time-shifting radio function that lets you pause live radio, cabin temperature pre-conditioning, XM radio (subscription required after the first 90 days), and hands-free Blutooth connectivity for your cell phone. 

To be honest, though, some of the Volt’s most luxurious aspects aren’t found in the advertised features. The first is the amazingly quiet ride that the Volt offers. By virtue of its electric motor, the Volt is virtually silent. I personally love this quality of the Volt and find that people are continually amazed at how quiet the Volt really is. 

Second is the Volt’s acceleration. Again, by virtue of its electric motor, the Volt has no gears, which means there is no shifting. A typical automatic transmission consists of a complex system of gears that are manipulated as one accelerates. As the gears switch you can always feel a slight jerking in the movement of the vehicle. The Volt, however, delivers constant acceleration without any jarring or hesitation. The smoothness of the acceleration is one feature that puts a smile on my face each and every time I drive my Volt.

 

There are many other reasons that I decided to buy my Volt, but these half-dozen were what persuaded me the most. I will talk in detail about specific feature sets as well as my personal experiences with the Volt in future issues.

Hopefully by now you’re mulling over the reasons that you want a Chevy Volt. Well, soon the Volt will be available nationwide, and it is already available in Washington DC, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, Texas, and California. So what are you waiting for?

Issue: JAN/FEB 2012