Chevy Volt Review – That was fun!

This past weekend I got to test-drive a Chevy Volt, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. While I still have some concerns about the price, and whether the upfront capital expense is worth the gas savings down the line, I would actually enjoy owning one.

First, let’s address the battery range. If you’re fortunate enough where you can charge both at work and at home, you can probably go for a year on a single tank of gas. After a full charge, the dashboard claimed that I could go 30 to 35 miles, but I easily got 40+. Sure, this depends on your driving, and I was fairly gentle on the gas and the break paddle – keeping the green ball happy! (See the picture of the dashboard). I’ve also found a fair number of public charging stations, with quite a few offering free juice! Thanks Santa Monica!

Side note about charging: while some charging stations are free to use, others do require a payment. One of them was $2/hour, or $1.50/hour with membership. This really made no sense to me. It takes about 4 hours for a full charge, so even at the reduced rate this would be $6 for a “full tank” or about 40 miles in electric only mode. Considering that gas is $4.50/gallon, and that the Volt will easily get over 40 mpg in hybrid mode, it makes no economic sense to pay for charging more than a $1/hour. In fact, charging at home is about a $1 for a full charge, depending on your electricity rates, which is a nice saving.

The car is quite comfortable, even for a taller guy. While it’s sure no Escalade, four adults can comfortably fit in. The trunk space is decent, although a bit shallow. It’s one of those funny things where some folks may complain “What if I need to move something giant… like say my brand new 60” TV?” Well, no, you won’t be able to fit it in, but you also won’t need to do that very often. In fact, most people rarely need more space than a Fiat 500, yet we’ll buy an 18-wheeler “just in case”. But I digress. (The book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely explains this tendency to overvalue optionality very well.) My point is that there is enough space for four adults and the usual amount of junk in the trunk.

The technology part of it is done well. The interfaces are generally easy to use and intuitive. Some of the displays can be a bit distracting when driving, but I’m guessing that’s just the new car effect that would wear off after a week or so. The part that may require some getting used to is the regenerative breaking, and figuring out when it happens. For example, letting go of the accelerator can result in it. Generally, I would say not to worry about it, and just focus on the road first and on that green display ball second. If the ball is green and centered, you’re efficient. If you hit the gas or break hard, you’re not.

Overall, the car was a fun commuting experience. I put 122 miles on it while using just 0.1 gallons of gas and 3 free charges. That makes for a fuel cost of $0.003 per mile, which can’t be beat.

Chevy Volt Dashboard

Cheese Powered Car

I just saw an article about this, and it sounds like a pretty awesome idea. In a nutshell: the researchers used cheese manufacturing waste, fed it to some hungry yeast, and voila – you have bio-diesel.

Of course, it’s not that simple, and I wonder what the total process costs and efficiency are, but it sure sounds like a great idea. They are taking waste that’s already there, and turning it into something useful. I also wonder on the net greenhouse gas impact of this – and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s positive. It all depends on how would this waste otherwise be disposed of.

The team also had some fun with it! Not only they made the fuel and tested it, but they also aimed at setting the new ground speed record for a bio-fueled vehicle!

Read more on their site if you’re curious.They have some neat pictures too.

Gas Prices

I’ve been keeping track of my gas mileage for a while, and as part of that I’ve been noting the gas price paid as well. I figured it would be interesting to plot this data, and see what the pump gas price has been over the past few years.

What I’m showing is the price I paid at the pump on a given day. There is some “noise” in the data, as I didn’t keep the gas station constant, but the difference in markup among the stations I normally use shouldn’t be more than 10-20 cents, so the overall trend can still be observed.

It is tempting to draw a straight line through the last 40 months or so, and assume that prices will keep rising at about 50 cents per year. Of course, this is ignoring that significant dip you see in second half of 2008…

While most of us dread high gas prices, there is some silver lining to it. Back in 2008, the relatively sudden spike actually resulted in reduced traffic congestion on the LA freeways! Less traffic and less resulting emissions are a good thing.