Tech Tour Day One: Dearborn To TC

The Great Lakes Innovation and Technology Report’s Seventh Annual Spring Tech Tour is officially under way.

Sunday, I motored from my home in Dearborn to Traverse City, where I’m meeting Monday with old friends and new at a wide variety of cool technology-focused  companies.

– Check out my latest photos from the road –

And what am I motoring in? I can’t wait to tell you all about my Chevrolet Volt from the fine folks at LaFontaine Chevrolet in Dexter, part of the LaFontaine Automotive Group.

Let me tell you how this brand new kind of electric car works: You can charge your battery with a plug, which takes about 10 hours on 110-volt current or four hours at 220 volts. That charge-up will set you back about $1.50 and will take you about 35 miles.

Then, when the battery is depleted, a small, 1.4-liter gasoline engine kicks on. Mostly what it does is charge the battery, although it’s also involved in powering the wheels when you get to highway speeds. You get 37 mpg in this mode, so the nine-gallon tank gives you a range of about 320 miles.

But you could keep filling the car up and drive it cross-country nonstop, just like a conventional gasoline-powered car, meaning it has virtually none of the usual limitations of an electric car. But if you have a commute that’s less than 35 miles a day, you could go from Monday through Friday and not burn a drop of gasoline, and just top off the batteries during the work day or at home at night.

I know some auto critics dismiss it as neither fish nor fowl, but I think it’s a very elegant solution to the limitations of the EV while preserving most, if not all, of an EV’s environmental advantages. After all, you don’t drive to Traverse City every day.

I picked up the vehicle in Dexter Friday and drove it back to the office in Southfield. The battery alone powered the car until somewhere around Livonia, when the gasoline engine kicked on. Total gasoline used in that 42 mile jaunt? A whopping 0.4 gallons, for an effective 105 mpg.

I charged up the car again and drove it another 312 miles to Traverse City, using eight gallons of gas. The result, 39 mpg.

And let me tell you about this car. The interior is all sporty luxury — a lot of the styling cues appear to have been lifted from the legendary Corvette. Black carpet and golden yellow color inserts. The seating is magnificently comfortable — four hours nonstop and even an old goat like me wasn’t sore. Everything about the car is high-tech, from the twin LCD panels that display more information about the car than it’s probably smart to look at while driving to the flat touch-panel controls to a robust Bluetooth system to a fine Bose sound system. (I’d swear you could hear the click of the picks on the strings of guitars.) Acceleration is ample at all speeds, with plenty of the low-end kick for which EVs are noted. The big, heavy batteries riding low in the car mean that the car feels glued to the road through turns. The steering offers ample power assist at low speeds and good road feel at highway speeds. The interior noise level is muted.

Sticker price on this baby is a shade over $43,000. Minus the federal incentive that’s close to $37,000. Worth it? Well, it’s eight grand more than my loaded Fusion at home. But I can’t plug that Fusion in to the wall and thus contribute not one whit to Detroit’s smog problems on my daily commute.

The big battery pack runs right down the center of the car, right where the hump goes on rear-wheel-drive models, which is why there are only two back seats. That’s one drawback here, seating for just four. And it might be nice if they added a sedan model sometime in the future with a proper trunk, rather than the current Volt’s hatchback. And it would be nice if they offered adaptive cruise control and a blind-spot detection system. But those are the only drawbacks I see. Unless this thing develops some irritating habits over the next five days, I’m a major fan.

And feel free to follow my adventure across Michigan this week, looking for the latest and greatest in technology-based economic development and entrepreneurship. I’m in Traverse City Monday, Bay City and Midland Tuesday, Grand Rapids Wednesday, Kalamazoo Thursday and Lansing Friday. I plan on live reports every day on WWJ Newsradio 950 at 3:40 p.m., morning recorded reports, and of course, tons of posts and pix right here on this fun little place on the Intertubes.

More from my Spring 2011 Tech Tour at this link –

  • Donna Napolitano

    Hi Matt,
    We are Mechanical Energy Systems, the oldest solar energy company in Michigan! We would love to have you visit our working solar showroom located at 8130 Canton Center in Canton, MI. Our building features solar daylighting, a solar hot water system, a solar thermal heating system and a PV solar electric system. We have recently been inducted into the Michigan Green Living Hall of Fame, where inductees are honored for their leadership vision and effective efforts to improve our communities and protect our environment. Also, we have been selected at the winner of a $75,000 marketing reboost from Brogan and Partners, located in Birmingham. We are a small company with big dreams and a commitment to help the world go green, one step at a time. Thanks for your efforts!

  • Nick Nerbonne

    Great seeing you this morning, Matt. We we really enjoyed talking with you and hearing about the great things happening throughout Michigan. And, of course, the tour and test ride in the Chevy Volt was very cool, too. Thanks again for including us on the Spring 2011 Tech Tour!

    More info at or give us a call anytime.

    Have a great week!

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