FRANK: Electric Car Sparking Interest

By: Frank Waugh
By: Frank Waugh

A new electric car is generating some buzz in Michiana. The 2011 Chevy Volt has arrived in Benton Harbor and I got a chance to try it out.


This week I had a chance to test drive the brand spanking new Chevrolet Volt. To say the least I was very excited (just ask some of my coworkers) when I got the call that the “first one” arrived in Michiana. Why in quotes you might ask? Determining if it is the first one in Michiana is very tough and if it isn’t the first one I am sure there is someone out there that would love to tell me that I am wrong. So for now we will say it is one of the first ones to arrive in Michiana. During this adventure in blog-land I will tell you all the cool things that I wish I could have told you in my news story. Unfortunately, or for your sake, fortunately they gave me 2 minutes instead of 10 minutes to tell you all you need to know about the Chevy Volt.
Ok, here it goes, the Chevy Volt is the first electric car from General Motors. The car is called a plug-in hybrid because it uses both a battery and an onboard generator to power the vehicle. The “T” shaped battery runs down the center of the vehicle and weighs about 375 lbs. The 80 horsepower generator is under the hood and has a 9 gallon fuel tank that must be filled up with premium gasoline.
Maximizing battery life is the name of the game when it comes to this new ride. Brad LeValley with LeValley Chevrolet in Benton Harbor, says he feels like he is in a video game when driving this car. After trying it out for myself I would have to agree. The dash board is full of eye catching diagrams and meters. The efficiency meter on the right hand side of the drivers LCD monitor shows how efficient you are driving with a little green ball. The goal is to keep the ball in the center of the meter. If you accelerate too fast (waste too much energy) the ball sinks and turns yellow. If you break too fast the ball moves up and turns yellow. While the accelerating is fairly intuitive the braking is not as clear. Slow and steady braking sends energy back into the battery, so to get the most energy back into the vehicle, the car encourages you to brake gradually.
To add to the video game feel a second LCD monitor in the center of the dash board keeps track of the battery charge. It also shows you where the power is going in the car. A display shows the battery and lightning like circles show power going to the wheels when accelerating and power going to the battery when breaking. Also on the LCD you can control everything from the navigation to the radio to the climate controls. To maximize battery life the car gives you information on how much battery life the air conditioner or heater is using. To continue the trend of efficiency the car’s styling also helps prolong the battery life with aerodynamic mirrors and a relatively “smooth” grill to decrease drag.
As for the ride, one word: Quiet. Low rolling resistance tires make for an extremely quiet drive. There is virtually no sound associated with the electric motor and the generator is very quiet. The lack of sound is at first unnerving since every car you have likely driven has made some type of noise, but after a while the peaceful ride is very pleasant. When stopped at a light the normal vibration associated with your standard internal combustion engine is nonexistent. When the light changes and you hit the “gas” pedal the car instantly responds with surprising power. If your drive takes you down winding roads you will appreciate the low center of gravity. With the battery running down the center of the car the distribution of weight makes for great cornering.
Charging the battery is simple. The car comes with a standard 120V cord that attaches to the side of the vehicle and you simply plug the other end into a regular wall outlet. The car has a 240V charging option that cuts the normal 10 hour charge time in half. You will notice under the hood that all the wires are colored orange. The owner’s manual says that for your safety you should avoid contact with them. Under the hood you will also notice stickers with instructions for emergency personnel how to cut the power supply in the event of a crash.
My personal opinion on the car, I think it is great. Unlike other electric cars on the market this one has enough room to carry four people comfortably. The range seems reasonable especially if you drive less than 40 miles a day. As for the price, the $7,500 tax break makes the $40,000 price tag a little easier to swallow. Getting the car early would ensure that you get the tax break, waiting might allow for more consumer reviews to hit the web. Either way, I think this car has the potential to change how you drive and I think it will change the auto industry. One final note, I am happy to report that this car is imported from Detroit.
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