Chevy Volt

When I was learning to drive, I asked my dad to teach me to drive a stick, and he asked me why. As he explained, “You are putting automotive back thirty years, you don’t realize how glad I was to be able to put the key into the car and just take off without shifting.” I did not learn how to use a stick.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the electric car lost out to the combustible engine, and I wonder if we aren’t simply going back into time, or is the Volt or other alternative cars truly advances? It depends how you define progress. If you define progress as a car that reduced pollution from the tail pipe, then it is an advance. If you define progress on whether a car becomes more convenient to use, then the answer is no, this is not an advance.

When Fox's Eric Bolling took his Volt on test drive, the electric engine died after 25 miles, and it got me thinking what is so advanced about this automobile? The Chevy Volt batteries go 40 miles after a full charge, then it switches to a 1.4 liter engine to give the car another 300 miles. What you ask? The super Volt has a gas engine to ensure that it lasts beyond its initial 40 miles after a 10 hour charge? Yes that is right; the Volt has an additional engine to ensure that it is practical. It is essentially a hybrid, even though it is classified as a “series” hybrid as opposed to a parallel hybrid like the Prius. The Prius control unit switches from the engine to the battery pack constantly, whereas the Volt power kicks in when the battery is exhausted and the battery is exhausted in very quick order.

The Volt shows the limitation of the electric car. The first is self-evident; the electric car has to be enhanced by a gas engine or it is a totally impractical car. The second is the charging time, since to have a fully charged car, you need an overnight charge. Compare that to the combustible engine where a fill up is less than a minute.

The disadvantage of the purely electric car is that one can’t really take a family trip beyond 70 miles and a cross time trip will take a month. The Volt's ability to match a combustible engine in efficiency is due to its gas engine. So the purely electric engine is putting the auto industry by a century, reminding me of what my father asked, “Why?”

As for the Volt, it is hardly a leap forward in automotive technology since it is a combination of technology used for the past hundred years. Even with all of its government subsidies and tax credit, you would still be better off driving a combustible engine if convenience and performance is what you're looking for. Another way to look at progress with our automobile industry is to ask can I get from Kansas City to Cedar Rapids any faster than a car made twenty years or even fifty years ago? The answer is no. My 1995 Olds can get to Kansas City as swiftly as any 2012 car, so if getting from point A to point B in reasonable time, then there has been no progress. The big area of progress with today’s models deals with conveniences just like GPS, CD players and TV screens in the back to keep children occupied.

The other problem is the lack of charging stations across the country adds to the disadvantages of the electric car, but this a problem that can be eliminated if more electric cars are bought. So the reader has to ask themself the following questions, what makes for progress in automotive development? Is the speed to get from point A to point B important or the efficiency of the engine? How important is a cleaner car or does it matter that the electric car must get its juice from a coal producing plant? Or for that matter, does price matter if the environmentally correct car is a higher price despite being an inferior car in most ways?

Volt might be a nice car to drive around town but there are hardly advantages to owning a more expensive but slightly less efficient automobile. The Volt's fate, along with other alternative automobiles, will be decided in the market place, no matter how the government pushes the Volt or how many tax credits are offered. So far the Volt is not exciting the public as they buy those totally environmentally incorrect cars in far bigger numbers.

Comments

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Thank you for the article. As someone who drives a Volt everyday, I hope that you and your readers find this helpful:

1. The Chevy Volt has an electric motor. The gasoline engine is a generator for the electric motor. Bolling's car did not die (as was  implied)... and even the electric motor did not fail. Quite simply, the battery went to under 20% charge and therefore the gasoline generator kicked in to recharge the battery.  While Bolling did not disclose what his actual mileage was, I inferred from his 25 miles battery range and his 40 mile roundtrip commute, that he got about 100MPG. (This would be very prominently displayed as soon as he shut the car off.) That would be about double any hybrid.

Bottom line, the car performed exactly the way it should have... but the talking points by Bolling obfuscated the actual performance.

2. The average Volt driver as measured by real Onstar on VoltStats.net is 116.17 miles per gallon. If the average driver traded in a car with 23MPG (my old car's mileage), the average Volt driver would be saving 34 gallons or $132.50 (assuming $3.80/gallon) every 1000 miles in gasoline.

