We purchased a new 2014 Chevy Volt two weeks ago today. So far, it is a marvelous car. It’s very well engineered and it has enough gadgets, data, and settings to satisfy any data wonk or gadget geek (like me).
What is a Volt?
A Chevy Volt is a plug-in electric vehicle that has a gas generator for backup. It’s also known as an extended range electric vehicle. It operates exclusively on electric power, either supplied by the large (16 kilowat) battery pack, or by the gas engine that runs a generator. The gas engine does not charge the batteries. They are charged by plugging the vehicle in at night, either into an ordinary household 120v plug (charger interface is included with the car), or by installing and connecting to a 240v EV charging station (NOT included with the car). For me, the 240v charging station was around $699, plus the $350 my electrician is charging me to run the circuit. Using the 120v charger, the Volt will charge (from completely drained) in 10-14 hours. With a 240v charger, a completely empty battery will take about 4 hours to recharge.
The Volt’s gas engine will only turn on to generate electricity when the battery pack reaches a certain minimum level (usually after about 36-40 miles of driving). Or, one can put the car into “hold” mode, which will force the generator to provide the electricity, even though the battery pack might still have power remaining. This mode was put in to allow the driver to make best use of the battery power. For example, I went on a 100 mile round trip that was about 70 miles interstate driving. I put it into “hold” mode on the interstate and used battery power when I was off the interstate, as the battery is much more efficient running the car at speeds below 50 mph. Cruising on the interstate at 75 mph is no strain on the car either, but it does take a lot of kilowatts to do it. It’s more efficient to supply them from the gas generator than from the stored battery.
I mentioned that if you like data, you’ll like the Volt. The car keeps all sorts of data that can be displayed in the car or accessed on the Internet via the Onstar link that is built into the car. Here is my data for the first two weeks of driving the Volt:
Total miles driven: 524
Miles driven on battery (electric miles): 417 (80%)
Miles driven on gas generator (gas miles): 107
Total fuel used: 2.8 gallons
Miles per gallon: 188
Kilowatt hours per 100 miles: 34
Cost for electricity (at my current electric rates): $12.76
Total fuel cost for 524 miles (gas at $3.49 per gallon and electric charging cost): $22.53
Fuel cost per mile: 4 cents
As a point of comparison, my Honda CRV, which averages 25 mpg, would cost 14 cents per mile for fuel. With my driving habits, however, it is conceivable that I could have a much higher percentage of electric miles, thus taking the per-mile fuel costs down even more. I’ll check back in here later and post more statistics, which will obviously become more realistic the longer I drive the car.
To get the most out of the car, you have to adjust your driving habits. I have made it a challenge to see how many miles of all electric I can get on a single charge. Although GM advertises 36 miles, I have consistently been above 40 miles on a charge. The high so far has been 44 miles, but I think I can get it higher. The key is letting the regenerative braking work for you. When the car is coasting or coming to a stop, it uses the kinetic energy built up by the car to put some small charge back into the battery. This is called regenerative braking. It doesn’t add a lot, but can add a few miles per charge if managed properly. I am learning how to use it in my area, which has a few small hills, to maximum advantage. My goal is to get to 50 miles on a charge and I think it’s doable. I’ll post more here in a few weeks