As regular readers here will know, I’ve been lucky enough to have seen the Chevy Volt from million dollar prototype stage during the 2010 Olympics, all the way through to the final, shipping product that I got to test drive in Alaska earlier this year.
One thing that I wanted to do from the beginning though, is try out the electric vehicle on my own personal commute. I live in Port Coquitlam and drive to North Vancouver every day. It’s about 70 kilometers round trip. Last week, GM Canada loaned me a Volt to try it out on my local commute.
As with previous posts, this is more a overview of the technology in the car than a traditional car review… so I’m going to focus on a couple of things including the realities of charging an electric car at home, driving one on my daily commute and what you can do with GM’s smartphone app for the Volt.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Volt is meant to be charged with a regular 110V wall outlet. It has a dedicated port on the front left side of the car (complete with push button on the key fob and on the driver’s door to open it). It’s a proprietary port for use with the cable reel that is located in the trunk. I had initially spent way too much time looking for a long extension cord inside my house before I realized the cable reel had plenty of cord to go from my garage outlet to my carport without issue. Using this method takes a depleted battery about 10 hours to charge to 100%. This gives you anywhere from 40 to 80 kilometers of electric travel depending on a number of factors including road/traffic conditions, what you have running inside the car (air conditioning, heated seats, charging up your phone, lights, etc). The gas engine tops up the available range to just over 400 kilometers with a full tank of gas & fully charged battery.
If you want to charge it faster, you can get a 220V outlet installed (think of your washer/dryer connection) and the Volt will charge in 4 hours.
Unfortunately for me, at my office, I wasn’t able to find any parking stalls that had ready access to a wall outlet. I’m sure they exist, I just wasn’t able to get a stall that had one during my loan period. So I had to go all day at work without charging that meant I’d get to see if I’d get to go my full commute under battery power.
On the days that I had the car, I seemed to have had some of the worst traffic days in quite a while so it took longer than normal to get home. At the end of the day though, I usually only had to dip into the gas tank for a couple of liters of gas to get home with the battery getting depleted just minutes from my front door. I think during my whole week of usage, I used less than 10 litres of gas.
Since this is a GM vehicle, it came with OnStar and the model I had included the full navigation system which is an optional add-on to the base Volt.
One thing I really liked was the ‘Traffic Events’ that would pop up on the screen via the OnStar service. It was pretty consistent with what the local news radio station was reporting (slightly more realtime) and also reflected the reality on the road in front of me. The events popped up a few kilometers from where they were and showed me exactly where the accident was located and even suggested alternate routes if any.
I also liked the heads up display with navigation right above the steering wheel with key turn by turn directions (I was being audibly told by the nav system to do a legal u-turn when possible in this photo):
The free OnStar RemoteLink app is available for iPhone and Android smartphones in their respective marketplaces. It gives you a lot of control and information about your car at your fingertips. Everything from being able to lock/unlock & start your car remotely, being able to monitor & review your battery life, tire pressure and other vehicle diagnostic information to even honking the horn.
One particularly cool feature was the navigation tab which would give you the ability to search out a destination on your phone and send the routing information to the car. You can also set reminders for charging the vehicle and schedule the charging to begin at specific times if your electricity is cheaper during different times of the day.
One thing I can say after having a few non-geeks in the car during my time with it is that the dash and display screens can seem overwhelming to the uninitiated. Personally, I loved it but I can see how the large console area with it’s plethora of buttons, busy dash and touchscreens can be confusing. No doubt there is a lot going on in this car. Fortunately, you can turn off the screens and just drive normally if that’s your thing.
I really enjoyed my ‘real world’ week with the Volt. If I was looking to upgrade my car right now, I would give it some serious consideration after reviewing my annual gas expenses and mileage. It’s just too bad my home province of BC doesn’t have any rebates for eco vehicles like many other provinces do. It would make the purchase price that much more attractive.
UPDATE: Looks like BC is finally getting on board with rebates for cars like the Volt beginning December 1, 2011!