My weeks leading up-to and with the new (to me) Volt.

Around Monday or Tuesday, Feb 1-2, My brother called and said “I found a buyer for my car, which means I’ll need to take ownership of your car (Lina, the Mazda3) on Thursday (Feb 4th)if possible”. I told him it was probably possible, checked with Work and Eric to make sure I was not needed in any beyond-phone capacity on Thursday… and planned to leave Atlanta early on Thursday morning, packing up my 3-ring binder of service history (of course I keep all records of my sedulous maintenance, don’t you?). A pleasant trip later (shout out to family for a lovely brunch and double shout-out to brother for knowing all the steps and having them ready), I was dropping off a late-model Hyundai Elantra at the ATL airport rental car center having driven it from the CLT airport rental car center.

Eric kindly picked me up from the rental car center, which has a tiny, tiny visitor lot that was triple-parked full… so I ended up ducking into the backseat (almost sitting on Cairo whom he also brought) while he pulled over on the side of the road. We drove home and discussed the cars we were both poring-over in the preceding weeks and came to a quick agreement that the 2-year-old Chevrolet Volts were both sufficently nifty and priced into “a steal” category by being American and having lots of lease/fleet vehicles. At one point he sighed and said “do you just want to go ahead and buy the high-miles Topaz one off Carvana that you’ve been lusting after for 3 days?” and I said “Yes” without blinking… and thus we went about buying a car over the Internet which was really way easier than it should have been. Carvana has two delivery options… the first being “Deliver it to my home/workplace” and the second being “Come pick it up at our vending machine” and I opted for the second… scheduled a pickup for Lunchtime on February 8th… and planned to carpool with Eric that Monday.

Eric asked me to not blather on facebook about the new car, as we did not have it yet, which I agreed-to. He also asked me not to blather about it at work, which I did not agree too, as I wanted to ask the couple of LEAF owners I work with about the at-work charging stations and their network and how I get access and all that. Friday went by in a bit of a blur, with a Carvana Agent basically calling up and confirming that there was a person at the other end of the transaction and emailing me details of my pickup, Saturday I cleaned house with Eric and helped Merkur-co-owner Jeff (Who incidentally rekindled my interest in Volts when he let me play with a 2015 Volt he had for a bit through his work) fix the leaky caliper and bleed the brakes on the Merkur.

Monday arrived, and I drove Eric’s Ford Fusion to Eric’s work, dropped him off, and drove to my work. Around 11:30 I left work to nab Eric, and drove him to the Carvana vending machine in West Midtown. We arrived around 11:55. I walked up to bay one, saw a car in it… and typed the code that I was emailed into the keypad and… nothing happened. I figured “Oh, it’s not noon yet”. Cellphone rolled over to noon two minutes later… tried again… nothing happened. So we decided to try the door next to the garage bay and I was able to get into the garage after walking through a little hallway. I saw all the paperwork, a gift bag, and some keys on a desk and started squeeing over the new shiny when the garage suddenly opened, the screen at the back of the garage switched to “Welcome Peter” and two lovely people appeared out of the back offices up to invite us to take it on a test drive and make sure it was what we wanted.

I got in, hit the power button, noticed that the battery was completely drained and the gas tank was completely full. Otherwise, other than a few little nicks and scuffs that were already pointed out in Carvana’s Walk-Around video, everything seemed copacetic. I came back, signed a few of the things I had to sign-for in-person, asked the lovely people about transferring my Simpsons-inspired license plate, was given a $25 gift card because they were unable to transfer the plate and I’d probably have to re-apply (kind of them), and was told that I had until 5:00 PM Sunday to return it for a refund. I have driven it every day, and made the first car-payment on Thursday… I don’t anticipate returning it.

Now, a few words about my relationship with The Volt as a philosophical concept… because I am a huge pedagogue.

