September 30, 2011 was a day I’ll never forget. It took longer than the gestation period of my child to finally take ownership of my Volt and drive it away from the dealer.
The excitement that day was punctuated by the torrential downpour that ensued during the ride home. Roads disappeared under streams of water as tree branches rustled in the wind. While driving I recalled the videos of the Volt barreling though knee-deep water on the test track and I instinctively knew which button to push to clear the windows. The Volt pushed confidently through standing water as the windows magically cleared. Upon arriving home I silently pulled into the garage and plugged into the awaiting fast charger. This moment symbolically marked the beginning of a new era: that of 100 mile-per-dollar driving.
Following, I’ll discuss how the Volt fits in my 10-year plan to wean off of oil, my review of the vehicle, people’s reactions, pros and cons, model year differences, as well as future thoughts.
Why the Volt? – Background Information
Realizing how our economic system dangerously relies on the availability and abundance of dwindling cheap liquid transport fuels, mainly oil, I began preparing my family five years ago for the inevitable consequences that this “peaking” of cheap oil will cause to society. For starters, I wasn’t going to be caught with my pants down in a gas-guzzling SUV with $6-per-gallon gasoline. I knew there were a number of efficient vehicles coming on the market, but had not determined which one would meet my needs.
After deciding to ditch the SUV I began to analyze my family’s total energy usage and make numerous modifications at home. Some of the most significant changes involved cutting my electricity use by 75 percent and purchasing a solar-powered electrical system. These changes make my home one of the few net-zero solar homes in the country, with no traditional utility bills. I chronicled these changes in detail on my Youtube channel.
In summary, my average-sized home’s energy footprint, inclusive of the SUV, uses the equivalent of 50,000 kwh annually. It takes just over 3,000 kwh of electricity to power the home; three tons of wood pellets to heat it and 1,000 gallons of gasoline for driving. My solar system was designed to power my entire home and also power a plug-in vehicle at about 6,000 miles per year.
The Volt emerged as the logical solution to help me achieve my goal of using the least amount of oil possible, while eliminating any range anxiety typically associated with electric vehicles. The Volt’s total annual energy use will be about 40 gallons of gas and about 4,700 kwh of electricity. This will reduce my home’s total annual energy footprint, inclusive of the Volt, from 50,000 kwh to 23,000 kwh. I’ll be using about 8,700 less gallons of fuel with the Volt over eight to nine years. The Prius would have required me to use about 2,500 more gallons versus the Volts 320 gallons over the same time period. That was not in line with my goal.
2012 Volt review
The Volt springs off the line in near silence. The instantaneous 273 pound-feet of torque was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. It’s hard to resist punching it from a standstill when next to fancy sport sedans or against my favorite friend, the Prius. While 0-30 mph in 3 seconds is no record, doing it in near silence sets it apart. Fortunately, flooring it regularly will not degrade or damage the 400-pound lithium-ion battery according to the experts.
The 3,800-pound Volt’s low center of gravity makes hugging corners sports-car inspiring while the multiple drive modes satisfy both the hands-off driver and the hyper miler enthusiast. Most should expect 25 to 50 miles of EV range in varying weather conditions; the former in extreme heat or cold and the latter in temperatures between 60-80 degrees F.
When the battery is depleted, the gasoline engine generator kicks in to propel the car another few hundred miles with its 9.3-gallon fuel tank. The transition is seamless and difficult to hear while driving above 50 mph. The engine can actually come on while the battery still has range left in eight different unique scenarios, but that’s another discussion.
I have already reached 50 miles of EV range on one charge; the record is around 75 miles. I have driven 1,200 miles on my first gallon just by charging at home. With gas at $3.50/gallon, the average car gets about seven miles per dollar (MPD). The Prius checks in at 14 MPD while the average Volt driver should get an incredible 20 to 30 MPD. On average, Volt drivers will fill up every 30 days. In my case, the solar surplus of 6,000 miles of electricity from home and a courtesy charger being installed at work, makes the Volt a 100 mile-per-dollar no brainer.
I invited several co-workers, friends and acquaintances to get behind the wheel and experience the electric drive feeling first hand. All those who accepted loved the Volt and were surprised by the futuristic interior, quick acceleration and silent operation. Two declined to drive or even get in however. One felt the federal tax credit dollars would be better spent by oil companies drilling for more oil. The other got angry over something to do with the government telling him what car he has to drive.
On a deeper level, I sense that many people dislike the Volt because we were raised to believe we need to consume more to be happy. The Volt goes against this societal norm. The Volt is the next iteration of the motor car on a shrinking planet. Whether it’s the lighter weight chrome-like polished wheels, fuel-efficient tires, low co-efficient drag, reduced air-intake grill, energy efficient premium Bose stereo system, lighter hand-powered seats, no exposed exhaust pipe or the air-pump with built in tire sealant in place of a spare tire, the mark has been hit.
After the $7,500 tax credit, a fully loaded Volt comes in around $37,000 or about $7,000 more than the average new car. You’ll get leather heated seats, navigation, a 30 GB hard drive to store thousands of songs, DVD player, CD, FM, AM, XM (three months) and the unique ability to pause and rewind live radio. Throw in top safety rating in its class, eight airbags, traction control, three years full On-star, keyless exit/entry, 8 years/ 100,000 mile battery and related component warranty, ability to experience pure electric car like driving most of the time but with no range anxiety, mpg numbers people dream about, a Volt app for your I-Phone or Android phone, and dare I say it, it supports American jobs.
The additional $7,000 for a Volt (after federal incentives) compared to an average internally combusted automobile is often seen as too much extra to pay up front to save $10,000 – $40,000 on gas over nine years because our culture desires instant payback and savings. This assumes gas prices do not increase.
Other perceived negatives are it only has four seats and is a compact. Also you need an accessible outlet to charge it and it is front wheel drive. It is harder to maintain your weekly chit chat with your local gas station clerk and it takes premium gasoline. On a more serious note, it can take a very long time to obtain one as they’re producing around 700 per week and are on their target to sell only 16,000 this year and 60,000 next year. Lastly, while some have found it a positive conversation starter, I’ve more often found it to draw undue attention.
Model year differences
Unlike the 2011 which has keyless entry on the driver’s door only, the 2012 Volt comes with keyless entry with door access buttons on all doors and passive auto locking. You get three years of OnStar instead of five and the base price is lower due to de-contenting. There are now seven color choices. The 2012 is now EPA-rated 94 MPGe instead of 93 MPGe. The center display shows kilowatt hours used while the battery discharges and the navigation instructions also appear in the driver display.
There is now easier-to-read lettering and backlighting on the center display buttons and gear shift lettering. You can now turn off traction control manually and the taillights have white reflectors in them.
Politics, jobs, resource wars, overpopulation and misconceptions aside, I think extended-range electric vehicles like the Volt fill the needs for most until pure EVs have either widespread charging infrastructure or longer battery range. As my teenager moves toward driving age, I feel better knowing that when she gets her first job she won’t have to put half her paycheck in the gas tank to fund far away oil dictators. Her boyfriend just better have an outdoor accessible outlet.