The first-generation Chevrolet Volt will always have a special place with me. In late 2010 it was the first media drive I ever attended. Here we are nearly seven years later and the car that served as a conduit to my automotive career path still plays a big role in my life. I’ve spent three years now driving a first-generation Volt almost on a daily basis. Here’s what I think of this car.
I’ll never forget the experience. I flew into Detroit Metro Airport at the age of 20, greeted by someone holding up a piece of paper with a Chevrolet bowtie on it. I hadn’t ever lived this life before; I was a marketing major literally from the sticks of Kansas. I was escorted to the hotel side of the airport where a row of 2011 Chevrolet Volt’s awaited me. Nearly all of them were of that silver/blue color that GM made a big deal out of at the time, so I picked one of those to drive myself to the hotel.
Make no mistake, at this point I was nervous as all hell. I’d been to industry events at this point, but not a drive where I actually had to pilot myself from the airport. It’s all good, I’ll just continue to act like I actually know what is really happening and enjoy the car I flew to Detroit to drive in the first place. That’s all I can do, right?
Well, that’s all I did do on my first media launch (the original review here). Fast forward a few years and I’ve been to numerous launch events. Although I’m not an industry veteran just yet, I do know what I’m doing most of the time. But the interesting thing about the Volt launch is that it never really ended for me. My first media launch is still happening today, in fact.
Although my heart is in automotive, my day job actually has little to do with the industry. By day I have the honor of serving as marketing manager for Optic Communications, a company that’s deploying a Gigiabit fiber-to-the-home network in the region in which I reside. I’ve worked here 13 years and everyone knows I’m the resident “car guy.” When it came time for the company to buy new vehicles I, of course, have influence in the process.
It was mid-2014 and my employer was doing what it does best: innovating. We were basically signaling a big middle finger to much of our own industry; something that’s engrained in our 112 year history. I take great pride in the company I work for and wanted to converge my worlds–automotive and telecom–by purchasing plug-in vehicles back before Tesla made it cool to do so.
Of course I advocated for plug-in vehicles. Not only because it was the “cool” thing for our brand to do, but because it was the smart decision financially for the organization. I got my way with the purchase of two mid-level 2014 Chevrolet Volt’s. The company got the financial benefit of that nice $7,500 tax credit per vehicle and the marketing guy (me) got to leverage the plug-in car as a marketing win for a progressive organization in Southeast Kansas.
We bought two identical Volts at the time. One of the two has spent about 90-percent of its life with me behind the wheel.
With me spearheading things, it should come as no surprise that I insisted we have the 240-volt charger installed in our company warehouse. After consulting company engineering and electrical staff, we finally got said charger installed and my Volt has spent most of its life charging in there.
Although I drive said Volt most of the time, I do have to share it (regrettably). At first most of my colleagues were skeptical of the car; assuming its small stature and electric drivetrain made it largely useless for our organization. My network operations colleagues in particular literally laughed at the idea of utilizing the Volt for anything purposeful; as if a router or server wouldn’t even fit in the back!
After the initial skepticism wore off, getting seat time in one of the Volts was like an internal gold rush. Plant and engineering began to realize that when the rear seats of this car are folded down it becomes more useful than some of their own assigned vehicles. Everyone became aware of the fact that the car is actually rather fun to drive when in the right mode; while it became a perpetual game at who can get the most range out of the battery.
While the novelty ultimately faded, the usefulness of the car has not. Our organization has literally put the Volt through just about every scenario; from driving off-road to remote sites, to 80 mph treks to the airport and back all the time. The car has certainly not lived a life of just casual drives from A to B, that’s for sure.
Just recently I was driving the car to the airport on a Saturday morning. We’d had nearly 10 inches of rain in the previous few days, which had led to flooding along some of my path to jet-setting away to my business trip. Refusing to be late to my flight, I took the Volt through the mess; a couple of spots which had several inches of water over the road. Of course, the Volt took it in stride. Actually, having such a low center of gravity thanks to the battery pack in the bottom of the car paid off here.
Even with the long-distance runs to the airport, the car has still managed a 76 mpg lifetime fuel economy average over its 22,000 miles. By our own internal estimates, just the one Volt has saved us from having to buy and burn 590 gallons of fuel since we bought the car; meanwhile it costs $1.67 to put a full charge in it with our current electric rates.
The lifetime fuel economy average is actually at a low point for the car right now, due to the time of year. There is no question the Volt prefers hotter climates, so by the end of summer that average will be considerably higher. In the winter the car is running the engine routinely to keep warm, which provides a noticeable drop in EV range of about 4-6 miles.
As soon as the weather warms up, the range comes back to the car. Even after three years, the car is consistently getting over 40 miles of range on a charge right now. The other day I managed 44 miles of EV range without really trying. Thus far, age is not depleting the battery’s range at all.
Regardless of the weather, we do have some qualms with the car, albeit minor ones. It is difficult to fit four adults in the car comfortably. While the front seats have a shocking amount of legroom, the back has very little, which is a bad combination with the car’s slopping greenhouse. I’m 5’11” and find the backseat of my C43 Coupe to be roomier than the Volt.
Also related to space is the car’s 120-volt charger that is under the cargo floor in the back. Simply put, it is a bitch to get that thing properly fitted in its slot in there. If not properly fitted, it just rattles and causes additional problems. Fortunately it isn’t removed often. Equally annoying is that the car does not default to maximum amps on the 120-volt charger, so each time I charge it at home I have to remember to change the amps on the display before I plug it in. There’s probably a safety reason for this, but it’s annoying. The charger should be smart enough to meter the current it’s getting and adjust accordingly.
Minor annoyances aside, both Volts have been rock-solid reliable. Both have had a couple recalls (like every GM product of this era), and one has had the charge port replaced and the liftgate tightened. I suspect both of the latter issues are more related to use-case than low quality.
To be blunt, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Volt’s reliability. Interior rattles and other gremlins you expect to arise after three years of hard use simply haven’t. If only every GM product was as reliable as their most complex product.
So here I am, seven years after the car came to market, and I’m still driving one. Although the decision has to pass above me, I think it’s safe to say Chevy has repeat buyers in us when it comes to the Volt. Though I have my eye on the Bolt EV for company use next.