I got my first chance to drive a Chevy Volt a couple years ago when I worked a few hours in a booth at the St. Louis Auto Show. Now, this was far from the experience you might expect; I drove it inside America’s Center and was asked not to exceed 5 mph. The person who rode with me didn’t exactly hold me at gunpoint, but I felt compelled to honor their request (with I think one very short and modest exception!)
At the time, the Volt was not yet available in our area, so even if I felt like the $40K asking price was not an obstacle, I wouldn’t have been able to go out and get one. But in the last year or so, I’ve been seeing more of them on the road, and I have to say that I really like the car. So when Microgrid Solar installed a ChargePoint EV charging station in front of Brauer Hall at Washington University, I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate yet another charging station in St. Louis.
As it turns out, I met Tony Thompson, CEO of Kwame Building Group, who made a generous donation to his alma mater to thank them for installing a charging station that he could occasionally use to charge his Volt. Admiring his car, I mentioned the limited opportunity I’d had to drive one at the convention center, and he offered to let me take his car out for a real drive! I almost felt like a kid as I giddily accepted his offer, and together we took it for a spin around a big block. With no one in front of me on Forest Park Parkway, I asked him if he minded if I test its acceleration capability. He smiled and gave me the okay, and it left me both impressed and envious.
Later that week, I explored the financial feasibility of a lease, and found that, with the $7,500 tax credit and a few dealer incentives, the price of the car was right there with a Toyota Camry Hybrid, and after a weekend test drive from Jim Butler Chevrolet, soon enough convinced myself that this was the perfect replacement for my 10-year-old Honda Civic Hybrid. I was able to justify the lease payments after estimating my gasoline savings, but I placed a lot of value on driving emissions-free most everywhere I go.
The Volt will go about 35-40 miles on a full charge, which takes about 13.5 kilowatt hours of electricity. Our electricity costs anywhere from $0.08/kWh in the winter to $0.12 in the summer, so this costs about an average of about $1.35 for a 35 mile commute. That’s not bad, considering a relatively efficient car would get about 35 mpg, and that would cost about $3-$4 per gallon. So it’s a lot less expensive to run on electricity than gas. And since our solar array produces about 5,000 kWh per year, that’s more than enough to cover the estimated 3,600 kWh that I’ll use annually driving the car.
What’s made the Volt possible for me was that it’s an extended range EV. With a gas-powered generator on board, once the batteries run out of juice, the generator seamlessly starts and provides enough electrical power to drive the electric motors that drive the wheels. So, while I try to avoid using gasoline, it’s always there if I need it. In fact, I can drive about 350 miles on an 8-gallon tank of gas if necessary.
This is a dream come true for me. I’ve had my eye on the Volt since it was a concept car in 2008, and am pleased to be driving an American car for the first time in years. I’m still delighted every time I get in, even after six weeks of driving. I encourage you to check it out – it’s a quiet riot to drive emissions-free!
This was published in the Going Green section of the March 2013 issue of Spirit Seeker magazine.