This past weekend, I was in Dallas to attend the Electric Vehicle Showcase at the Texas State Fair. Texas may not immediately come to mind whenever talk about electric cars creeps into conversation. After all this is oil country, right? But it's also wind country. Of the top 5 states producing the most wind energy, Texas ranks number one, according to the American Wind Energy Association's latest numbers from 2009. Here they are:
- Texas 9,405 MW
- Iowa: 3,670 MW
- California 2,723 MW
- Washington 1,908 MW
- Oregon: 1,821 MW
The state is also building out 400 miles of transmission lines that will help export wind energy generated in west Texas as far away as Atlanta, Ga., where wind energy capability is practically nonexistent.
What does wind energy have to do with electric vehicles? Ideally, charging stations would get their electricity from a renewable source, such as wind, and not from coal- or natural gas-fueled power stations.
While at the showcase, I had the chance to attend an Executive Panel discussion (summarized nicely here on the Smart Grid Security Blog), and test drive Chevy's new electric vehicle, the Volt. Technically the Volt is a hybrid electric vehicle, in that it has a gas engine. But the gas is never used to drive the car's transmission as it is in other hybrid cars. As Alyssa Danigelis points out in her blog post EV Smackdown: Volt Vs. Leaf, the Volt's 72 hp gasoline engine only serves to recharge the battery, when the battery gets low. This extends how far a driver can actually go in the Volt.
My assessment: The exterior of the car is attractive. I think it looks sporty and modern. And I would say the same about the inside, as well. The dashboard lights up with icons to tell you about the energy you're capturing while braking and it also tells you how much charge is left on the battery.
The car has good pickup, although I couldn't really test this to my satisfaction. The test track at the State Fair was small and super curvy, allowing me to get up to only about 30 miles per hour. That was a little disappointing. It did feel pretty stable and I was told that the battery runs down the bottom center of the car, giving it a low center of gravity.
The inside of the car felt a little tight, though. I'm 5'9" tall, and need more headroom than this car offers. Visibility through the windshield also seemed somewhat cramped.
Overall, I think it's a good start, and that many folks would be happy to drive this car.
Now, let's get to your questions. Before I left for Dallas, I asked you over Twitter and Facebook to send me your questions about the Volt. Here they are, along with the answers, which were provided to me by Monte Doran, of Chevrolet.
How far does the Volt go on one charge?
With a full charge and a full tank, the Volt will travel up to 350 miles without stopping.
With a full battery, the Volt will travel between 25 to 50 miles using only electric power. That range was developed based on a Department of Transportation survey that indicated 76 percent of Americans drive less than 40 miles, every day.
Once the battery power is depleted, the Volt has a 1.4-liter, gasoline-powered engine creates electricity to extend the driving range. With a full tank, the Volt could drive up to an additional 310 miles before stopping to refuel or recharge.
Does the charge last the same in wintertime/when its cold?
Like traditional fuel economy, electric range will vary based on terrain, driving techniques and the ambient temperature. To help reduce the effect the winter cold (or the summer heat) has on driving range, the Volt features the only mass-produced, climate-controlled battery. In temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit, the system warms the battery to provide full electric power. In temperatures as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit the system cools the battery during charging to improve long-term reliability.
How long does the battery last over the life of the car? (Warranty?)
The Volt battery carries an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty.
What's its top speed?
The Volt is speed-limited to 100 miles per hour.
What's its acceleration?
The Volt is surprisingly quick, accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than nine seconds, and crosses the quarter mile in less than 17 seconds.
How many does it seat?
The Volt has two rows of bucket seats, for four people.
What kind of maintenance can an owner expect to have to deal with over the life of the car?
In some ways, the Volt will require less routine maintenance than a regular car. For example, the engine maintenance on a Volt is based on usage, not mileage. As such, some drivers may go a long as two years between oil changes.
In addition, the Volt’s four-wheel disc brakes are expected to last a lot longer on than those on a traditional car. The Volt’s regenerative braking system uses the electric motors to slow the vehicle, converting momentum into electricity. The process will reduce the use of the disc brakes by as much as 90 percent, dramatically increasing their useful life.
Is there a warning sound for pedestrian safety?
Yes. Because the Volt operates so quietly in all-electric mode, a driver-activated feature sounds a noise to alert nearby pedestrians. The alert was developed in conjunction with the American Federation of the Blind.
Is it worth $41,000?
The Volt’s manufacturer’s suggested retail price will start at $41,000, including destination, or $33,500, if the buyer qualifies for the full $7,500 federal tax credit.
The Volt will also be available to lease monthly payment as low as $350 for 36 months. That payment is based on the MSRP minus the full $7,500 tax credit, as well as $2,500 due at lease signing.
Where can I charge it?
If you can recharge a cell phone, you can recharge the Volt. It comes equipped with a 20-foot, 120-volt charging cord that plugs into a household electrical outlet. Using a 120-volt outlet, recharging the battery from empty to full will take 10 to 12 hours. Some customers will chose to install a 240-volt charge station, which will recharge the Volt in about four hours.
Editor’s Note: If you live in Austin, Tex., Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Fla., Sacramento, Calif., the San Jose/San Francisco Bay Area, Redmond, Wash., or Washington D.C., you qualify to apply for a free, networked charging station.
How safe is it?
The Volt is designed to provide safety before, during, and after a crash. To help drivers avoid a crash, the Volt features many standard safety features including anti-lock brakes, traction control, and StabiliTrak vehicle stability control. During a crash, the Volt offers the production of a robust structure – 80 percent of which is high-strength steel – and eight standard airbags. Following a crash, Volt offers the security and peace-of-mind of OnStar, which can contact emergency personnel with the vehicle’s exact location and information about the crash severity.
In addition, GM engineers have completed more than 1 million miles, and 4 million hours, of testing just for the Volt battery pack. Engineers have subjected batteries to the worst possible scenarios, including short circuits, corrosion, dust, impacts, water submersion, crush-and-penetration tests, and extreme temperature swings combined with aggressive drive cycles.