A Week In The Chevy Volt

WWJ AutoBeat Reporter Jeff Gilbert spent the week of February 28th in a Chevy Volt extended range electric car.  This is his narrative, along with several quick videos.

For even more updates, follow Jeff on Twitter @jefferygilbert.

Monday, February 28, 2010

The people from General Motors drop off the Chevrolet Volt, and give me a full rundown of how it works, and how to charge it. They even let me borrow an Andriod phone with a special Onstar app that lets you operate many of the Volt’s functions by remote control.

Of course, I’m anxious to take the Volt out for a spin.

I have driven the Volt on several occasions before, but this is my first time solo. So the goal is to make it a “daily driver” and see how it would fit in my lifestyle.

After thirty one miles, the batteries were down to just one mile of charge. The demonstration ate that up. So, the errands I needed to run Monday afternoon were all run on the range extender.

It was a little noiser than I remembered, except at slow speed, when we were back on battery, much like a hybrid. The rev’s of the gasoline engine were not in sync with my foot on the gas pedal. But, you get used to that quickly.

I had a lot to pick up during a trip to a warehouse store, but there were no real issues getting everything in the car.

The overall driving experience was very smooth, handling the pothole plagued roads of Western Wayne County without incident. I did scrape heading into one parking lot, which was not a good experience.

Back home before 8 PM. The Volt on the charger, with standard household current enough to give it a full charge overnite.

Tuesday will see how well the Volt will handle a full commute, and a couple of afternoon trips, and we’ll see how much driving we can do in full EV mode.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

We started the day with a full charge, and 31 miles of electric range. The first thing that happened is the gasoline range extender went on.

This was only for a few minutes while the car warmed up.

By the way, there are three heating modes.  One is comfort, the other is eco and the third is fan only.  This gives you a choice of how much battery strength you want to spend on keeping warm.

I can attest to the fact that the anti-lock brakes work, as I hit some unexpected ice.  Luckily, I didn’t hit anything else.


The Volt came my way just in time for people to ask me about Consumer Reports criticizm of the vehicle.

Among the quotes that, in terms of dollars and sense, the Volt doesn’t make sense and that the Volt will be a tough sell to the average customer.

All of that is true, but also not the least bit relevant.

Think of vehicles like the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf as the equivalant of the early calculators, that cost several hundred dollars or early VCR’s that cost more than a thousand dollars.  There were a handful of early adopters that both both products.  But they were a “tough sell” to the average consumer until the price came down.

But those early adopters proved there was interest, and helped create a market which allowed the price to come down to where both of the products I mentioned became not only affordable for everyday consumers, but very inexpensive products.

Nobody can make an economic case for buying an electric vehicle today.  Just like you can’t make an economic case for buying leather seats or a high end stereo.  There are people who want this kind of vehicle, and can afford it.

They will become the pioneers who could someday make vehicles like this affordable and ordinary.

Also, don’t pay much attention to those low sales figures for both the Volt and Leaf.  I’ve seen people talking on line about how it shows nobody’s interested in the vehicles.  That’s about as silly as those who say “everybody” wants an EV. 

The market for these vehicles will be small, at first, but not this small.  This reflects the availibility of products.  They still aren’t close to meeting the initial orders for either vehicle, and it’s going to take all year to do that.

The real market test will come in about a year or two, when the early adopters have their vehicles, and companies have to start selling to people who need to make a financial case.  That’s what’s hurting the Smart car now.  We’ll have to see if it has the same impact on the Volt and or Leaf.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Range Anxiety.  I did learn how real that concern was during my time in the Nissan Leaf.  It’s all electric.  No electricity.  No movement.

Yes, you don’t have to worry about getting stuck when you’re in the Chevy Volt.  But, that doesn’t take away all the anxiety…it just downgrades it a few notches.

You still find you want to be in electric mode as much as possible.  And, that’s not as easy as you’d like.

After a full night of charging, I had 31 miles of electric range.  I had 8 miles left when I got to work.  Our kind engineers ran a cable out to the vehicle, so I could add some more electricity.  Four and a half hours of charging gave me about 14 more miles.

