2011 Chevrolet Volt: No Fear of the B.S.O.D. with this Tech-Laden Halo1
In November of 2010, General Motors delivered on a promise they made to start producing the Chevrolet Volt. Just after production started I had the opportunity to spend a day with a Volt. While it was a very interesting car to drive for a day, I wasn’t sure what it would be like to drive a vehicle that had the ability to be plugged in, so Chevrolet let me drive one for a week earlier this year.
General Motors is marketing the Volt as an extended range electric vehicle. The government and Society of Automotive Engineers classify the Volt as a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Regardless of what you classify the Volt as, it is a very interesting, complex, and intriguing piece of technology.
My commutes are generally short ones around town with the occasional drive to another suburb of Detroit. The electric range of the Volt is perfect for around town cruising. The estimated range displayed on the dash was roughly 31 miles after a full charge. When I drove the Volt in November I squeezed out 47 miles on one charge, in perfect conditions. When I had the Volt for a week I decided to drive it just like any other car. I wasn’t babying it or pretending like it was a Formula One rocket either. I was driving it in a normal manner and plugging it in whenever the opportunity presented itself. I don’t have a 240 volt line in my garage so 120 volts had to do the trick. A full charge could happen in about eight hours, or exactly how long you’re supposed to sleep. A 240 volt charge is about half that time. I managed to eek out 111.5 MPG over 414.4 miles. I used the air conditioning and plugged it in whenever I had the opportunity. Not too shabby.
The electric powertrain is seamless and smooth. The Volt feels powerful even though it weighs almost 3,800 pounds. You have a full blast of torque the second you step on the “gas” pedal. Remember, the Volt is carrying two full powertrains in a package that is smaller than a Chevrolet Cruze but weighs about 700 pounds more than a Cruze. At highway speeds, when the battery is depleted, the shift to the gas generator is virtually undetectable. Cruising in the city causes the Austrian-made 1.4L four-cylinder to occasionally roar to life to keep the battery pack charged. You can get some unpleasant looks from pedestrians who think you’re revving the engine at them.
The Chevrolet Volt was able to be included in our 2011 Vehicle Satisfaction Survey and the results were not surprising. Early adopters consist of 82% males with a median age of 58 and a household median income of $150,000. For comparison, the Toyota Prius is purchased by 62% males, has the same median age, and has a median income of $100,000. 71% of Volt buyers also live in Suburbia as opposed to just 53% of Prius buyers.
The early adopters of the Volt are also very tech savvy. 75% have a smartphone and 63% prefer the Apple products. If you venture into their homes, 53% will have Blu-Ray players and an astonishing 33% have solar panels. They are comfortable shopping online at places like Amazon, don’t mind reading a book on a Kindle, but also shop at brick & mortar stores like Target and Whole Foods. Definitely the guy with all of the toys and a lot of cash in the bank.
A lot of these early adopters seem to feel the same way I did. 51% wanted more passenger room. The rear seat is split into two seats by the battery that goes right down the center of the car. The headroom in the rear is limited due to the hatch and legroom is very tight. I was able to fit my two year old and 6’1″ wife in the Volt but it was a tight squeeze and comfort was compromised. Not exactly the only car we would need, as Chevrolet is marketing it.
About 28% of Volt owners responded that they were were looking for more daring styling than what the Volt has today. One person asked me how I liked the ‘new Cruze’, as they were mistaken by the corporate-common Chevrolet front end. OK, I can see how people might mistake the Volt for something else from the front. The production Volt differs quite a bit from the concept version back in 2007. Take a look…
Another mistake I noticed was that people were mistaking the Volt as a hybrid, like the Prius. The design of the Volt is totally different than the Prius so it is going to take a lot of education to help people understand how the Volt is different than the Prius or other hybrids out there.
A few things that I wondered about on the Volt that could have extended the battery range were heated seats for all passengers, a heated steering wheel, daytime running lights that used energy efficient LEDs, and headlights that didn’t run on halogen bulbs. The Nissan LEAF has LED headlights and for 2012 MY has a heated steering wheel and heat for four seats.
Yes, the Volt is really a technology marvel. I’m impressed. There are no ‘bugs’ or ‘blue screen of death’ issues to speak of. While some might fret over idea of buying a new piece of technology in the first year, I have to say that the Volt is a well-ironed out car that does just what General Motors promised it would do. I’ve driven three or four different Volt models and the experience has been the same each time. A smooth, quiet ride with electric or gas capability delivering fuel economy on the upper end of the scale. Charging it wasn’t the inconvenience I expected it to be. I was even able to get my two year old daughter to partake in plugging it in.
Is it the only car you’ll need? Probably not, due to utility and passenger constraints. Is it the most technically advanced and innovative vehicle on the road today? No doubt in my mind. Is it a game changer? Not yet, the price is too high, but it does show that General Motors can develop technically advanced vehicles on-time that deliver outstanding fuel economy. If someone told you GM could do that six or seven years ago, you might laugh. This halo vehicle will change perceptions and misconceptions. Version 1.0 of the Volt is so good that I’m excited to see what the future will bring. Good job, GM!