The Chevy Volt is electrifying the car market – especially in the wake of the oil disasters in the Gulf of Mexico and now, Lake Michigan. Every one of us needs to stop using oil so the Volt, which can drive 40 miles on a battery powered by electricity rather than an engine fueled by oil, has a lot of appeal. General Motors, which is taking orders on the car for delivery this fall, claims the vehicle is "designed to move 75% of America's daily commuters without a single drop of gas. That means for someone who drives less than 40 miles per day (which is most Americans), Chevy Volt will use zero gasoline and produce zero emissions." After 40 miles, a smaller, 4-cylinder internal combusion engine uses premium-grade gasoline to produce more electricity, extending the car's range an additional 300 miles.
I'd already been on Fox News talking about the Volt; now I jumped at the chance to do a test drive. I regularly get 45 mpg on my 2002 Prius, which I love. And last summer I test drove the Ford Fusion Hybrid for a week and loved it (even though its mileage, while better than a regular sedan, is still lower than the Prius.) But a car I can drive that gets 0 mpg – and still covers 40 miles? That sounded pretty good.
I drove over to nearby University of Maryland, where test drives were being conducted. I waited around for a few minutes until it was my turn to get behind the wheel. I slid into the driver's seat, and turned the car on. Like the Prius, the car is very quiet – if you don't know it's coming, you won't hear it, that's for sure.
The car has a state-of-the-art dashboard so you can back-up without looking over your shoulder; constantly monitor how much fuel you're using; stay connected to your Bluetooth technology if you use it; and enjoy the high-quality BOSE sound system.
It comfortably seats four people of average height. The seat sits low because the vehicle is so stream-lined, but consequently, it can be a little hard to see out the back or over your shoulder when you're changing lanes.
Driving the car is simple as pie. I could only take it for a short spin around the campus, so I don't know if it is as tricky as the Prius when it comes to achieving promised benefits: the Prius is supposed to get as much as 50 mpg, but it takes a very light foot on the pedal, and a lot of coasting downhill, to achieve those gains driving in the city. Most people speed rather than drive the limit; a lot of us race between stop signs and street signals, too, all of which reduce average fuel efficiency. I couldn't drive the Volt long enough to know if personal driving style will prevent a driver from actually covering 40 miles on the single electrical charge as promised. That's something worth paying attention to.
One added benefit of the Volt is that you can recharge it at home, with a standard 120-volt cable. And if you plug it in at night, the electricity you buy from your power company to pump into your car will be a bit cheaper.
Is the Volt an improvement over gasoline-powered vehicles? Absolutely.
Still, I can't help but think that we'd all be better off not owning cars at all. We could walk and bicycle more in our neighborhoods, telecommute one or two days a week to work, carpool, shop online, use ZipCar or other car membership sites, or rent the new electric Nissan Leaf from Enterprise.
I don't think I'll be shelling out $40,000 for a Volt any time soon. It makes more sense, at least for right now, to drive less and follow these money-saving suggestions for saving gas when I do drive.