That 22 miles got me to my son’s school, to his piano lesson, and halfway home.  Not bad, but not the “all electric” day I was hoping for.  I might have been able to accomplish that had I been able to get a full 8 hour day charge at the station.

Takeaway lesson:  If you buy a Volt, assume you will spend more time with the gasoline recharger on than you expect.   We all have surprise errands that come up.  We run into place where we think we’ll be able to recharge, but we can’t.  And, there will be those time you assume it’s plugged in without checking.


Once again, I have failed in my mission to have an “all electric” day.  I missed it by about three miles.

It’s my own fault, because I decided to run out to lunch.  Those extra trips can kill you.  That took some time away from the recharging efforts at work, and burned a couple of miles driving to the restaurant.

I do find myself really liking the Volt as a vehicle.  The handling is very nice.  I enjoy the interior layout, and I like the style.  I’m getting used to the center console, which may be too “techy for techy sake” and the radio’s o.k. but not great.

Storage is limited, and–right in the midst of pothole season–it would be nice if the Volt had a spare tire.  It does have an air compressor.  But, a direct hit from some of the craters that are popping up on the roads would do enough wheel damage to render the compressor pretty useless.

Jeff talks with WWJ mid-day anchor Greg Bowman about his Volt experience

Thursday, March 3, 2011

If you’re looking to get noticed, the Volt is not your vehicle.

In four days, I’ve had one “thumbs-up,” and one person ask to get a good look at the car.

I’ve been told the same thing by others who have driven the Volt.  The reason is that GM wants it to look like a “normal” car, and it does.

The most interesting reaction came when I dropped my 15 year old son off at school.  One of the other kid’s mom told him, “My your dad’s car is quiet.”  When he told her it was electric, he got a blank stare in return.


Apprantly the Volt is started to get into the hands of a lot of reporters.  Automotive News noted its low clearance…three inches.  I didn’t measure it, but I have heard an unattractive sound when the front of the vehicle bottoms out heading into some parking lots.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Again, some of the Volt’s limitations become very apparant.

I had to drive from Northville to Brighton, obviously a round trip beyond pure electric range.  But, I did expect that I would do a little better than I did.

After a full recharge, I only had 29 miles of battery life, and only got 26 before the range extender kicked in.  It was cool–in the forties, but not cold.

I also ran into a space limitation issue.  We’re housing three teenagers for the weekend, who are in town for a church program.  I didn’t even try to bring them and their stuff home in a vehicle this fall.  You’d still have the same problem in a small car or a sports car.  But it is something to think about.

As I prepare for a final two days in the vehicle, all the driving from now on will be discretionary.  I may not have to use any more gasoline.  But, there are always surprises and trips that come up at the last minute.


I did a couple of quick round trips on Saturday and–for the first time—used no gasoline.  But, the driving was limited to two round trips of less than ten miles, with about an hour of recharging in between.

I seriously thought of taking the Volt out into the Saturday evening snow storm…but since I also have access to a Jeep Patriot (review coming on Friday), it made more sense to see how it did in the bad weather.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I had a trip today that will seriously mess up the “curve” for the Volt.  But, I wanted to drive this vehicle like a drive any other car, and the chips have to fall where they may.

And, again, when you’re driving a vehicle like the Volt or Leaf–where you’re part of the equation in getting the most fuel economy–you start to notice those extra trips that you ordinarily don’t think about.

In this case, it was a restaurant my wife wanted to check out in Troy.  We live in Northville.  It was about a 45 minute drive.  Nothing extreme.  But it was also nothing that I could do in pure electric mode.  In fact the range extender was on when I arrived at the restaurant.

That said, here are the final stats for my week in the Volt:

334.9 miles driven.  3.6 gallons used.  Average fuel economy 90.6 miles per gallon.

I’m not a math major, so I don’t guarantee these figures.  But, I’m working from the assumption that with today’s gas prices, and my driving habits, the Volt would save me an average of $20 a week in gasoline.  That’s a little over a thousand dollars a year.

That’s not enough to make anything close to an economic case for buying the Volt.  But, most early adopters are more interested in having something unique, than making an economic case..and the money you’re saving in gas, at least helps offsett the extra cost of the new technology.

