January 19, 2011
We all remember the bright smiling plug icon that GM CEO Fritz Henderson displayed above the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. It didn't take long for the parallels to W's "Mission Accomplished" to come rolling in and it took just barely longer for Henderson to be replaced by Ed Whitacre, Jr. (don't worry, Fritz is still doing just fine for himself). That was back in 2009 believe it or not, and here we are, finally, with a 2011 Chevrolet Volt. The Volt no longer claims to get 230 mpg — the official EPA rating is 93 MPGe/37 mpg. Easy, right?
Well, actually, no. Simply figuring out a way to accurately and effectively record/report the Volt's fuel economy has us rethinking methods we've used for years. And that's sort of the point. The Volt isn't a volume car. It's an engineering exercise in both vehicular technology and human behavior. Ripping people off the pump cold turkey can't work. The range anxiety and the withdrawal is too great. Weaning them slowly — 35 miles at a time — off the good stuff, well, that could work.
The Volt isn't a car easily explained or fully examined in a few short weeks of road testing. No, this one demands a full year, so as soon as we could, we paid cash for a 2011 Chevrolet Volt.
What We Bought
There were no restrictions on the purchase of our long-term Volt. The only thing was to find one and get it for sticker as soon as humanly possible. This unfortunately meant that when we found a 2011 Chevrolet Volt, we couldn't pass on one that was the Volt-specific, contest-winning color, Viridian Joule ("joule" of course being a homophone here for both the unit of power and the precious gem) Tricoat — a $995 option. This VJT Volt also had the Premium Trim package, which includes leather seats, premium door trim, heated front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Other options included the rear camera and park assist ($695) and a set of 17-inch polished alloy wheels. (Those of you who read our blogs frequently already know how we feel about polished wheels.)
Compared with many of our test cars, these options seem light. That's because the 2011 Chevrolet Volt comes very well equipped — as a car costing $41,000 (including the $720 destination charge) should. Standard are four-wheel antilock disc brakes; keyless entry; automatic headlights; heated outside mirrors; air-conditioning; DVD-based navigation; five years of OnStar; Bluetooth; and a Bose audio system with steering-wheel radio controls, a 30GB hard drive, a USB port and XM radio (with traffic and weather).
All pretty common stuff for a $40K car, no? Less common, however, is the Voltec powertrain. This is where the magic happens. The Volt — as you know but we still need to cover — is a series-parallel hybrid with a 111 kW electric motor and a 1.4-liter, port-injected, iron-block, four-cylinder gasoline engine hooked up to a planetary gearbox. A lithium-ion battery pack rated at 16 kWh powers the electric motor that moves the wheels, and the gas engine charges the battery — except at high speeds, but that's for another day. The tech part aside, this drivetrain is good for 35 miles of range on electricity only and another 344 miles after the Volt fires up its gasoline engine. While other true electric cars are limited to about 100 miles, the Volt's dual-nature — almost hybrid — powertrain relieves range anxiety by allowing the driver to go anywhere he could in a normal car. But while you'll perhaps see 93 MPGe in electric mode, you'll only manage 37 mpg without electrons. Annual fuel costs are $601 on electricity only and $1,302 without plugging in at all.
At least, that's what the good people at the EPA say. And that's just not good enough for us, not with a car this important. That's why we have a charger at our office. We're going to figure out what this thing really does over the long haul and what it really costs to run.
Our new 2011 Chevy Volt carries a sticker price of $44,695 and that is what we paid. Total out-the-door tax/title price: $49,752.96. How? Well, we broke one of our cardinal rules: We told them who we were in advance. In fact, we called AutoNation — a network of more than 200 dealers — and spoke with some of their executives we knew. Told them we were looking for a Volt, didn't have a pre-order, and were hoping they could help us out. And help they did. This Viridian Joule Volt was pulled from one of the first deliveries to Power Chevrolet in Valencia, California. So, um, thanks!
Why We Bought It
Why we bought it. This is almost a joke field for the Chevrolet Volt. There is no reason we wouldn't buy one.
To understand the Volt's importance you need to have but a basic knowledge of engineering, economics, public policy, foreign relations, natural resources, pollution and business savvy. It sounds complicated and, really, it is. Here's a cheat sheet. Pollution: Bad. Reliance on a non-renewable foreign-sourced energy source: Bad. Being a car company without a green car: Bad. An American company offering the first real alternative that the majority of Americans could tolerate: Good!
We bought the 2011 Chevrolet Volt because we test cars. We test them when they do something like offer a bigger engine, or switch from an iron block to an aluminum block. And let me tell you, if they do something like add direct injection or switch to overhead cams, you know we're testing that one. If a Corvette ever ditches leaf springs or a Mustang gets an independent rear, there's a good chance we'll buy it. This is on a new level. This is like coming to show-and-tell with a light saber when everyone else is rocking geodes. It's a new technology and it's our job to see what the Volt is like to live with on a daily basis once the PR smoke clears.
The amount of time and money that GM has spent building the Chevrolet Volt is nothing compared to what the automaker has done to convince people that this extended-range EV thing is a viable — if expensive so far — alternative that will save the polar bears and the forests for the children. We've got 12 months to put 20,000 miles on our 2011 Chevrolet Volt. We'll be plugging it in as often as possible, driving it as far as possible, and, most importantly, figure out if this thing works — and for whom.
It's going to be an interesting year with one of the most hotly anticipated vehicles of the last decade. The game is changing. This is just step one, but we're here every step of the way starting today. And you get to read about it.
Current Odometer: 860 miles
Best gasoline fuel economy: 39.0 mpg
Worst gasoline fuel economy: 33.6 mpg
Average gasoline fuel economy: 35.8 mpg
EPA combined gasoline: 37 mpg
Best electricity consumption: 29.8 kwh/100 miles
Worst electricity consumption: 46.6 kwh/100 miles
Average electricity consumption: 36.3 kwh/100 miles
EPA combined electricity: 36 kwh/100 miles
Best electric range: 41.6 miles
Worst electric range: 26.7 miles
Average electric range: 31.0 miles
EPA combined range: 35 miles
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.