Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chevy VOLT: Prius Killer!

Last Monday, GM's Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director for the Volt, and Dave Barthmuss, GM's communications director, invited a dozen Plug In America members to Dodger Stadium for what turned out to be an exciting test drive of the Chevy Volt. Coming hard on the heels of our Nissan trip, it's clear the leading car makers bringing back plug-in cars are serious about soliciting input from the people who have the most experience driving EVs. That's a good sign.

We started off with a thorough explanation of the car including the charge port and 120Volt cord set with the standard three pronged plug. Given that the battery pack holds 16 kWh, but only 8 kWh will be usable (this is to protect the longevity of the pack), Level one charging on a 120V should suffice for most folks. According to Dave Barthmus, Level two charging (240V) will be available, but it's not been decided whether this will come standard, or be an option.

As for the price, Barthmus said that GM will announce this crucial piece of information about a month prior to the release of the Volt this fall. I hinted to them that they needed to be at least as low as $35K-$37K to be competitive, and lower would be better.

My first impression of the car was how nice it looked. When I first saw the body at Chris Paine's house during our Plug In America fundraiser 18 months ago, it was surrounded by a crowd of people and nose to nose to a Tesla Roadster. Here, however, I was able to get a good look, and I liked what I saw. Not too conservative and not too wild, not too big and not too small, a car most people would feel comfortable driving.

In our group were three Tesla owners and two MINI E lessees while most of the rest of us drove RAV4 EVs, so as a group, we had a lot of experience behind the wheel of electric cars. I gladly jumped in with Stefano Paris and Colby Trudeau for the first round of test drives on the rally course set up in the giant parking lot. Stefano asked me to hold his video camera while he drove, a task made difficult by the sharp turns on the course.

The acceleration of the Volt is quite good. Cornering felt tight and predictable to me, although the Tesla and MINI E drivers thought it was a bit heavy, but considering what they are used to, that's to be expected. We did have four adults in the car, so that should be considered. All in all, I was thoroughly impressed with the driving characteristics of the Volt. I've got lots of experience behind the wheel of a Prius and can guarantee the Volt will run rings around the Toyota.

Stefano really pushed the car, and then Colby, all of about 20 years old, got behind the wheel and he pushed even harder. By contrast, I practically poked around the course. After our turn, Tesla drivers, Linda Nicholes and Nagin Zainab Cox, showed the boys how to drive fast. We were all impressed with their daring. I know Linda took a course in racing to prepare for the Tesla. I have no idea how Nagin got so good. Maybe it's just nerves of steel

So, the Volt is quick and corners well. How is it for hauling stuff? Bruce Tucker, a RAV driver, was curious because he needs to haul around a full sized bass violin in a case, something with which the RAV has no trouble.

Everyone gathered around to watch as he opened the rear hatch and slid the instrument in, easily closing the door with room to spare. He then got in the passenger side with the neck of the bass between him and the driver, plenty of room!

I'm excited we have such good choices for plug-in cars coming so soon. Whether you get a Leaf or a Volt, you'll be happy. Both are great cars. I don't see a lot of competition between the two since most people I talk to want either a pure electric, or they want the extended range. The people who should be worried are those who sell the Prius or Civic hybrid. As long as those cars remain plug-less, the Leaf and the Volt will eat them for lunch.


  1. Awesome! Can't wait to check it out myself! How much range are they expecting from the 8kWh?

  2. Thanks Paul and Team PAI. Very cool article and I hope GM finally atones for itself after the EV1 fiasco but we are going for the LEAF. We're hoping Kim Adelman can convert our Highlander Hybrid soon after that.... See you at Plug-In 2010 in San Jose!

  3. Cool Paul, thanks for the report!

    But, besides the price, the other big mystery about the Volt is the transition from BEV power to EREV power. I may have missed it, but I've yet to hear what that's like for the driver. Does the ICE have tiered charge modes dependent on current draw or does it simply charge at one RPM? And not that I care, how loud is it? I believe that at one point Chelsea had indicated that the developers were super sensitive to the ICE being heard by the driver.


    Be well,
    Bob Tregilus

    Co-host -
    This Week in Energy (TWiEpodcast)

  4. I don't know about the headline. Considering there's billions of vehicles on the road spewing toxic gases, and only a pinch of EVs in the system, rather than KILL BILL, maybe we should look at this as a and/and instead of an either/or. My two cents.

