When the price of fuel hovers too close to $4 per gallon, Americans get nervous. They begin looking at ways to burn less gasoline, and invariably reconsider other energy sources to power their cars. It happened during the oil embargo in 1973 and it happened again in 2008 when the price of gas spiked during the economic downturn.
Now, with the economy still only slowly recovering, Americans are again looking at higher fuel efficiency. Chevrolet answered in December of 2010 with theVolt, a car that is primarily electric and rechargeable via household electricity. Unlike a hybrid car, which has an internal combustion engine (ICE) that turns on and off as power demands change, theVolt’s ICE exists solely as a generator, extending the range of theVolt by recharging batteries on the fly.
The Volt hasn’t been without controversy. They had a slow start in a stagnant economy. In September, Reuters reported that General Motors lost $49,000 on everyVolt it sold, a figure that GM called “grossly wrong.”
But despite the slow start, Chevrolet is puttingVolts in driveways across America.There are about 22,000Volts in circulation.Volt drivers have logged more than 80 million miles on electric power alone. Whether it’s a good car that has met expectations is up to the owners. What are they saying?
Paul Pisecco of Andover purchased a 2012 Chevrolet Volt in April. He bought it to replace a high mileage 1999 Mercedes-Benz E320 that he purchased new. The Volt was a significantly different car, but he says the experience thus far has been almost completely positive. “I’ve been getting 48 to 51 miles on a single charge—way more than I thought,” he says. “I’m sure this will go down in the winter, but so far I’m really, really happy.”
What does it cost to run a Volt? The average cost of electricity in the Boston area is currently around $.145 per kilowatt hour. The Volt’s battery is at full charge in 13.4 kilowatt hours.That means a full charge costs about $1.94. The Volt’s battery can be completely depleted in 25 miles, though that can increase to as much as 50 miles if the weather is mild but not hot enough to run the air conditioner. Worst case, the Volt costs approximately $.08 per mile to operate. Compare that with a Toyota Corolla. Gas prices are hovering around $3.90 per gallon. The Corolla turns in—at worst—27 city miles per gallon as estimated by the EPA. The cost to run a Corolla is $.14 per mile.
Pisecco notes, “I’ve gone from $375 a month in fuel bills to $80 a month. The car payment is almost free based on fuel savings.”
He’s also had some pleasant surprises along the way. “I was really surprised by the torque of the car, 0-60 mpg is really good. Getting on the highway and passing trucks on the highway is no problem,” he says.
Mark Reuss, GM vice president, and president, North America, says that owners are learning just howmuch fun theVolt can be to drive. “In one of our first early buyer surveys we included the question,‘What do you like most about yourVolt?’ The answer was overwhelmingly, ‘fun to drive.’”
The Volt has three modes of acceleration. There’s a Normal mode for regular driving, a Mountain mode for steeper climbs, and a Sport mode that allows for quicker responsiveness and better power.
Pisecco says the ownership experience has far exceeded his expectations. “Volt support is better than Mercedes-Benz,” he says. “I call a dealer and say I have a Volt or I hit my OnStar button in the car, and all of the reps bend over backward to help. My dealer brings me in right away.” Chevrolet also has an owner’s forum where Volt owners can provide feedback and ask questions.
There are a few areas in which Pisecco thinks the Volt could improve. He says the high-speed braking has an “unsettling pedal-to-wheel delay.” Owners in the forum gm-volt. com note that the Volt uses “brake-by-wire” technology, which eliminates the hydraulic connection between the brake pedal and the hydraulic system. The “brake feel” in the Volt is actually“pedal feel simulation” that may not be dialed in completely to a former Mercedes-Benz owner’s liking.
Pisecco’s biggest complaint came when he had a flat tire. In order to save weight, the Volt doesn’t have a spare tire. It has a can of “Fix-a-Flat”-type aerosol, along with a small compressor. He says that it worked great to get him to safety, but after he had the tire repaired, he noticed a shimmy at highway speed. He took the car in and it turned out that the Fix-a-Flat “goo” had dried and dislodged inside the tire. Although the dealer waived the $50 replacement cost for the can of aerosol once, Pisecco says that a flat tire could cost an owner $50 for a new aerosol can, plus $75 to take the tire off the wheel, clean out all the goo, and rebalance the tire. “At those prices, it’s cheaper to have AAA tow your car to a tire store and install a new tire every time you get a flat,” he says.
Overall, though, it’s been a great experience. “My brother-in-law calls it the Republican Prius,” he laughs. “I think it’s attractive to people who are less interested in making an environmental statement and more interested in their bank statement at the end of the month.”