By Allen Penticoff
In my last Mr. Green Car column (Oct. 19-25), I told you about my experience with a test drive of the new Chevy Volt. After my deadline had come and gone, and it was too late to revise the story, I recalled that I had a thought I needed to share with you.
That important message is this: the Volt drives like any other car. There is nothing about driving it that would be substantially different from driving a conventionally-powered vehicle. The “gas pedal” feels the same (although it should be called a “speed control pedal”), braking, turning, handling — all the same.
The Volt has an electric heater, “automatic” heated seats and electric air conditioner (more about these in a bit). Out on the highway, there is some wind and tire noise, so driving is not totally silent. It still hits bumps in the road. Distracted away from the flashy digital displays in front of you by the need to be paying attention to driving, you will forget you are driving an electric car.
This is a great success. In the past, electric cars required a lot of compromises — most were the domain of hobbyists willing to put up with their many quirks and limitations. Now, you get all the comforts, convenience and utility we’ve come to expect with our vehicles, with the bonus of clean driving. You can be good to the earth, to our health, and not give up anything.
The Volt is a rolling computer. Many new cars are. The Volt has taken this all to the current state of the art. You can sync your smart phone to it to have the Volt tell you what the status of its charge is — or to tell it to turn on the air conditioner or heater before you arrive to drive. Since these climate-control devices are electrically driven, you won’t be polluting while the vehicle warms up. Heck, you can even heat/cool the car while it sits in the garage with the door closed. The cost is reduced electric drive time, though.
Chevrolet even worked with Bose Corporation to design an audio system that was more energy efficient. It has a USB port, so you can take all your tunes along on a thumb drive, and the satellite radio has a DVR-like function to play back up to 20 minutes of live radio. And, of course, there is GPS navigation.
Like other new cars, you don’t have a key to start it. You show up at the car with a key fob in your pocket, and it unlocks the door and lets the car know it’s OK to go when you press the “on” button. For safety, it has eight air bags. The parking brake is engaged by the push of a button. Shifting is a familiar lever on the center console.
As an electric car driver, you will need to be contemplating the power you are using in running the heater, air conditioner and audio system — all these affect the miles you can drive on batteries only. But if you have a short drive or you can connect to what will be an expanding network of charging stations (and GM will help you set up your own if you agree to share it), then there may be little concern for using these features in your daily use — so it will be essentially “normal.” The difference will be you’ll plug in now and then.
The heart of all this are the 288 lithium-ion batteries that provide 16,000 watts at 360 volts. That’s a lot of power — equivalent to 30 12-volt batteries hooked up in series — and even then, they could not do the job of the light-weight lithium-ion batteries.
Charging on 110 volts takes 10 hours to recharge flat batteries, and four hours with 220 volts (basically an electric dryer connection). But I figure most drives will not deplete the battery, and whenever you come home, you’ll plug it in, even if you are heading out again shortly. It would become an easy habit: park, then plug in. This will hold true as other plug-in hybrids and electric cars appear on the market.
The Volt’s battery warranty is eight years/100,000 miles, including the electronic components. The rest of the car has a three-year/36,000-mile warranty.
All you need is a clean (not coal, natural gas or oil) electric power source, and you can count yourself as making a big impact on the environment — while giving up nothing in your driving experience. Actually, even if the power source is not “clean,” you are still making a significant contribution to clean air. Congratulations on making the right choice in transportation.
From the Nov. 2-8, 2011, issue