On Tuesday October 9th, everyone who attended Green Drinks had the opportunity to test Drive a Chevy Volt, a few blocks around Midtown Manhattan. Representatives from GM brought two of the vehicles and parked them in front of The Roger Smith Hotel. After signing a waiver, each test driver was given a free drink ticket, to be redeemed after their ride was completed. The cars were busy all night, with a negligible amount of fossil fuels consumed, or carbon emitted. Stephen Marlin GM of Advanced Technology at General Motors, said a few words, the highlight of which was; the average Volt owner fills up their tank only once every 900 miles. He also spoke about the Spark, a new 100% battery powered car from GM, which will be released soon. Stephen will be speaking in depth at Green Drinks NYC SPARK conversation this coming Tuesday Oct. 23, you can get tickets here.
All in all the event was a huge success; for the people who just came for Green Drinks lively networking, for GM and for those who took the opportunity to drive the Volt. The technology behind the vehicle is a game changer, but it can be complicated to explain. Getting behind the wheel, one gets a sense of how unique vehicle truly is. If we are going to embrace electric powered cars, people must be willing to adjust their driving behavior, which will create the demand for a ubiquitous charging station network. The Volt is an incremental step in that direction. The real innovation of the Volt is you don’t have to worry about range anxiety. There’s no danger of miscalculating and getting stranded, because the gas powered engine kicks in when the battery runs down. But at $39,000 the Volt is a significant investment. And if you consider a level one charge can take 8 hours, level 2 around 4 hours and even at a half hour for level 3, it’s still a lot longer than filling up a tank of gas. The efficiency of the Volt can far outperform a hybrid, but to really get the economic and environmental benefit, it takes some pre-planning and effort. We spoke with a few of the people who test drove the Volt about their experience, and their view on the potential market in NYC.
Jesse Ash – Director/Producer Greener Media- who won a free week with the Volt, thinks the technology stands out from the pack of Electric & Hybrid vehicles, in that it’s the best of both worlds. Long term though he’s not sure how the Volt will stand in terms of being a stepping stone to reducing oil dependency & our carbon footprint. “I could see owning one if I lived in a home with a garage where I could plug it in & charge it. But being a NYC resident isn’t conducive to owning a vehicle.” He’d be willing to change driving behavior to derive the benefits from the vehicle, but he’d have to be convinced he needed a car first.
“I think the most ideal market for the Volt and other electric vehicles in the short term is the car-sharing market (Zipcar, Hertz on Demand etc) as well as for corporate loans when employees are in town or for short distance trips.” He hasn’t figured out his specific plans yet for his week with the Volt, but “definitely a road trip.”
Kaitlin – an assistant office manager for a real estate firm found the Volt to be surprisingly sleek and almost sports car-like, as opposed to other boxy hybrids or electric cars on the market that are more for a suburban couple or green conscious driver in Portland, OR, but not for young, single hip urban dwellers. “The Volt is the first hybrid/electric model I have seen for both the image and environmentally conscious driver.”
“I was very pleased with the Volt’s acceleration and smooth drive. Its “still state” was very quiet, but not so quite that I forgot the car was running- The meters on the dash board reminded me of a SciFi movie, at one point I thought it was maybe too beautifully designed, because my eyes were on the dash instead of the road a little too often.”
Stephen Tobey who is a Toyota Prius owner – found the Volt operated very much like a regular car, which is a strong selling point, as well as the ability to see the energy flows and real-time mileage affect how he drove. “When I realize how good the mileage can be, I want to improve it, and employ techniques that maximize fuel efficiency, like slower braking and acceleration.”
He feels NYC is a a difficult market to have a Volt. Too, few people have garages of their own which is necessary to keep the vehicle charged. Although some of the chain garage operators have plug-in capabilities, it’s probably not widespread enough, and too expensive. Also how would you be able to monitor the connection.
“As a former hybrid owner I am well aware of the benefits and drawbacks of owning a energy efficient vehicle – great gas mileage, but not very powerful. I can still remember the whine of the hybird every time I would press hard on the accelerator. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that when took the Chevy Volt out for a test drive, the expected whine and strain on the car was noticeably absent. In fact, the car made no noise at all! The quiet and smooth operation paired with the nighttime setting, it felt like I was driving a stealth car instead of the Volt.”
“I was most impressed with was the gas tank functioning as a range extender. When the car’s battery nears depletion the gas tank kicks in to restart the battery charging process and extend the trip life of the vehicle. Using gas as a supplement or enhancement rather than the solitary source of energy is a huge step in the right direction!”
Logan Winston was very impressed with the pickup, and liked the fact that you can rev the engine, but you’re just charging the battery. He enjoyed the smooth ride, great handling and sleek interior.
He would certainly consider leasing or purchasing a Volt, but would need to be able to park it with access to an EV charging station. If he were to own a Volt, he would use Chargepoint’s search function to locate the nearest EV charger (https://na.chargepoint.com/index.php/charge_point). There are more than 100 EV chargers distributed around the five boroughs, with more to come. He would use the Volt for local and out of town excursions, as well as long distance trips. “Electric when you want it; gas when you need it.” When asked about changing his driving habits to be a Volt owner he said – “Let’s be clear: driving a Volt would not require a major rewiring of one’s driving habits. While the Volt was apparently designed to be most efficient when plugged in daily, it can still run efficiently without being plugged in for weeks or months.”
Barry Korn, who works in Finance, said that besides from a slight concern about the feel of the break, enjoyed the experience. However he said he would not be willing to purchase a Volt because of the cost, he doesn’t feel he’d redeem the economic benefits from fuel economy, even with the Government’s $7,500 credit. Especially living in NYC, where taxis, Subways and busses are relatively easy and the range is too limited to drive out of the city. He said he wouldn’t be willing to significantly change his behavior to make the vehicle cost effective and will wait till there’s more infrastructure (charging stations) a lower cost vehicle and a battery with a longer range before considering purchasing an EV.
Personally, I loved driving the Volt. I think the technology is fascinating. Being able to see the battery capacity on the dashboard and the gauge that indicates how efficiently you’re driving is very cool. The ride was so smooth and quiet and when there was a little bit of space on the busy NYC streets, I was able to see it how powerful engine is. I would love to own one. But I have to admit, being a New Yorker I don’t know how much I would drive it to really make it worth it. It would be a challenge to plot out long distance trips beforehand as far as where to charge the car, and the time it takes to charge. Of course I could just use gas stations, but I’d always be looking to maximize the car’s efficiency. If I could figure out some way of having a home charging station, as opposed to paying for a garage with that capacity, I would definitely be willing to undertake the other challenges.
The consensus was that everyone except for one person would like to own a Volt, but that living in NYC makes it a difficult proposition, because of the need for a garage to keep it charged. Most of the people would be willing to make adjustments to their driving behavior, and think it’s important for both economic and environmental reasons. Only one person in our sample viewed the vehicle purely through economics. If you evaluate the Volt this way, the numbers don’t add up, unless you’re willing to adjust your driving patterns. But as more charging stations are deployed, and people learn more about the Volt and its benefits, those adjustments should gradually become less of a hurdle.