Saturday, April 30, 2011


I just spent a week in the Volt, Chevy’s new plug-in gas-electric hybrid.
I first wrote about this car in this blog in January (see GETTING A CHARGE FROM THE VOLT) when I had the opportunity to take it on a drive to the Florida Keys, so I’m not going to go into great detail here about its various features and what I think about how it looks or drives again.
What having the Volt available for a week, as opposed to a one-day drive, did was give me an opportunity to really get into the concept of the day-to-day operation of a plug-in electric.
With its lithium-ion battery pack fully charged, the Volt runs on electric power for about 40 miles, depending on your driving style, the temperature, and the terrain. (South Florida is warm -- OK, hot -- most of the year and flat all the time.)
The Volt's home charger.
Getting that full charge is the key.
When I picked up the Volt in Miami Beach, the battery was not fully charged, so I was running on the 1.5-liter gas engine halfway home, a distance of 30-35 miles or so. I also was running on the gas engine when I had to go back out that evening on a jaunt of about 25 miles roundtrip.
On my return from the latter trek, I decided it was time to charge up the Volt.
Plugged in and charging.
Here I ran into a slight problem. The Volt comes with a home charger (stowed neatly under the floor panel in the stowage area of the hatchback) that has a cord of 15 feet in length. It would have been easy enough had I been able to pull the Volt into my garage right next to the only electrical outlet. But with a kayak taking up space in the middle of the garage floor, that wasn’t possible.
So what I had to do was leave the garage door slightly open and ease the Volt’s nose in as far as a I could.  I then was able to plug the home charger into the wall socket, and the other end of the cord reached the receptacle on the Volt.
Green light indicates charging.
I plugged it in, and when it began charging a second later, there was a slight beep of the horn and a small light on the top of the dash turned green.
This was a procedure that I repeated every day for the week I had the car.
The plug ... 
Though the recycling time was, according to the in-car computer screen, about 10 hours, I didn’t get a full charge on the first day even though it had been plugged in much longer. When I started it up late the next morning, the indicator showed 36 miles capacity. The next two days, the maximum drive on electric alone was 35 and 34 miles, respectively.
... and charging receptacle.
It wasn’t until the third or fourth day when I began my charging with some juice already left on the battery that I was able to get to the full 40-mile range. That is supposed to be capacity, but a couple of days later I actually began the morning with the indicator showing a maximum range of 41 miles. A bonus!
As the week went on, I got into the habit of starting my recharging immediately when I returned home. The result was that for most of my time I did not expend the entire electric range with my driving.
The driver's information screen.
An indicator on the instrument display keeps track of your range mile-by-mile as you go along, so you always know where you stand. The good thing is, when the indicator hits zero the power plant seamlessly shifts to the gas engine. Except for the slight engine noise that breaks the miles of silence, you can’t tell when it makes the switch.
I pretty much drove the Volt as I normally do -- no lolly-gagging at intersections but no jackrabbit drag-race starts either. Another little indicator in the panel constantly advises you when you are being fuel efficient in your driving and when you are using up more power, and I tried to go by that.
What I found was that with careful driving -- again, not to an extreme  but using that old guideline of driving as if there is an egg between your foot and the accelerator pedal -- you can actually coax a fuel more miles out of the Volt than the supposed maximum 40.
On one trip, mostly on city streets, I started with a range of 34 miles of electric power available and finished with 16 showing. That’s a difference of 18 miles, but I actually drove a distance of 23.9, according to the odometer. That is quite a bonus. Other times the difference was just a couple of miles in my favor.
The bottom line here is that by consistently recharging the battery by plugging in the Volt each time I returned home, even during the day, I was able to go 355.2 miles burning up just 3.0 gallons of fuel for the week. The car’s computer gave me an mpg figure of 117.6, though my math says the figure should be 118.4.
The Volt storage compartment ...
Whatever figure is right, with gas priced in the $4 range, the savings can add up pretty quickly. Estimated costs run from $1.50 to under $3 in electricity to give the Volt’s battery a full charge, depending on how depleted the battery is and what your electric company’s rates are.
I hasten to add here that anyone who has a commute of more than 40 miles a day and/or doesn’t have the opportunity to hook up the charger as often as I did is not going to attain that mileage. If you are on a long trip and use up the approximate 350-mile max range in one take, you’re not going to get that kind of mileage either.
Somehow, the government has come up with an mpg rating in the 90s, but again, that depends on how often you charge it. It could be more, it could be less.
“Your mileage may vary” was never more truer than for a vehicle like the Volt.

with stowage of the charger under the floor.


  1. My Volt experience was similar to yours, but I never did get it to tell me I had 40 miles worth of charge. I think 37 was the top number I got. I like the idea of the Volt in that you can run on pure battery power for shorter trips, but can still drive across the country hassle free on gas. But like all of these gimmicky hybrid vehicles, the extra cost at purchase will never be recouped.

  2. It looks like the best (only?) way to get that full 40 charge is to start before it gets fully expended. I was disappointed that first day when I went out and only 36 showed up since it had been charging for quite a while. You're right about the extra cost, of course. Even with the tax credit, this is a pretty expensive vehicle.