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Solar Energy USA Electric Vehicle Diaries

Posted on Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 at 3:56 pm by Solar Energy USA
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Note: This is the first article of an ongoing series where Solar Energy USA employees will give their thoughts on driving the new company Chevy Volt.

Reviewed by: Michael (Marketing and Sales)

Likes: Fuel economy, acceleration, “wow factor”

Dislikes: Dash layout, navigation menu

The Chevy Volt is stylish, fun, and practical. My goal for the weekend while driving the Volt was to use as little gas a possible and to get a better idea of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure currently in place around Atlanta and the surrounding cities in the metro-Atlanta area:

solar-energy-usa-review-of-chevy-volt

Day 1

The first thing I noticed about the Volt was the unique and innovative center console and display. The touch screen above the center console is illuminated in blue and green and the entire configuration is touch responsive including over 35 buttons at arms reach. If you think 35 buttons sounds a bit overkill you are exactly right. In fact, I had to force myself to stop looking at them all, and leave the office parking lot after a few minutes of playing the “What does this button do?” game:

chevy-volt-battery-pack-display-solar-energy-usa

The dash above the steering wheel shows your current speed, how many miles you can go using only batteries, how many miles you can go using gasoline, and also shows your driving style via a floating green orb. The owner’s manual says to keep this floating green orb in the middle of its matrix for optimum mileage. Faster acceleration lifts the orb higher while braking and slower driving keeps it centered:

chevy-volt-steering-wheel-display-battery-only

The Volt is not an all-electric vehicle like the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Roadster, but rather a plug-in hybrid with an electric motor that will travel its first 45 miles using only an electric charge. My first trip was short and sweet, driving about 10 miles from the office to my house using zero gallons of gas at a 250+ mpg rating (according to the display). I was pretty excited about not using any gasoline and when I got home I immediately plugged in to recharge using the Level 1 charging station that all Chevy Volts come with. The Level 1 charging station plugs into a standard 3-prong electrical outlet and extends 10 or 15 feet from car to outlet.

I let the car charge for about an hour while I changed clothes and made some phone calls. I’d heard jokes from fellow EV (electric vehicle) enthusiasts that the Level 1 is more of a “trickle charger” because its so slow to recharge, but I had no idea just how long a recharge would take (way too long). Frustrated, I unplugged the charger and got in the car to head to dinner. My second trip was 46.4 miles, just a touch outside of the 45 mile all-electric range, but even though I drove 2 miles using gasoline the display still showed 250+ mpg (which was pretty exciting):

chevy-volt-energy-info-electric-and-gas-trip

Day 1 driving totals: 56.4 miles, 250+ mpg, 0.07 gallons of gasoline used

Day 2

I took the Volt to a local breakfast spot for doughnuts and coffee in the morning. The total trip was 13.9 miles and I did not use a single drop of gas:

chevy-volt-energy-info-all-electric-trip

This time when I plugged-in for a recharge I noticed that the display shows when the battery is expected to be fully recharged. It was 11:20 AM when I plugged in after my doughnut run. If I had a Level 2 240V charging station the battery would be fully charged by 12:30. Unfortunately, I only had the Level 1 that comes with the car, so I would have to wait until 3 PM if I wanted a full charge:

chevy-volt-charging-time-display

Day 2 driving totals: 13.9 miles, 250+mpg, 0 gallons of gasoline used

Day 3

Some friends in Atlanta wanted me to come over and show them the car they had heard all about. I knew that driving to Atlanta would fully deplete the electric batteries, but I decided it would be a good opportunity to test Atlanta’s charging station infrastructure, so I hopped in the Volt and headed out. Along the drive down to Atlanta a beautiful, brand new Lamborghini pulled up beside me at a stop light. The driver rolled down his window and said, “Hey, is that one of those new electric cars? How do you like it?” I instantly felt like the coolest guy in the world.

Once I met up with my buddies and showed them my cool new company car I was ready to recharge my fully depleted battery. There is a navigation menu on the Volt’s center console and I saw a tab to search for POI (Points Of Interest). After thumbing through the ‘Automotive’ POIs which included refueling selections for ‘Gas Stations’, ‘Biodiesel’, ‘CNG’ (Compressed Natural Gas), ‘Diesel’, etc., I quickly became frustrated. I figured I would find an option for ‘Charging Stations’ or ‘Electric Vehicles’ but sure enough there was not this option:

chevy-volt-poi-display-1

chevy-volt-poi-display-2

Somehow the Chevy Volt design team forgot to include a navigation search option for charging stations. My frustrations were further amplified as I realized I would be driving home on empty batteries, forced to use gasoline:

chevy-volt-steering-wheel-display-gas-only

Day 3 driving totals: Total miles unknown, mpg unknown, 3.5 gallons of gasoline used

Final Thoughts

A 45-mile all-electric range may not sound like much, but I found it to be an acceptable distance during my weekend with the Volt, especially for local trips and running errands. The standard Level 1 charging station is best for overnight charging, but not very functional otherwise (and does not work with an extension chord). A Level 2 charging station would be more convenient and well worth the extra money. I hope that Chevy releases an update to the navigation package to include a charging station location service. I’d also like to see a redesigned console with less buttons in the future.

I’m still wrapping my head around the concept of not using gasoline when driving a vehicle, and I am excited to see how plug-in vehicles and EV batteries advance over time.

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