Going Green Is a Great Ride: Our Electric Car Experience
On December 29, 2012 we bought an electric car. Well, technically that’s not correct as the Chevrolet Volt is an extended range vehicle or series hybrid. It can go well over 300 miles on one charge plus the tank of gas that fuels the onboard electric generator. True electric cars only have batteries with no onboard charging backup to keep the car going when the battery runs out. Even so, it is just simpler to say “electric car” as that is basically what it turns out to be for most of the time we use it.
Delaware, in particular the Rehoboth/Lewes area, is an excellent location to own such a vehicle because we generally have no hills to climb. Because of our topography (our area being flat as a pancake) you can get more mileage out of the vehicle than the rated amount. The 38 mile average rating (operating on battery only) assumes you will encounter some hills beside those shopping center speed bumps.
This much available “battery only” mileage covers most daily drives for us. And let’s get the most frequent question out of the way up front. This electric only driving costs less than $1.60 in electricity costs to recharge the fully depleted battery.
Most of our friends and neighbors likely assume we bought this car because we have a windmill on our property generating electricity along with solar panels on our roof. Our home was the first residential windmill approved in Sussex County and our efforts to get that approval taught us a lot about the county permit approval process. I now have a greater appreciation of what is involved in getting something approved through the bureaucracy. That process could warrant a separate story itself. Even so, self-generation of power is not the reason we chose this car.
It was really our intention to consider a Cadillac! We wanted a heavy riding vehicle. One that took bumps without notice, hugged the road, and gave the luxury feel that comes with such a car. We decided to test drive both. With no Cadillac dealer nearby and no response to our calls to local dealers regarding a Chevrolet Volt, we went to Salisbury Maryland to a dealer who sold both vehicles. We drove the Volt first, then the Cadillac. To our surprise, we liked the Volt better. The ride sensation was just what we were looking for; a heavy road hugging feel clearly due to the battery weight which is in the floor of the car running from front to back.
In addition the dash display was impressive along with a second center display known as the stack that controls most of the operational features along with the navigation system maps. We were sold on the car before we were told about a $7,500 tax credit, a $2,000 rebate and a five year zero interest loan!
After having this car experience, I clearly don’t understand advertising (despite many hours of viewing Mad Men). It seems all of General Motors efforts to sell this car revolve around the fact that it has a battery that provides about forty miles of driving on a charge with no emphasis on the quality of the ride, the quiet of the electric motor and the amazing difference driving a vehicle powered by an electric motor. Even though you seldom notice gear changes with today’s excellent automatic transmissions in conventional engine cars, driving a vehicle with an electric motor is different. The car seems to move differently as you press the accelerator. There is no sound of the engine revving up, no build to gear change, just the feel of power moving to the wheels as you press back into your seat. The Volt also allows you to choose different performance modes. There is standard for normal driving, sport if you want even faster response to the press of the accelerator, mountain if you are in such terrain, and hold which allows you to save the battery charge you have by turning on the generator to power the car. This is in case you want to use the battery for city driving and the generator for long distance.
So, what about the charging process? Here we get many questions. There seems to be an idea that a special charger is almost necessary for such vehicles. That is not really the case. The car comes with a simple charger that plugs into a regular outlet. You can charge it overnight at two different settings. The lower voltage setting is estimated to take from 10 to 16 hours for a full charge of an empty battery. A second setting cuts that to 12 hours. Which you use depends simply on the size of the circuit for the outlet you plug into. Our experience has seen full charging much faster than these estimates as the battery is seldom entirely depleted. And, the battery does not have to be fully charged to speed off into the night. The battery is always used first; the generator second regardless of the level of charge.
There seems to be so much misunderstanding about electric vehicles. Is this because conventional automobiles are just more well-known? Is it due to lack of visibility? I have only seen one other Chevrolet Volt in the Rehoboth area despite the fact that once you buy a new car you start to see them everywhere. The dealer where we purchased ours only had one on the lot. Don’t go to the dealer expecting to see one, call first.