LIFE’S BOOKENDS: MY TWO, RED CHEVY “V’s”

From my 1973 Vega to my 2019 Volt, it seems that red Chevy’s may well provide bookends to my new car buying life.  They were both very memorable occurrences.

I remember well buying my very first new car back in 1973 when I was just 21 and had spent about a year in the Air Force.  It cost a whopping $3300.  I bought it from a Chevy dealer in the little town of Smyrna Delaware, which was just north of the Dover AFB.

Lifes Bookiends - My two Vs - Roger and Vega 1973 2

It was the first of a long line of station wagons (all the better to carry my golf clubs) and also manual transmission cars which I have owned.  In fact, I learned to drive the manual, or at least somewhat perfected  my manual transmission driving, on my way driving back to the Air Base after picking up the car.

I have often said that I owned that Vega from birth to death, when the very rusted out old girl committed suicide in the early 80’s.  It did what ?

I was playing racquetball one night when I received a call at the club from my wife who said that she had heard a loud noise outside of our house.  When I got home, I quickly discovered the source of the noise.  Near the back of our driveway, it tilted down slightly into our backyard.  The Vega had somehow let itself out of Park, rolled back down the driveway into the yard, and crashed into a tree.  I always thought that was kind of a fitting end.  Rust or not though, I got 93,000 miles out of her.

Fast forward 46 years, through about ten or so other cars – a few new, and a few leased (but always manual transmission if at all possible) – and it brings us to the present and my new, 2019 Chevy Volt.

Lifes Bookiends - My two Vs - Roger and Volt 2019.jpg

Ever since I passed on the opportunity to buy the hybrid Toyota Priius years earlier, I had it in my mind that my next, and perhaps my final new car would embrace electric technology.  I first test drove a Volt back in 2017.  Two of my best friends purchased their Volt, a 2018, based in at least part I believe on my very positive impressions of my test drive.

I was going to wait for the 2020 model of the Volt which I hoped would be a Gen 3, and perhaps contain some significantly updated features.  Alas, thanks to the highly questionable (at best) marketing strategy of GM, the 2020 model was not to be.  When GM announced the layoff of about 15,000 workers in late summer 2018, those workers included all who were involved in the production of the Volt at both their U.S. and Canadian manufacturing facilities.

I also quickly found out that the full, Federal Electric Vehicle tax credit on the Volt was triggered to sunset, beginning at the end of March 2019 and ending for good at the end of March 2020.  That ended because Chevy sold their 200,000th electric vehicle (either the Volt or the all-electric Bolt) in October of 2018.

In order to get that full tax credit, I began searching in earnest in December of 2018.  I originally tried to order a new Volt with the expectation that I would take delivery prior to March 31st and therefore get the full tax credit.  What both I, and the local Chevy dealerships discovered was that by mid-December, GM was no longer even accepting orders on new Volts.

There were incredibly few 2019 Volts on lots anywhere, much less ones that had the minimum options that I wanted.  Having also decided at the last minute that I wanted one in Cajun Red, that even further limited my options.

What I eventually determined that was that there were only three dealerships in the southwest U.S. that had a 2019 Volt on their lot with my preferred options.  One dealership was in southern California and the other two were on either side of Las Vegas.  I eventually decided to work with the two Vegas area dealerships and hopefully pit them against one another for my business.

It turns out that the two Vegas dealers were sister dealerships (same owner but different locations).  The car I wanted was the same one that they both had access to in their inventory.   With the help of Edmunds.com, I feel as though I was able to negotiate a good deal and I flew out to Las Vegas right after Christmas to make the purchase.

After spending a night at the Palace Station Casino in Vegas, where I took advantage of their complimentary car charging, I made the drive back from Vegas to my home here near Albuquerque New Mexico.  We have since also just come back from a trip to Phoenix.  Those are the only two times so far that I have used ANY gas in my Volt.

 

A little about Volt technology …

For those of you perhaps unfamiliar with the Chevy Volt, here are a few basics as to how it works, and how it differs from hybrid cars like the more well-known Toyota Priius.

The Volt is a PHEV – a Plug-in, Hybrid Electric Vehicle.  Unlike normal hybrids, it is powered strictly by electricity.  If you have never driven an electric car, don’t underestimate its responsiveness.  It has a lot of get-up-and-go if you need it.  Unlike most ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) powered cars, when you turn on the Volt, it immediately has full access to the power generated by its electricity.

Lifes Bookiends - My two Vs - PriiusA hybrid Toyota Priius operates on a combination of gas and electricity.

It is always using a combination of the electricity and gas to power its internal combustion engine.  Electricity is generated and used to help power the vehicle and thereby reduce its dependence upon gas alone.  That is why the Priius has typically had some of the best ratings for miles per gallon of any ICE vehicle (historically 50-60 mpg).