More from Jeff Gilbert
  • Steve Still

    You might want to provide some context for your driving. what is the length of your commute e.g. I live in xxx….I’m driving to xxx.

    Also you might want to provide the temperature of the days you’re driving.

    nice job

    • http://carchronicles.wordpress.com Jeff Gilbert

      Steve, I commute from Northville to Southfield. I have to measure, but around 15 miles. I thought I pointed that out. But, you’re right. I didn’t. Not a long commute. But, what I noticed with both the Volt, and when I drove the Leaf a few months ago, is how many little extra trips you take, that you don’t even think about. They add up!

      Kurt, I know David Champion, and I believe he works to be as unbiased as possible. However, especially with cars, Consumer Reports can try too hard to take the emotion out of a purchase. That’s why, in many years, some of their top picks have been very bland vehicles. Well made. They don’t offend. They don’t excite either.

      Cars aren’t toasters. It doesn’t take much testing to determine that you can buy a lot of gasoline for the difference you’d pay between a Volt and a Malibu. That just isn’t the point.

  • Kurt

    Consumer Reports likes to claim that they are unbiased, but they are about as “fair and balanced” as Fox News. If GM made the Leaf and Nissan the Volt, CR would have given the Volt a rave review. Their head of automotive testing, David Champion, used to be a Nissan employee.

  • Also Bob


    I know David Champion also. He may put on the fair and balanced act for news media, but you get him talking and the true story comes out. Any car over 3000 lbs is a waste of metal, he cannot understand why anyone would want to drive a truck.

    in his heart, we wishes he could buy a new MG.

    • Volt, the new Fiero?

      David Champion views cars in a manner quite counter to that of the Detroit car culture. Quite frankly his view is more realistic given the expectation of oil demand exceeding supply (http://www.afterpeakoil.com/poster.htm). Expect 3000 lb vehicles to become the high end segment, similar to the European vehicle market. Vehicles like the Fiero, a GM vehicle that created similar buzz in the last era of high oil prices, will appear again as $5 and $6/gallon gas prices hit.

  • Bus Hire

    Here is Similar Story

    It’s a tough week to be the guy who led development of the Chevy Volt’s battery. Consumer Reports on Monday said its tests showed the battery’s range at a paltry 23 to 28 miles in cold weather, far below the 40 miles originally promised.

    “The financial payback is not there,” said Jake Fisher, a senior automotive engineer at Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. A hybrid, he said in an interview, would make more sense. (The Volt — which runs as a fully electric plug-in vehicle and switches to gasoline power once that battery is depleted — cost Consumer Reports $48,000 at a dealership before a $7,500 federal tax credit. Toyota’s Prius is about half that price.)

  • http://carchronicles.wordpress.com Jeff Gilbert

    I don’t think anybody expects the Volt to have financial payback. You really don’t need Consumer Reports to tell you that.

    I’ve been trying to outline every positive and negative that I find, and financial payback is not one of them. At the end of this week, I’ll try to figure in dollars and cents how much driving th Volt has saved me over a typical car that size. Even if it’s $50, which I doubt, It won’t be a good financial case.

    But, there are people who want to have a vehicle that they believe paves the way for the future. How much is that worth to them? There’s no Consumer Reports formula that can quantify that.

  • M. Krause

    Jeff, please delete the extra screen “template” which you have, just the dat is fine. This blus “global” thing obscures any vies of things onthe left side of the screen. Thanks for the Volt reports. Yes, we are interested, but extremely disappointed in the available “electric mileage”. Give us some information on the heating and A/C system operation and power drain , please.

  • http://carchronicles.wordpress.com Jeff Gilbert

    It seems like using the heating system will take about 3-5 miles off of your electric range. You have three modes, comfort, eco and fan only. I decided that, in fairness, I should be as comfortable as I would be in any car…that the Volt was supposed to be a “no compromises” vehicle.

    The limits of the electric range was also my chief dissappointment with both the Volt and the Nissan Leaf. It’s a great achievement, but this shows how much work remains to be done.

    And, thanks for the feedback on the video. It’s still in the experimental mode. That was one of the templates with the editor on my iphone. I have to say, after thinking about it, I agree with you.

  • http://www.accident-blog.com/?p=26232 A Week In The Chevy Volt at accident Directory

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