2011 Chevrolet Volt: Theory to Practice
February 21, 2011
Until now, my relationship with our Volt has been that of a person who has pored over cookbooks but has never set foot in a kitchen. I've either written, edited or collaborated on five stories recently for Edmunds about electric vehicle power costs, battery operation and that popular EV topic, "range anxiety." But I've spent virtually no time driving an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle. I was looking forward to applying theory to reality.
On my drive home Friday, abysmal stop-and-go freeway traffic gave me plenty of time to (safely) put the Volt's energy usage and energy efficiency display screens through their paces. I kept an eye on the spinning green leaf ball called the "driver efficiency gauge." It turns a sickly yellow, like a dying houseplant, if you brake or accelerate too aggressively, so I avoided doing either.
Another display on the Volt confirmed I was using an energy-efficient driving style, but I think I lost points with my too-cozy climate setting. The nature of the traffic probably didnt help, either. Whatever the reason, by the time the car flipped from electric to gas operation, I had only managed to get 29.5 miles of electric range -- a far cry from the cars best of 46.5 miles.
The next issue was charging, which I suspected that it was going to be a challenge. I live in an old house with a garage that does not have a 120V AC outlet close at hand. The nearest one is in an adjacent laundry room. Id managed to charge a plug-in Prius few months ago by running the cord through the cars open windows to get that last foot of cord reach. No such luck with the Volt, however.
I could have driven on gasoline only, and did so on Saturday. But wheres the fun in that? I consulted with our director of vehicle testing, Dan Edmunds, and the Volts owners manual, which cautions against using an extension cord and then tells you how to safely do it. I bought a GFCI-protected power strip ($27), attached it to a properly rated (12-14 gage, outdoor-use) extension cord, connected that to our kilowatt-hour reader and then to the Volts charging cord. It was not a pretty array, but all the lights went green and charging commenced. More than 10 hours later, a blinking green light on the Volts dash told me it was ready to go.
The Volt took in 13.36 kWh of electricity. We have a low-power household that rarely strays out of Southern California Edisons Tier 1, where the charge is 13 cents per kWh. But just in case, I estimated a rate in the next tier: 15 cents per kWh. Based on that, the Volt cost about $2 to charge, and that's not too bad. Todays goal is to see if I can eke out better range.
Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @ 2,451 miles