Can You Plug-In On a Road Trip? - 2011 Chevrolet Volt Long-Term Road Test

2011 Chevrolet Volt Long Term Road Test

2011 Chevy Volt: Can You Plug-In On a Road Trip?

September 15, 2011

Chevy Volt FSS4 Wet Paint.jpg

A few months back, we took our long-term Chevy Volt on our fourth-annual Fuel Sipper Smackdown comparison test. In the past, we followed the same route and testing procedure, but the Volt required that we switched things up. If we were to give Chevy's extended range electric vehicle a fair shake, we'd have to start it with a full battery. That meant we would have to park it overnight at our test track location before getting started and then find someplace in Las Vegas with a charging station. Sure, we probably could've asked my ex girlfriend if I could plug it into her garage, but that would've been awkward for everyone.

Thankfully, Ron Montoya came across an article about the Flamingo Las Vegas being the first Las Vegas hotel to install an electric car charger. That seemed like a perfect solution. I put in a call to EV Charge America, the Las Vegas-based company that produced and installed the Flamingo charger, to verify that the charger did indeed exist and wondered if we could "reserve" the charger for the two nights we'd be staying in Las Vegas. Arriving there only to find one of the world's scant few other Volts would be just our luck and a test-ruining scenario.

EV Charge America's CEO Bob Rosinski agreed to set us up and explained that the Flamingo's charger is a 240V model with a single terminal similar to the ChargePoint one we have at Edmunds HQ. It's more a residential model, however, and it will eventually be replaced by a charger with multiple charge cords.

Sounds good, smash cut to our arrival at the Flamingo. Rolling down the window, I stopped at the security guard booth.

"Excuse me, I'm trying to find the electric car charger." I might as well have said "Can you direct me to dee naval base in Alameda. It's where dey keep dee nuclear wessels."

He had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, so I decided to drive around until I found something that looked like an electric car charger. Eventually, right there at the main entrance was a pair of parking spots blocked off with police tape. Sure enough, there was the electric car charger, but there was no identifying signage for electric car parking (or that it was reserved for the all-important Edmunds editorial team). We pulled down the tape and plugged in our Volt ... nothing happened.

Me on my iPhone trying to get through to Bob Rosinski of EV Charge America. Note that the green lines had not yet been painted and the green bollards not yet installed.

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Given our experience with our own charger, we recognized that we would need a special mini access card to activate it. We went to the front desk where a very nice, helpful employee nevertheless had no idea what we were talking about. His attempts to contact someone in the Flamingo's maintenance department were just a fruitless. Basically, we were SOL ... at least if we were an everyday Volt owner who doesn't know the president of the charger manufacturer. At 10 pm, Rosinski went above and beyond to kindly deliver the needed access card and we were in business.

Though EV Charge America sells chargers that can be activated by anyone at the push of a button or by swiping a credit card, the Flamingo's parent company Harrah's insisted on using the access cards and giving them out to guests who requested them. That's an iffy system to begin with and it's worse when hotel employees don't even know about it.

Nevertheless, we came down the next morning to discover that as we slept the Flamingo had painted green lines around our car and even installed green-painted concrete bollards. It got me thinking, though: Had Bob Rosinski really come through in reserving the spot, or did our arrival just perfectly coincide with the Flamingo finally getting around to preparing the spots? Or had our arrival reminded the Flamingo that they were dragging ass on its EV parking?

Inevitably, it didn't matter and we left for our city driving loop. At lunch, however, Montoya had a prophetic insight: "You know, we probably should've put that traffic cone back in front of our spot."

No, we didn't steal that chap in the wheelchair's parking space. He and his friend were just curious about the Volt.

He was right. With only green lines and no EV signage, a Chrysler 300 with a disabled parking sticker saw no problem parking in our spot from the night before as the spot's old disabled placard hadn't been removed. The second spot, which didn't have any placard, was occupied by a Nissan Versa whose owner appeared to be standing outside. I haphazardly double parked and bolted out of the car, hell bent on making sure elderly Mr. Versa didn't leave with his car in the spot. Thankfully, I didn't have to give the heave-ho to a disabled veteran, because he just as quickly vacated the spot. I stood guard and waited for John DiPietro to back in the Volt since the charger was on the wrong side in this spot. Crisis averted, Volt charged.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying "It's very difficult to recharge your Chevy Volt when on a road trip." Indeed, this is the first moment when I fully realized our position as extreme early adopters. We only had one hotel choice (a terrible one, the Flamingo is a dump), nobody at the hotel knew the charger existed, the Flamingo's access card system is silly and you always run the risk that the other Volt in town will take your space (not to mention Mr. Versa).

Since then, the Mandalay Bay has installed a charger (d'oh!) and Rosinski said that our test indeed served as a kick in the pants for the Flamingo. EV Charge America delivered a batch of cards to the Flamingo and one can only assume the hotel has increased the signage to fend off non-EV drivers. However, similar scenarios will no doubt be playing out all across the country as plug-in cars become more prevelent -- EV Charge America's business has increased 1000 percent in the past three months. It will be interesting to see what a similar plug-in road trip would be like in a year, two or three.

Inevitably, though, this is all very much a moot point: the beauty of the Volt is that you don't actually have to plug it in.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 7,799 miles

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