The experience of some Chevy Volt drivers is vindicating GM's decision to market an all-electric vehicle that can also run on gasoline. At a conference last week in New York, a GM official reported that some Volt owners have been driving up to 1,000 miles before filling up the gas tank. If the reports are accurate, it's a solid testimony to the ability of green-minded car consumers to adjust their driving habits to get the most out of new technologies. It also bodes well for the ability of mainstream consumers to adopt electric vehicles and other new sustainable tech in the future.
Chevy Volt and the Gas-Electric Choice
When it was launched last year, the Volt marked a distinct shift from the traditional gas-electric hybrid concept. In a conventional hybrid, drivers don't choose whether to drive all-electric or all-gas; the vehicle makes those adjustments in order to conserve gasoline. As a plug-in electric hybrid, the Volt offered drivers the opportunity to drive in all-electric mode, with a full gas tank providing a cushion of comfort against "range anxiety" over the electric battery. It's a transitional approach that can help mainstream car buyers make the leap into electricity, in addition to appealing to green consumers. Regardless of who is buying the car, the strategy is paying off. The Volt has been selling well and car aficionados have been heaping up the praise, including a Car of the Year award from Motor Trend.
Range Anxiety Banished
The Volt battery can take between 4 to 12 hours to charge, depending on the size of the outlet, and its all-electric range is about 35 miles. Even allowing for the longer charge, which can easily be accomplished overnight, in all-electric mode the Volt fits nicely with the short commutes (including park-and-ride commutes) and local errands that characterize a lot of routine driving in the U.S. If the driver chooses to do a few extra errands, then the gasoline generator makes up the difference. Road trips are not a problem, either. In gasoline mode the Volt has a range of 344 miles and like any other gasoline vehicle it only takes a few minutes to fill the tank.
Getting Used to Electric Vehicles
The Volt has gotten such good buzz that it has attracted the attention of major car rental companies. Enterprise recently added the Volt to its fleet, and Hertz is apparently following suit. This gives car buyers a great opportunity to check out the new technology over a longer period of time than they would get from test-driving through a dealership. Even in gasoline mode, Volt drivers still get the distinctive feel of an electric vehicle, because the gas powers a generator, not a conventional engine. It could be that the rental market becomes an important factor in drawing electric vehicles into the mainstream.
Image: Chevy Volt by Earl-Wilkerson on flickr.com.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.