The battery in the Priius never has to be plugged in to be recharged.  It is constantly regenerating charge while you are driving, primarily when the brake is used.  Since the Priius does run primarily on gas, there is no range limit since you simply fill it up with gas the way you would with any other ICE powered vehicle.

The all-electric Chevy Bolt, as well as other perhaps better known all-electric cars like the Tesla, are also powered strictly by electricity as is the Chevy Volt.  Lifes Bookiends - My two Vs - Bolt.jpg

The difference is that all electric vehicles must be plugged in and recharged once the battery charge runs out.  Since the range of miles they can be driven is still generally less than 300 (except for the Tesla Model S 100D, which is rated in excess of 500 miles per charge), if you want to take a long trip, you better plan a route that has charging stations along the way.  Either that, or use your second car – a Volt.    Lifes Bookiends - My two Vs - Happiness Emoji

Which brings us back to the PHEV Chevy Volt.  Depending upon your circumstance, it really is close to the best of both the ICE and the all-electric worlds.

Lifes Bookends - My Two Vs - Volt in the Sun

As mentioned earlier, the Volt is powered strictly by an electric motor.  It has a large, lithium-ion battery which can provide up to 60 or miles per full battery charge (it is rated for 53 miles), depending upon temperatures, driving conditions and your personal driving habits.  When the battery is fully discharged, the Volt’s small ICE engine generates the electricity needed to power the vehicle … but it is still electricity alone that powers the car.  When using gas to generate the electricity, the Volt is rated at 42 mpg.

All other PHEV cars that I know of, except for the Honda Clarity, have an all-electric range of less than 30 miles, most closer to 20.  That greater all-electric range is what really sets the Volt apart from all other PHEV’s.

But what also sets the Volt apart from other PHEV’s is that you have more control over when to use gas at all.  It has a driving mode (Normal) that allows you to exclusively use the kilowatt hours (kWh) generated by the battery to power the car.  Even in other PHEV’s, my understanding is that some gas is still used in some conditions, such as when producing heat for the climate system or when driving at highway speeds.

Conversely, the Volt also has another driving mode (Hold) that allows you to exclusively use gas to generate the electricity to power it.  Using the battery to generate power for highway speeds is not nearly as efficient as using the gas.  So, for example, when I made those long trips, once I got on the highway, I used Hold mode and I got 45-50 mpg when I kept my speed under 70 mph.  However, when I drove around the city in Vegas or Phoenix, I switched back to Normal mode to use the battery exclusively which gets better range than I would otherwise get using gas.

Since the 60+ miles of all electric range is more than enough to get me through a typical day of driving here in the Albuquerque metro area, with the exception of those two trips (Vegas to Albuquerque, and Albuquerque to Phoenix and back), I have not otherwise used a drop of gasoline since purchasing my Volt almost two months ago.

 

Big deal, so you’re not using gas … or so I still sometimes hear.

I still have yet to do extensive comparisons as to exactly how much the extra cost of electricity is saving me over the cost of regular gas fill-ups.  I am confident that there are savings – just not sure yet how much.

But raw cost is only a small part of the equation.

Lifes Bookiends - My two Vs - Look at my green car.jpg

That is such a typical argument against the use of electric vehicles – that you are simply trading the use of exhaust pipes on cars for coal-fired smoke stacks.

I am not about to, nor am I particularly qualified, to get down into the weeds of how kWh’s generated of electricity compare to the gasoline used in an electric vehicle.

But while there are many factors that I believe argue most favorably for using electricity rather than gas to power vehicles, here is the one that I find to be the most compelling.

A car run on electricity is WAY more efficient than one run by an ICE.

  • Cars run on electricity utilize up to 80% of the electricity generated to power the automobile.
  • A gas, internal combustion engine is less than 30% efficient in using the gas to power the automobile.

So which is better – having large, centralized power plants, which currently still rely heavily on coal (but will not do so forever, despite what some people would like us to believe), generate the electricity to efficiently power millions of vehicles, or instead having millions upon millions of incredibly inefficient gas powered engines literally in every civilized corner of the Earth, and in the air, continue to pollute our planet and our atmosphere?

Doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me.

 

All that notwithstanding, though, the Volt is just plain fun to drive.  I enjoy trying to drive efficiently in such a way as to squeeze as many EV miles out of the battery as I can.  But I also know that it has a lot of pep if I want or need it.

I also REALLY like not having to use virtually any gas at all, and to generate almost no pollutants, but still not being limited when I do want to take the occasional more lengthy trip.

As you may no doubt be able to tell, I am a very happy new Volt owner.  If this does happen to be the last new car that I ever buy, then my two “V’s” – my Vega and my Volt – will indeed have provided excellent bookends to my life’s car ownership experience.

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