  5. Could do an info piece on the economics of leaf, volt - compared to say a standard Camry or a Chevy Malibu? Also savings if you have solar electricity - figure in maintenance, tax credits etc. Assume that the reader knows nothing.

  6. I'm also interested to know how the electric/ICE interaction goes. Were the test drives in all electric mode and did the ICE ever turn on?

  7. Yea, you can have a Volt for just the price of two Priuses

  8. Hi Paul,

    Good article, but I agree with RemyC. The emergence of the BEV/PHEV will not signal the death of the HEV. The two will compliment each other nicely. The introductions of the LEAF, Volt, etc. may actually increase the sales numbers of Priuses and Insights in that when BEVs are available, HEVs will seem like a middle-of-the-road compromise.

    Just my two cents...

  9. Any idea of range per charge? With many people talking about noise from the vehicle, does this car have an outside reverse sensor emitting noise for the public to hear as this vehicle backs up upon them?

  10. Brett Conrad said...

    I think they need to have a really long warranty period and some "gold" priority servicing. I'd like to see "no hassle" insurance. If it has to be in the shop for warranty service more than once, the dealer pays the owner for his/her time to deal with it. Do this at the same hourly rate as mechanics are billed ($80/hour).

    I always worry about first gen vehicles. for instance - the Ford Escape Hybrid goes bad evidently at 60k miles. One owner I talked to "Hates her Escape Hybrid" after multiple times to the dealer fixing problems.

    This is an upscale purchase - I would have put an upscale brand on it rather than Chevy. Unfortunately "Cadillac" isn't positioned right for PHEV, so I understand the choice.

    By Brett Conrad (owner of a Prius, electric scooter, a Zenn NEV and a 4kw solar system)

  11. Great job Paul pitting it against the Prius, a better comparison then with a Tesla. Despite the criticism GM has received, (guilty as charged) the Volt is OK all around and definitely fits a tight niche. The car actually looks great in blue but the real trick will be to offer it at below $40,000.

    Any news on the rumor that it might also be sold without the gas motor?

    Nick, Electric Car Examiner.com

  12. I'm so glad GM has moved this along as vigorously as they have. I'm impressed -- and I guess I didn't expect to be.

  13. I guess no one will want to buy my 2006 Prius?

  14. Based on the promise of the Volt, I was heavily invested in GM when the stock tanked.

    And you know what? Based on everything I have heard and read about the car, I am planning to invest in GM again! It sounds like a game-changer.

  15. Answering some questions...

    The gas engine never came on during our test drives, although everyone was driving close to full out, I think we drained much of the available 8 kWh. I don't know what the engine will sound like when on, but I assume it'll be comparable to the gas cars we have now.

    There was no noise-making device on this car. I doubt that will happen, not needed.

    The comment about the Volt costing as much as two Priuses is way off. Keep in mind that whatever price they come out with, you get $7,500 from the feds in a tax credit, and in CA another $5,000 as a rebate.

    There will be a strong market for used Priuses as the price of gas increases.

  16. Congrats Paul. Will you be replacing your Rav4

  17. Hey, Thanks, Paul. As a fellow bass-player who hauls bass plus sound gear plus guitars and other instruments in my RAV on a regular basis, I was thrilled to see Bruce Tucker's demonstration. Like most bass players, I car-shop with my bass. Did it look like the back seats could come out? We've done that with the RAV and our gas car (a Passat wagon), to accommodate more gear. Knowing this could seal the deal for me. We've been clinging to the RAV, reluctant to sign up for a Leaf b/c we know it's just too small for all our sound gear plus bass...

  18. Cheers Paul,
    While enjoying the definitely good read on updating of the GM Volt, I didn't see any 'Prius Killer' as such. What's EVisioned is two and more great Plug-ins hitting the marketplace--that is the Volt, the LEAF, the Tesla S-Model... as pure electrics, and others such as Toyota with the PHEVs. But know that there's already a 10kW PHEV Kit for Prius from PluginSupply.com that's hitting the 40-mile all electric range.
    All American "Spirit of DC" and EVJerry

  19. I am supportive. GM is supplying something that is both necessary and a bridge to our future. If they had done this 10 years ago instead of developing the Hummer market, look where we could be today. That said, think where we'll be in ten years if adoption takes off as gas prices rise (again). Who knows when the permanent increases will begin.