The sell behind the Volt is “We give you one gallon of electric gas that will let you go between 35 and 45 miles for pennies without polluting, and we give you an 8 gallon gas tank in case you have/want to drive more than that.” Thus you can get your nifty green electric car for commuting to work, but have a gasoline car to go to Grandma’s/Charleston/That-Chip-Shop-In-Your-Hometown/Road-Trip-Destination without the bummer of getting a rental and getting screwed by the attendant charging you for not filling the gas tank (Ahem, Avis). The reality of the Volt is that to do this, General Motors had to make a car that was a bundle of compromises that come about when you merge a Spark EV and a Chevy Cruze Eco. The first compromise is on efficiency: It only ekes about 40 miles of guaranteed EV range out of 10 kWh of usable battery that takes most people 12-15 hours to refill (8-amp on a 110 volt garage outlet), and makes only about 45 mpg as a hybrid. This is mostly because it is running two drivetrains that make it heavy: it’s hauling around an extra gasoline engine in EV mode with the gas tank and the cooling system; and hauling around a whole bunch of extra depleted battery in gasoline hybrid mode. Another compromise is that the Volt small: It only seats 4 with a low roof and rear passengers heads sneaking under the hatchback glass in a weird mix of four-door coupe with a Kammback (Prius) butt. The third compromise is that it’s expensive. Volts were pretty much $40,000 when new in 2011, there were tax credits that made it feel more like $32,000 but it was a tough sell for people to buy a $32K Chevrolet that was the size of a Cruze and barely sat 4 adults, right after their parent company went through a big bankruptcy for behaving more like a bank and contract-management organization than a car-designer/manufacturer.

I was disappointed in the Volt when it was new. I was looking forward to a Prius-beater coming out of the Pheonix that was new-GM, conspicuously convinced that series-hybrids were magically more efficient in car-sized applications (“Trains and cruise ships let their huge electric motors be the only thing that connects to the wheels/prop… why does a car need a physical connection between the wheels and the gas engine” I opined frequently, not acknowledging my own blather…) and was duly upset that the Volt allowed the gasoline motor to connect to the transmission and power the wheels should the car go faster than 80 or was in battery-depleted-hybrid-mode. In retrospect, telling people that the Volt can’t go faster that 80 or that the hybrid efficiency was 30 mpg because some car nerd was in love with the philosophical ideal of a series-hybrid would have been way dumber. Either way, the 40-grand entry price and the fact that a volt still has a gas engine requiring gas-engine maintenance (a HUGE selling point of pure EVs is that they basically only need occasional tire rotation and yearly battery checks) irked me. There was also the bad history GM had with experimental drivetrains (look up “Who Killed the Electric Car”. Spoiler: GM, apparently)

Come 2014, I saw a lot of $200/mo leases which warmed me to the Volt, as it looked like GM (Like Toyota before) knew their new technology was rather cool and they were willing to take a bit of a haircut to get them moving and show their commitment. Come 2015, I started to notice a lot of these cars coming off lease were more like $18-20K, a full half of what they cost brand new… right about the same time electric vehicle charging stations were going up in our parking garage. My aforementioned merkur-co-owner friend Jeff also let me play with a 2015 model letting me see all the nifty things that come with a volt standard. Come 2016, by the time my brother wanted my commuter, after a huge tank in gas prices, suddenly 2013 volts were going for $14-16K. So suddenly it started pinging hard on the “Get THIS as your next car”. It even won over Eric as a solid commuter. So I got one.

Now, a few words about my relationship with My volt… because I am a huge car nerd.

