For the last 2 weeks what may arguably be the most significant car in the history of the U.S. auto industry since the Model T has been sitting (and charging) in my garage.
The Chevy Volt isn't my car. It is going to be used for an EE Times project sponsored by Avnet Express called "Drive for Innovation" which kicks off in June but we needed somewhere to keep the vehicle for a while, so I quickly volunteered.
I picked up the car from EELife editor Brian Fuller on a Friday night after it was purchased from a dealer in San Jose and I think my kids were more excited than I was. The Volt attracts attention wherever we take it and people have a lot of questions particularly about the range and how long it takes to charge. But there is a misconception about whether it's a hybrid and what that really means.
The Volt is an extended range electric vehicle whose engine is used to charge the battery. It is therefore not a Hybrid like my Prius, which switches between and combines the electric and gasoline motors for optimum efficiency.
I drove the Volt back to my house. Most people would be able to drive it around without really being aware that it was an electric vehicle which is a huge win for GM in my opinion.
The car will only start if you have your foot on the brake but that's nothing new to Prius owners. What was new to me was two LCD screens, one for displaying the status of the "instruments" and the other, a touch version for the navigation, climate and entertainment systems. Even the controls on the dashboard surface are touch sensitive so it's a very different experience.
The car is silent when switched on so the sensation of an engine running is absent, but the responsiveness and handling are excellent. The Volt gives you real confidence in its ability to maneuver through traffic and handle well. My only criticism of the Volt is that visibility is limited and one can feel a little claustrophobic at first, but this is a styling issue which I'm sure will be addressed in the Volt 2 and 3.
When we got home I had to figure out how to charge it because Brian had driven about 60 miles so the battery was depleted. In the trunk was a charging pack with a cable and controller that could be plugged into a standard 110V socket. Unfortunately the only power strip in my garage was ungrounded and it tripped the fuse.
I then plugged the Volt into a standard 3-pin grounded outlet and it started charging. It was about 7pm and the Volt display showed me that charging would be complete at 6:14 am the next day and the range was going to be 38 miles which was fine for my commute of 13 miles each way.
In theory then I could use the Volt every day for my commute and not use the gas engine. If I needed to go to Silicon Valley to the Embedded Systems Conference, ARM TechCon or DesignCon I have nothing to worry about. If I installed solar panels on my garage roof then, except for winter overcast days, I could honestly say I was free of "big oil".
To me this is the breakthrough that GM has achieved with the Volt: it’s an electric car for the masses and that should not be underestimated. My faith in GM as an engineering organization has been restored.
I am not going to comment on the cost of the Volt because we paid way over sticker for it and the decisions we make buying our vehicles are largely irrational anyway (any M3, Mustang, Corvette, 911, Expedition and Suburban owners out there?).
Currently the Volt runs in a "dumb" mode knowing only the current conditions. I read an interesting article elsewhere about driving in "mountain mode" (which recharges the battery) on the highway so that charge will be available for pure electric driving in the urban destination at the end of the trip. It would be nice if Google maps could provide recommended driving modes for trip segments. In my (non-PHEV) hybrid I learned a long time ago not to use cruise control because it always gunned the engine just before the crest of a hill when I knew we could coast over and would gain speed back from gravity.
Don't blow a gasket, kevin. The point of the article is that if you don't have a 100 mile commute, you will never have to kick on the gas engine. It's a backup generator for the electric engine. That's a good thing because it means you can drive it across the country if you need to.
Stop it already, it's a HYBRID!
GM promised an electric car with great range and delivered a hybrid - what a let down.
There are two power sources, it doesn't matter if the power is routed to the wheels by wires or gears or whatever, two power sources make it a hybrid.
Lots of great questions, let me answer a few:
Sticker price of this car is $45k but we paid more because they are in short supply but a recent study (by Accenture) showed that for buyers of electric cars price is not an issue they are making a statement just like someone who buys a BMW M3/5 isn't looking for transportation!
On the question of how quiet they are, GM has added a feature that clicks like the turn signal via an external speaker for pedestrians, I think there will be a lot more development on this over the next few years
This car will be torn down by EE Times to look at the technology over the next few months and someone is going to win one next year so please follow us on Twitter
What about the fact that the car is quiet? In Germany at BMW some years ago, I was told the govt. made them add noise to their test e-vehicle as people couldn't hear it coming and therefore it was a danger.
It is very nice to see GM do a good attempt to bring electric vehicles to the masses. My concern would be the cost of battery replacement, and the frequency. That is a certainty that will have to be overcome with field reports of reliable performance in numbers, to gain converts and see migration to this option.
Otherwise it is just another beautiful car with noble ideals but only afforded by the affluent.
You would be surprise to find out that there are actually 3KW panels commercially available, but the issue is the investment required to store that energy and other infrastructure.