Dr. Lyle Dennis with the Volt. His own car is coming in a few days. (Photo courtesy Dr. Lyle Dennis)
Dr. Lyle Dennis is just days away from getting his Chevrolet Volt. This is a momentous occasion, because no private citizen has been more devoted to this car. Dr. Dennis, a full-time neurologist, has been relentlessly blogging about GM's halo car since January 2007, some 1,500 posts at GM-Volt.com. It's authoritative.
Dennis, who lives in Rockland County, New York, is on GM's Consumer Advisory Board for the Volt, and that means he gets an advance car for three months. Unlike fellow board member (and EV-1 veteran) Chelsea Sexton, he had no trouble getting his 220-volt Lear garage charger installed. That's it in the photo below. He's ready, and he's waiting.
"I work on the blog every day," Dennis said. "I've fielded every piece of information, every [former GM vice chairman] Bob Lutz quote." After his three-month trial period with the Volt is up next year, Dennis expects to transition seamlessly into his own Volt, which is on order.
Dennis believes deeply in the Volt, and he shares my conviction that GM could have better handled its revelations about the car's gas engine. GM said many times that the Volt is an electric car whose gas engine is just there to act as a generator, with no connection to the wheels. But then we learned that, in fact, the Volt's engine does drive the wheels, above 70 mph and when the battery pack has depleted its 25 to 50 miles of all-electric range.
But then GM disclosed to Dennis that there's more to it than just that. According to GM spokesman Rob Peterson, "Once the battery is depleted, the Volt's gas-powered engine engages to create the power needed to extend the range of the vehicle several hundred additional miles. In extended range mode the Volt is powered by either a 1-motor series or 2-motor combined mode. The vehicle will select the most efficient mode for the driving condition: 1-motor series -- for operations almost exclusively below 30 mph; 2-motor combined almost exclusively above 70 mph. At speeds in between 30 to 70 mph, the Volt will select the most optimally efficient drive mode amongst the two."
If you followed all that, it means that between 30 and 70 either the gas engine or the electric motor is driving the car. Which is not what the world, or at least me, believed.
"They didn't handle it terrifically," Dennis told me. "But from my point of view I don't personally care. If it makes the car more efficient to do it that way, who cares?" I can't say I'm all that exercised about it, either, but GM should be as transparent as possible about its halo car.
GM is starting to advertise the Volt, and it's heavily playing up the long-distance benefits of the car over, in particular, its arch-rival, the Nissan Leaf battery car. The latter is limited to 100 miles between charges, and GM (and a lot of other people) are worried about "range anxiety." Just look at this commercial:
But I'm not convinced that people will be getting stranded in their electric cars. I've just spent a week with the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, which has just 12.5 miles of electric range, and I was able to drive it most of the time on battery power. Granted, I'm not commuting these days, but even if I was going to my old job at E Magazine, I'd still be able to make it there and back without trouble in a Leaf. The Prius plug-in would make it a challenge, of course.
So I'm waiting for the Volt, just like Dr. Dennis. And I admit to not being as excited as he is. From a recent post:
"It's hard for me to believe I have followed the development of this car so closely for so long, and that we are now actually only days from the first retail sale. GM has poured tremendous resources into developing this car both from a financial as well as human resources perspective, not to mention to propagating an exhaustively voluminous stream of news, PR, and media along with it. All through oil spikes, the nation's financial meltdown and even the company's own bankruptcy and restructuring.
"All the while the Volt has been held up as GM's great hope. The hope that this car and how it reflects what this company is capable of will finally persuade a disinterested if not downright bitter public to switch to GM-made vehicles.
"The Volt will arrive, but will arrive in very low volumes, and very few locations, and at a price point above what the average household can afford."
From Popular Mechanics: California Rules That Chevy Volt Pollutes More Than VW Diesels
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