I love her! Her name is Marcia after Marcia Griffiths who sang Electric Boogie (and now that song is stuck in YOUR head). She’s a light, shimmery blue that GM dubbed “Silver Topaz Metallic” and that I lovingly call “Blue Rinse”. She has a few stone chips on the nose and a ding in the driver’s door and a scuff on the shifter… but that relieves me of needing to be obsessed with keeping her “Perfect” and as my friend-née-boss Brian says “Oh, it’s pre-distressed. You’d pay extra for that at Restoration Hardware…”. She has two LCD screens. One where the speedometer would normally go that now tells you speed and all sorts of cool car info about efficiency, and one in the usual infotainment/telematics spot. She has rugged seats with seat heaters… and that ended up being one of the “GOTTA GET HER NOW” motives for nabbing this particular one from Carvana: having factory heated seats but not the leather upholstery and other trim upgrades I didn’t want to pay-for. The general look-and-feel is “This is way nicer than I am used-to for Chevrolet” so the idea of the Volt as a showcase for cool things GM can do is holding up. The telematics system is a bit “Wait, why do I have to hit this and this to go there?” but doesn’t seem like it’s going to break or wig-out on me. I did pay for a 2-year warranty from Carvana because, well, new GM drivetrain with a lot of electronic whizbangery.

In electric mode, Marcia the Volt is ridiculously quiet. I love playing “The Hybrid Game” where I essentially try to eek every mile out of that one gallon of electric gas. The usual hybrid game tactics apply: Don’t accelerate hard, don’t brake hard, turn off all climate control if possible. The volt helps in two ways: The first is a little Driving Style Meter that has three spinning leaves inside a sphere. If you stomp on the gas, the little sphere moves off the spinning leaves and turns tiny and yellow in the “accel” section. If you stomp on the brake, the little sphere plummets off the leaves into the “brake” section and turns tiny and yellow. I’ve noticed that when I start going 75 on the highway, the sphere hovers above the efficiency zone, even when you take your foot off the gas almost as if the car is admonishing me: “slow down on the highway, it saves gas, kids.” The other thing the volt does to help, is the “L” transmission setting. “L” simulates an automatic in low gear. Several other hybrids and cars with CVT’s sometimes have it listed as “B” (for “Engine Brake”). The magic is that you take your foot off the gas, the regen braking kicks in and the car slows down as if you were driving a manual in second. Thus, in the stop-n-go, slow-n-go traffic that I was constantly rowing through the gears in my Mazdas, putting it in a high gear to accelerate without burning too much gas, then putting the car in a low gear to engine brake so I don’t have to use brake pads… I can now “Single Pedal”. I put my foot gently on the gas to accelerate without using too much energy, and then take my foot off the gas to engine brake and dump energy back into the batteries. Much less fancy footwork and more electric range to boot.

Eventually that magical electric gallon has to run out. The engine sort of buzzes to life elegantly when my 10kWh is used up. It will occasionally sort tumble between idle, 2000 rpm, and 4000 rpm depending on what you’re doing… and for this past week was an indication of losing the hybrid game and I’ve been desperately trying to keep The Electric Gallon topped off. While I do have at-work charging stations, they are not free… charging $0.85 per hour for 3 hours and then $5 per hour for any additional hour (read: “This is not a parking spot You should be able to get-home after 3 hours of charging no matter what EV you drive, now move”). They can charge the Volt from empty to full in about 3.5 hours. This first week of ownership I gleefully signed up for chargepoint and topped off every chance I got (because whee, electric car, electric mode nifty, keep that sumbitch topped-up). Looking back, and running a bunch of numbers through an excel sheet… charging up fully at my house is $1. It also looks like I might be able to save even more at my house if we switch the rate plan with our power company by charging during off-peak and super-off-peak hours. Otherwise, charging up fully at work is about $2.55 – $3, so until gas gets more expensive, looks like charging at my house or at free charging stations is the way to go.

But yeah. I have a new car, it is nifty and I like playing with it. Now to figure out how to configure favorites on this crazy thing. If you still want to read fun articles about volts: Gene Weingarten wrote this article which is one I will always love.

They Don’t Know Video Episode #003

The Merkur goes out for a longer run at higher speeds with a muffler and just a few backfires. The car was piloted by R8ze with belfry copiloting. Camerawork by Pat Bastard, Editing my me.

listener line: (678) 701-3371

The song is Crashing the Car is Learning to Drive by Lanky.