Volt aims to provide electrifying experience

By Dennis Seid | NEMS Daily Journal


General Motors rolled out the Chevrolet Volt at the 2009 North American International Auto Show. GM officials, flanked by hundreds of their workers, proclaimed the Volt a “game changer.”
Nearly three years later, the Volt is on sale and on the roads.
Whether it becomes that game-changer remains to be seen, but GM is making an all-out push on the car.
You’ve probably seen the television ads where a Volt owner is questioned – and even harassed – by people who want to know why he’s stopped at a gas station.
The answer is simple – despite its name, the Volt isn’t powered by electricity alone. It has a 2.5-gallon fuel tank to power an engine that kicks in when the juice runs out of the car’s lithium-ion battery.
GM insists the Volt is “more car than electric.”
And it takes away the so-called “range anxiety” who fear an all-electric car will leave them stranded when the power runs out.
In the Volt, drivers have the best of both worlds, GM says.
Dwayne Blackmon Chevrolet in Tupelo sold the first Volt in Northeast Mississippi.
Steve Lake, the founder of Omega Motion in Saltillo, took ownership a few weeks back. He hopes to go a whole year without having to refuel the gas tank.
If you’re interested in experiencing the Volt, the dealership has a demo model that it will loan to customers for free.
“We’re not allowed to sell it for six months,” said Blackmon sales consultant Jerry Seaman. “GM has a program going at dealerships nationwide, where a Volt is available for anybody to drive. They want to get the word out and get the buzz going on the Volt.”
The Volt available for a test drive at Blackmon Chevrolet is loaded with lots of extra options. If you like it, a similar version can be yours for about $45,000.
The base price is $41,000. A federal tax credit is available for $7,500 to buyers.
I test-drove the Volt for two days a few weeks ago and came away admiring its performance and features.
So what did I like – and maybe not like as much – about the Volt? Here’s a quick review:
The exterior: The Volt doesn’t necessarily stand out in a crowd – except, of course, when “Volt” is boldly emblazoned on both sides of the vehicle, as it is with the test vehicle. The Volt looks a bit like a four-door hatchback because the rear quarter of the car sits high. That’s to accommodate the battery pack, made up of 288 battery cells. It’s not an unpleasant look, nor is it radically different from other hybrids
From the front, the Volt has a distinctive character line down the middle, as if to “slice” the air.
The interior: The Volt has comfortable leather bucket seats, with room for four. The roofline is low, reminiscent of the Chrysler 300, but headroom is good.
The dash is what catches your eye. It’s a high-tech dashboard with two interactive LCD screens. One is a customizable instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. The second screen in the center console has touch-sensitive controls. It can be used for climate and audio control, but it also is where you can program the charging schedule for the car.
The fun part is watching the center digital screen, which can be set to display how the car is using battery power. In this mode, a green meter shows how much power is left, including an estimated range. The wheels on the display turn or stop with the vehicle, telling you when power is being regenerated, when battery power is used and when the gas engine kicks in. Passengers will be enthralled. Drivers shouldn’t be, since they should be looking at the road, but it’s hard to ignore.
The drive: Like many cars today, no “key” is needed. Drivers get a key fob, and as long as you have it nearby, the car can be started by pushing a button on the dash.
But when you start the car, there’s no sound, because you’re using electricity. Think of it like a giant battery-powered golf cart. When you put the car in reverse –and there’s a nifty camera that gives you the view behind the car on the center dash screen – there’s no sound to indicate you’re backing up. So, it might be wise to use a passenger horn that emits several chirps to let pedestrians know you’re coming or going. The button is on the end of the turn-signal stalk. The horn is softer than the regular horn, which is activated like any other horn by pressing the middle of the steering wheel.
With a direct-drive transmission, the 273 pound-feet of torque shoots the Volt quickly and quietly. The Volt won’t win a drag race with a ’Vette, but it does get up and go when needed.
A fully charged Volt will give you about 35 miles of purely electric-driven motoring. Cold weather might affect that range, as will your driving style.
I admit to gunning then engine a few times.
On my way home my first day, the battery power ran out, and the Volt immediately made a seamless transition to the gas engine. No bump, no burp, no hesitation. I wouldn’t have even noticed had I not been looking at the display.
With a fully charged battery and a full tank of gas, GM says the Volt will go about 375 miles.
It takes about 10 hours to get a full charge. Using a charging station, you plug one end into a standard wall outlet and plug the other end into the Volt. I did it in my garage with no problems. You also can use a 240-volt line – like the ones used for clothes dryers – for a full charge in four hours.
Final verdict: I got the car with a full battery charge and a full tank of gas. I gave it a full overnight charge. When I returned the Volt, I had driven 93.7 miles and used just over half a tank of gas.
That works out to the equivalent of 145.5 miles per gallon.
So, would I buy a Volt?
Quite possibly. The battery technology must improve to give them a longer range. The price also needs to come down some before I would give it serious consideration.
If you live within a few miles of where you work and your driving distance is relatively short, the Volt likely is ideal for you. If properly charged, you may never have to use the gas engine.
GM said it hopes to sell 10,000 Volts this year. The company won’t make any money on it initially, but that’s not the sole reason why it made the car. As electric car technology evolves and improves, GM can say it was a leader in its development.
And that can pay unknown dividends in the future as the industry – and consumers – move toward more energy-efficient, emissions-friendly vehicles.
dennis.seid@journalinc.com