Monday, May 16, 2011

21 Hours with a Volt

Yesterday I went to Rancho Motors, the local Chevrolet dealer (Rancho Motor Company) and picked up their demo Volt for a 24 hour trial (21 because I picked it up around 4 and returned it around 1 the next day). It was charged, and claimed an electric range of 35 miles. I set the AC in "eco" mode and headed out of the dealership for the drive home, a distance of about 13 miles. When I got home the readout claimed I had 19 miles left, so I had used "16 miles" worth of juice to go 13 miles. Not good. On the other hand, our house is about 1250 feet higher than the dealership, so this is not a huge surprise.

I took the car home and picked up the family and we went for a drive. We went and visited some friends who were in the market for a car, and while we were there we plugged it into a power outlet in their garage. They both wanted a ride, so I took them for a spin in it. Since they both wanted to know if it was quick, I floored it, a technique you will rarely find in any hypermiling guide :-)

We then drove it by another friends house (who also wanted a ride) and finally took it home again and plugged it in. After about an hour I drove it to another friends house and plugged it in while I hung out there. All told, we did not use any gas on Thursday for this car and we drove 40 miles. I probably could have gotten away without charging it at all until I finally brought it home for the night, but I wanted to have it fully charge for the morning (didn't quite make it).

I plugged the car in at around 11 (simple 120v garage outlet, we don't have a charger) and went to bed. In the morning it was about an hour from fully charge, and showed 33 miles of range. I had Patty drive the kids to school and then I drove the car back home in order to see what the drive to school would do on electric, as we do this usually three times a day (I put the AC on full and told patty to ignore everything, just drive it like you would any car). The drive had used 14 miles of the 33 it showed when we left. Considering it was an, um, spirited drive to school (Patty did NOT want to be late) and daddy was along (more weight plus full blast AC), it is very likely that a normal day would use 12-13 miles of range. This is awesome, because after dropping the kids at school, Patty could plug it in for a couple of hours and fully recharge it (on 240V) before going about the rest of the day.

That would make it possible for us to go 52 miles per day on electricity alone, which is pretty awesome. It takes 12 kWh to fully charge a volt, and if you have an EV only meter that works out to $1.65 (12 x $.11 overnight, + 3 x $.11 for the morning charge) to drive 52+ miles. Currently we spend $11.77 to drive those same miles in our Honda Odyssey. That means using electricity would save us over $300 per month, not to mention the gas savings difference when we use gas (40MPG is a lot better than the 19 we are seeing now).

My friend suggested that I should see how the car runs when it is out of battery, so I switched it to sport mode and got on the freeway. The car was easy to drive on the freeway had no problem doing 85-90 when called upon. Once I got to work, it got a workout giving people rides and explaining everything. We took it to get donuts, and finally we exhausted the battery and ran on the "range extender" (fancy word for gas engine). The car felt about the same. At one point we went up a long steep hill, and the engine was turning a LOT of revs for a little while, but then it settled back down.

Completely depleted I drove it to lunch. I parked it in front of Holland Burger, and someone came inside and asked who was driving it and started asking me questions. I walked outside with him to show him the car, and as soon as I popped the hood I had a crowd. People are very curious about this car, and most people do not understand how it works. Even the salesman get it wrong, as one of them told a friend of mine that after 400 miles you "had to charge it" which is totally wrong.

After lunch I returned the car. We had driven 95.3 miles and used .8 gallons of gas, for an effective MPG of 119. Not bad. Not bad at all. That is almost exactly 100MPG better than our van...

We are seriously considering a Volt. It's expensive, yes, but it's a marvelous piece of technology that would save us a lot of money in fuel costs and insulate us from both rising fuel costs and the dropping value of the dollar (which results in even higher gas prices). Furthermore, it puts our energy spending into domestic production rather than sending it overseas.

And most importantly, Jacob's tuba fits in the back!



jr said...

Sounds cool, Joel. I like new technology, especially when it solves a problem. As you mentioned before there is also the eventual cost of replacing the batteries. Unfortunately early technology adopters usually end up paying a premium.
John R.

Anonymous said...

@JR... Luckily the batteries are warrantied for 8 years and 100,000 miles. After 8 years, GM states the battery will still have 80% of its original capacity (range) available as well, which is pretty impressive.

My laptop battery can't make it a year before never staying charged. It's clear GM has done a lot of work to optimize battery life.

Anonymous said...

I've had my Volt for a few weeks and love it. I picked it up out of state and drove 1000 miles back home at 65 mph. My average MPG was 41.5. Now that I'm driving my normal routes, I'm often going gas free and my lifetime MPG has risen to 54 MPG. That 1k gas ride will take a while to offset. On the other hand, the Volt can drive cross country like any other car, a big plus for me.