I had the pleasure of attending the PopTech 2012 conference in Camden, ME a few days back. The focus was resilience. Two standout presentations were those by neuroscientist David DeSteno on the science of compassion and journalist Amanda Ripley on the future of education in the U.S. A duo of presentations on the community resilience in Joplin, MO in the aftermath of the 2011 tornado had the house in tears. It was simply great, great stuff. It was a jolt of ideas, a veritable plethora of brain candy, as well as the chance to engage with a group of fun, thoughtful, and interesting people. When the presentations are available online, check them out.
On the ride home, I traded the jolt for a Volt…a Chevy Volt which I had the chance to test drive from Camden to Boston. Having moderated multiple panels on clean transportation, I was a bit embarrassed that I had never driven an electric vehicle. When this chance arose, I jumped at it.
The Volt looks like a conventional sports sedan from the outside. It tries for an aggressive stance but no one is going to mistake it for a Ferrari. Inside, the cabin was roomy and comfortable. I had plenty of room for my 6’3″ frame and never felt cramped during the three-hour drive. The back hatch opened quite wide making it easy to get luggage in and out — and a week’s worth of luggage for two fit without the need for grease or a wedge.
A highlight of the Volt is its Hollywood-ready dashboard. It is colorful and there are multiple views for everything from navigation to fuel consumption. I could have amused myself for a couple of hours without ever turning on the engine. All of this flash does require a bit of an orientation. Otherwise it would be far too easy to get confused on the road (which I did more than once). The navigation system features real time traffic updates although I found it difficult to check out multiple route options while driving. I guess that is why Dunkin’ Donuts shops have parking lots:)
The panel behind the steering column features a spinning ball that indicates the efficiency of acceleration and braking. I found myself mesmerized by it — actively working to optimize the mileage. If that was what the engineers had in mind, they succeeded.
The performance met my expectations. The Volt handled well on the highway as well as on back roads. The fuel consumption indicators led me to keep my speed in check so I did not work it too hard. There was a bit of hesitation on steep hills though this was expected. Perhaps Chevy ought to work on those expectations; why was I anticipating an somewhat underpowered vehicle? My regular ride is a VW Rabbit with a manual transmission so I am accustomed to a fair amount of zip.
I see the Volt as a car you buy to use a lot in town or the ‘burbs, not for long drives, because only then does the battery system make sense. If you keep your daily driving under 30 or so miles, you can rely mainly on electric power and save a ton of money and fuel. How that affects your carbon footprint, of course, depends on how your electricity is generated. If you drive more than that, the long charge time (10 or so hours) will mean that you are using gas a lot of the time.
One other concern was the low clearance on the Volt. This was an attempt to create a sports car profile — there is a “sport” driving mode option — but in snowy New England, being low to the road can mean that you get stuck in the snow.
Overall, I found the Volt satisfying if not exhilarating. Much more so if they can get production to the point where it sells for $25,000 instead of $40,000. The next vehicle in my house will run on alternative fuel. We’ll definitely look at the Volt when it comes time for a purchase.
Thanks to Scotty Reiss at www.shebuyscars.com for the chance to give the Volt a run.