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Report On the Chevy Volt

September 30th, 2012 by Alison · 5 Comments · sustainability, transportation

I took a Chevy Volt on a work road trip this past week. My friends and colleagues were eager to hear

Not me — I haven’t lost 20 pounds — but the same color Volt that I took to Roseburg, Oregon this past Monday through Wednesday.

what I thought of this new American hybrid, so here goes. The background is that I like hybrids. My husband and I own a 2008 Honda Civic hybrid (it’s our only car). I’m all for excellent mileage, and the reduced emissions that come from electricity replacing some gasoline. But do I like the Volt? Well, let me put it this way.Until a month ago, my employer let me use a 2000 Honda Insight. It had a manual transmission, and I was getting 59 mpg on my road trips. In the zippy little 2000 Honda Insight hybrid I had felt nimble and sure-footed, like a polo pony cantering around, turning on a dime, getting from here to there with ease. I liked that car. We were a team: a slightly built woman in a slightly built car. But then my employer retired my 12 year old steed (older vehicles are too expensive to keep repairing, I learned). Sigh. 

Hence my using the Volt. The motor pool folks were proud and excited to offer it to me. But in the Chevy Volt I felt like a war horse, with plated armor all around me, clunking clumsily down an asphalt battlefield. The problem was that I didn’t need to do battle with anyone. I travel to Southwest Oregon on missions of peace, as a funder of transit programs. If our goal with hybrids is to conserve energy, they need to be right-sized, the same way that using renewable energy has got to be paired with energy conservation in order to move toward sustainability. 

The Volt isn’t just oversized for a hybrid. It needs premium gas. I call that a little needy, myself. I pulled into the fueling station that I normally use with five minutes to spare before my carpol partner Cory was due to pick me up — and learned that it doesn’t even carry premium gas. Oops. (The motor pool staff  was very forgiving about  my not returning it with a full tank.)  

I got about 46 mpg, assuming I read the complicated dashboard correctly. If the Volt weren’t so overbuilt and overmuscled — and then overbatteried to support all that weight - it could do much better than that.

The Chevy Volt is supposed to be innovative, but I don’t see it that way. What I find innovative is Getaround, which my household is in the process of joining. With Getaround, you rent your car to neighbors or friends of your choice, in the hours that you choose. Most cars sit unused about 23 hours a day. If our goal, especially in the face of escalating global warming, is to conserve energy, let’s share cars, not keep building more of them. Especially not big ones.    

Am I being unfair in my not very positive report on the Chevy Volt? Are there things I’m not seeing or considering? Comments here.  To get into the drawing for a free hardback copy of Wild, the bestseller by Cheryl Strayed, subscribe to this blog at upper right (takes about 30 seconds, easy to unsubscribe at any time). I’ll announce the winner in a week.


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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Will Aitchison

    I’ve been driving a Volt for almost six months, and have had a different experience. I’ve owned several different cars, including a Prius, and the Volt is my favorite. Comfortable, drives well, and as well-built a car as I’ve had.

    As to the mileage, the odometer on the car turned 2,100 miles last week. So far, I’ve used 1.5 gallons of gas, so I’m getting 1,400 mpg. Of course, I use the car for city driving. It’s very inexpensive to charge as well. I’ve set it up on PGE’s “peak hour” system, so a full charge costs only about a dollar.

  • Alison

    Will, thanks for this report. I’ve learned to expect, not just with cars but life in general, for people to have quite different experiences of the same thing.
    My husband, who heads the renewable energy program at PGE, believes the program you’re talking about is called “time of use”. Overnight is off-peak, hence lower rates. Whether or not we’re on that program, we can all help the energy grid by using energy on the ‘graveyard shift’, for example, having our dishwashers run then.

  • Christine (Girl on Fire) Reed

    Alison! Thanks for asking about your book, but right now, I am not writing reviews on my blog except for a couple of people for whom I have done it before. I barely have any time to read!!! :)

    • Alison

      OK Christine — I know what it’s like to be a self-employed artist — every minute gets spoken for. Thanks for getting back to me.

  • GrnPwrGuy

    As you know from repeated conversations over the past 3-4 days the fundamental issue here is that the Volt is not a hybrid. It is an EV with its own gas powered generator, flushing out this story with more information on what is turning out to be a trend towards much cleaners (read electric) and much more efficiently powered vehicles would surely be very attractive to new and existing readers.

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