How One Volt Had Me Amped

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Aug 032012

The Shiny Volt I had For 3 DaysIt all started with an alert on my Klout account that said I had a new perk. Up to that point, the perks I had seen available to me were mostly offers resembling what you could find on Groupon or LivingSocial. This particular perk however was about a car. A car? Hmmm… Okay, you got my attention, but I definitely could not afford a new car even if this provided a huge discount. So, I read further and discovered that this perk was offering me three days with a 2012 Chevy Volt at no cost to me! It took me a few times of reading through it all to finally accept that this was actually what it appeared to be. After getting past my initial doubts, I quickly claimed the perk and completed the additional information it required which was basically just selecting from available dates and providing the zip code for where I would like it dropped off. Dropped off? Wow! I wouldn’t even need to go pick it up. The only problem was that the first available date was a full three months away, so I’d have to wait a while.

Well that was then. Today completed my three days with the Volt and I wanted to document and share my experience here on my blog. So here it goes…

Klout? Perk? Free Car? What Are You Talking About?

Every time I talked about this with a friend or a neighbor or a relative, these are the questions they would ask me. So I thought we should get these questions out of the way before I continue.

Klout is a website that (as they say it) “measures influence online” by scoring social network users’ public interactions. Simply put, if someone that has a large number of followers on Twitter interacts with my Twitter account (@erraggy), Kout would boost my score more than interactions with lower follower count users. There are a lot of variables involved and Klout doesn’t share all of the details to their proprietary scoring algorithms. Suffice it to say, my time working at MySpace garnered me connections to some pretty popular people in online media. That and how active I am on all of my social network accounts contributed to getting me past the minimum score of 40 for this perk.

Okay, so now you (hopefully) understand how Klout works, but why would Chevy offer Klout users with a certain minimum score a free car for three days? Well I don’t know for sure, but I would think that Chevy is looking for creative ways to spread the word about this new offering in alternative fuel vehicles. For instance, before reading this post, how many of you knew what makes the Volt different from any other electric vehicle like say the Nissan Leaf? I didn’t know the answer to that question before receiving this perk either. Turns out, the Volt also has a 1.4L Gasoline engine with a 9+ gallon fuel tank. But unlike my Hybrid Prius C, the gasoline engine in the Volt does not send any power to the wheels (not directly at least). Instead, the gasoline engine is only used as an electric generator to both power the electric motor as well as charge the battery. So even though the Volt only offers a range of 36 miles from a fully charged battery (roughly half of the Leaf’s EPA rating), the gasoline engine can kick in after the battery is depleted and take you an additional 326 miles. So by adding these to ranges together, you get an electric motor powered vehicle with a range greater than the recently released Tesla S.

Looking over my previous paragraph, I can see how hard it is to describe the Chevy Volt. However, if I were to have a conversation with you where you could ask me questions about it and I could respond, I’m pretty confident you’ll get a much better understanding. This is why I think Chevy has reached out to Klout and its users by offering this perk.

August 1st, 2012 at 10:00am – The Drop-off

Having pulled a 3am night working to keep Gravity’s huge amount of data moving smoothly through our not-huge-at-all Hadoop cluster (25 nodes), I almost forgot that I would have a visitor stopping by the house at 10am. I awoke just before 9am and got the morning chores out of the way (well all but Sonny’s walk) before 10. The driver called to tell me he was here with the car at 10:30 (small scheduling snafu on the fleet management company, but they handled it well) and I went out to meet him. It was a silver-ish sedan (pictured top-left) and was shiny new and fully loaded with all of the options. I was given the key/fob as well as a key-card for ChargePoint charging stations so I could use them without having to pay out of my own pocket.

After signing some paperwork, my three days began, but I first had to walk a very impatient Sonny (our 2 years old Lab), so even though I got the car handed over by 10:35am, I didn’t even drive it until almost 11. My first jaunt was to Gravity HQ in Santa Monica. After driving my very economical-eco-friendly-but-gutless-as-a-vespa Prius C for a month, the Volt felt very zippy in just normal driving mode. Just for kicks though, I switched it into ‘Power’ mode on the Marina Freeway and I was really impressed by its low-end torque. It’s a weird feeling to step on the accelerator and feel the G-forces but hear no change in noise. Fun though! My drive to work ended with me realizing that I had forgotten to switch the parking permit from my car to the Volt. No biggie. LOL.