    I'm still hopeful someone will develop a series hybrid with diesel genset that runs on biodiesel. Aptera said initially, they would do this. Now they're talking gas. In my opinion, that coupled with improvements in battery technology, can really provide an effective bridge - and all of these plug-in cars should be owned or utilized where solar is implemented. Otherwise, we're plugging a 90% efficient vehicle into 30% efficient utilities. We can do better...

  20. Today finally I took the time to thank you for all the articles very clear and very thorough you are writing for our benefit
    Eric Lafayette

  21. So sad this technology won't hit Latin America in a couple of years. Environment'd definitely appreciate it!

  22. Paul-
    Big excitement. Our Volt will be solar powered and only need gas maybe twice a year. Better stock up on Stabil gas stabilizer! Also, the car it will replace will be a Twenty year old Subaru that gets thirty mpg that will then replace a forty year old Mustang that gets 15 mpg. My gas bill will be 1/5th what it used to be! Plus the Volt is made in the USA and employs Americans unlike a Prius or Nissan Leaf. We need to keep our dollars at home whether they be oil dollars or auto dollars.

  23. My loaded Prius was $32K. Not much lower than the Volt will be. The Volt is an up-scale ride for sure. My Prius seemed like a tinker-toy after driving the Volt. The Volt is better than $100k Corvette in terms of usefulness, being a responsible citizen of the world and still have a very fun ride. The Volt is it's own type of car. And one that allows you to drive by every gas station if you like.

  24. Here's our ideal scenario:

    - 1 EV (LEAF, etc.) for commuting (still second to my bike, though)
    - 1 PHEV, for commuting, short-distance, and the occasional long-distance driving we do.

    (Both solar-charged, of course!)

    I bet this is an ideal combo for millions, probably tens of millions of Americans, and it's why the Volt really won't be competing a lot with the LEAF, etc.

    As for Prius vs. Volt: I can imagine many households wanting 1 Prius and 1 Volt, or 1 Prius and one LEAF. However, it does seem like a PHEV, including Toyota's forthcoming Prius PHEV, is clearly competing more directly with an HEV than PHEVs will be with EVs, at least until battery ranges push 250/300 miles, their cost is within reach of middle-class Americans, and quick-charge is widely available...

    If price is close, why would I buy an HEV when a PHEV gets me twice the mileage of an HEV?

    --Christof Demont-Heinrich
    Editor, SolarChargedDriving.Com

  25. EVJerr: "10kW PHEV Kit for Prius from PluginSupply.com that's hitting the 40-mile all electric range." Not the same, not the same at all. Try those aggressive driving maneuvers, or freeway speeds, and the Prius engine will come on. The electric drive motor in the Prius is not powerful enough to carry the load without help from the gas engine.

  26. Paul,

    Great read. I have my fingers crossed that this model will establish a legacy of GM EVs. Would like to know more about the gas engine, maybe in your next Volt write-up.

    No one has mentioned how sexy this thing is. The body looks a bit like the Acura TL, yet the back has a sleek EV look to it. Babe machine.


    Ryan Pickering

  27. EV noise or lack of noise and it's potential danger to the visually impaired is interesting. We have been hearing some very loud hand wringing over this issue for some time. But the ears can be trained to detect the unique sounds hybrid and EV electric motors emit. And we can learn to detect those sounds more easily and at longer range then many ICE cars simply by learning to listen for the distinctive electric motor sounds given off when the vehicle powers up or brakes. Try it out.

  28. I am just wondering, when is it really going to hit the marketplace? When can you buy one? Release date?

  29. I've driven the Volt with the engine on- especially at city speeds, it's really very quiet. If you're paying attention, you can tell that it's on, but overall the whole operation is fairly transparent. The engine does operate in different power bands according to the power needed at the time, so is more detectable under heavier load.

    There is a noisemaker on the Volt for pedestrians, and it's exactly as it should be- a lower volume (compared to the standard horn) alert that can be volunteered by the driver when needed. Also flashes the headlights. Noise when needed instead of noise pollution all the time. (And yes, of course, with tire noise, motor/electronics noise, etc., EVs are still not silent.)

    As to release date, it's still scheduled for November 2010.

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