Turns out that most people travel a fixed, relatively short distance every day. The easiest way to see this is to think about how often you fill up. For many people it is once every 10-14 days. That is the sweet spot for this car. If you fill up every 10-14 days, you are using approximately about 1-1.5 gallons per day... which is very close to the average battery range of a Volt (35 miles) each day.

3. Charging station infrastructure for the Volt (unlike a pure electric car) is a "like to have" not a "must have". Volt drivers charge and home and have no range anxiety. To put this into perspective, if an average Volt driver could get infinite mileage (0 gasoline), which they would get if they charged 2x per day, they would save 43 gallons per 1000 miles.

Instead, they save "only" 35 gallons every month by having 70% of their miles without gasoline (the average for all Volt drivers).

4. The Volt is a big leap forward because it is an electric car without any range anxiety. It is really the best of both worlds. Plug in once per day, and quadruple your mileage, without any lifestyle change or obsession with "range anxiety". If you want to do better than that, plug in more than once per day... only if you want to.

If you want to drive 300 miles, you can do that with our without plugging in. If you don't plug in, your mileage could dip as low as 35MPG... but "road trip miles" are a very small fraction of total miles for most people. (Evidence: the average MPG is 116, almost 4x higher than 35MPG of the Volt).

5. Coal is the source for less than half of electricity produced in the US. I pay a little extra to support cleaner sources of electricity in my case. Also, many electric power plants have to run 24/7 even though electricity demand drops off at night... which is exactly the time that most electric car drivers would want to charge (when the car is not going anywhere and is at home). Electric cars are using wasted bandwidth.

I look forward to your response. Thank you.

Look at it this way: the Volt is an electric car without limitations. It operates in 3 modes: all electric, series hybrid, and (rarely) parallel hybrid. When the battery is above the minimum state of charge, its an all electric vehicle which will accelerated at full throttle (0-60 of 8.5s) to 100 MPH without using any gas. When the engine starts, its there to generate electricity and keep the car going, returning about 38 MPG in the process. When the car is in charge sustaining mode (low battery), the gas engine will cycle on and off even at highway speeds (I can watch it on an OBD monitor). I drive 25-35 miles per day, meaning in a typical day I use no gas at all. I've driven 590 miles this month and used 1.0 gallons of gas. Last month it was 1,009 miles and 4.5 gallons. I've gotten anywhere from 25 to 46 miles on a charge, averaging around 38. It has to be very cold with the heater running often to get below 30 miles. 90% of Americans commute less than 29 miles a day.

You need to look at performance in different ways. For a Lexus, the performance is "Luxury". For a Mustang, the performance is "Horsepower". For a mini-van, the performance is "Carries my 3 kids and 2 dogs". And for a Volt, the performance is "Let's me direct less of my money to people who want to kill me, keeps more of my money in America to create American jobs". Don't make any assumptions about why someone would buy it. Me driving a Volt won't make any difference in carbon emissions. We (and the Chinese and Indians) will burn every drop of oil and every ounce of coal we can find, now or later, it will all be burned.

It is a small car, but that doesn't mean its competing with Prius's and Civics. I traded in a Lexus IS350 for a Volt, and the other cars I was looking at? Jaguar XF and Audi A4/A6. You could do research on what other owners traded/considered, but what you find might not fit your world view. (PS I enjoy taking my Volt to the gun range for funny looks).

On the subject of tax credits, yes, $7,500 per car is a lot. But considering I have no children and I'll get to claim that credit once, and people with children can claim a deduction for 17 years, I'm doing a LOT more subsidizing. Also, my taxes are still going to fund oil subsidies and tax breaks that I barely take advantage of any more. Total EV subsidies: $1.5 Billion (limited to 200,000 cars).  Tax revenue lost from child tax deduction: more than $20 Billion every single year. Throw in mortgage interest deduction (more than $90 Billion in lost revenue every year) and the prescription drug program ($727 Billion from 2009-2018), and the EV subsidy is a pittance. Complaining about the EV subsidy is like going to a restaurant, paying $10,000 for a steak and arguing over a $5 beer.
 

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