Well the drive home was nice as I enjoyed the satellite radio blasting as I ignored the usually annoying traffic all around. The Bose sound system is really nice and the fact that there is just about no engine noise at all, you have a great environment to listen to it in. Even though I had my foot in it on my way to work and had the AC pumping full both directions, I still had six miles of range remaining on the battery when I arrived at home. My one-way distance between home and work is just over 8 miles and the battery was not fully charged when it was delivered, so it showed 26 miles remaining when I got it.

When it came time to charging this baby I was concerned. The house we live in has a single car garage and it is FULL of our stuff that did not fit into the house when we moved in last year. Also, there is only one power outlet and it is almost all the way in the back (furthest from garage door) for the washer and dryer. There is a heavy-duty surge protector that allows us two additional outlets (five-outlet surge protector: washer, dryer, light). I checked the manual and although they do not recommend it, they do state it is acceptable and safe to use an extension cord. The key is that the cord must be 12 gauge or thicker and contain three prongs at both ends. Lucky for me we had just that. The car comes with a charging unit that has about a 12 foot cable and a base that has indicator lights to tell you if you can charge or if there is a problem. After I got it all setup, I had all green lights for a safe and good charge. Charging time showed just under eight hours to full.

August 2nd, 2012 – Full Day

After I was ready to go the next morning, the car was fully charged and ready to go. It now showed 36 miles of range for the battery. I got in and now setup my phone via Bluetooth with ease. It is initiated by a few control button presses, but the rest of the process is all voice command on the Volt’s side of things. I just needed to type the pairing code into my phone as it was read to me. It was nice that the car repeats the code until the pairing is complete. Much easier than me reading the numbers from one screen to enter onto my phone. With the phone now paired and the AC set to ECO Mode, I was off for a day of conservative driving. I wanted to see just how far I could go without getting down to the gasoline engine. Oh, I also remembered to grab that parking permit for the lot near the office. 😉

Now that I had read a good portion of the manual, I tried to let the instruments guide my acceleration and braking more for extending the range of the battery. The gauge I’m referring to resembles a carpenter’s bubble level. With acceleration displayed as the distance above the center mark and braking displayed as the distance below the center mark. They give you an animation of three leaves rotating within the bubble when you are keeping it within the efficient range and a solid bubble when you exceed it. I found you could accelerate pretty good (and faster than my Prius C) while still keeping the cute little leaves, but for some reason, the gauge seemed to be hypersensitive to braking as the slightest stop would pull the bubble below the happy little rotating leaves. This seemed even more odd to me as I know that the Volt incorporates regenerative braking, so I would think more braking, more charging of the battery, more range conserved. Oh well.

Driving in this conservative manner was easier than it is in my Prius; specifically, I could accelerate while keeping the rotating leaves and not frustrate the drivers behind me. So if that’s all it takes for the Volt to get all of those miles it says the battery will take you, I’m impressed. Also as I mentioned earlier, I had now set the climate control to ‘ECO Mode’ whereas it was delivered to me in ‘Comfort Mode’. If you know me well, you’ll know that I can’t take the heat, and when I say heat I mean any temperature higher than 74° F. With ‘Comfort Mode’ enabled, I remain as cool as a cucumber with the desired temperature set to 71° F. In ‘Eco Mode’ however, I needed to set the desired temperature down to 66° F. I’m really not sure if me doing this cancels out the ECO-ness of ‘ECO Mode’, but I can say that it did keep the fan blowing at a much lower RPM than when in ‘Comfort Mode’. I arrived at the parking lot with 29 miles remaining on the battery. I had intended on taking a few fellow Graviteers out to lunch in the Volt, but we had food ordered in so enjoyed the free grub instead and decided I would do some sort of fun driving after work.

When I arrived home that night Thing One & Thing Two (this is how I refer to my daughters publicly online) were so excited and they not only wanted to go for a ride, but they also wanted to bring their friends. This was when I discovered the first thing that I didn’t like about the Volt. The back only seated two, and I don’t mean that it was too small to fit more than two comfortably, I mean there were just two bucket seats with a hard console in between them. I’m assuming something very important was beneath this console, but was frustrated that my tiny Prius C seats more than this much larger sedan.

The kids wanted dinner and a movie, but of course none of the four wanted to be left out. I came up with a plan to allow equal friend ride time. I would make two separate trips with my two kids and one of the friends for each. The kids were satisfied and also had no problems deciding which would ride to get dinner and which would ride to get the movie from the video store. Boy did they enjoy themselves in the Volt. They acted as if they were riding in a plush stretch limo! The highlight of the night of joy riding came in the form of an 80’s hit that came on the satellite radio. Oh Yeah by the Swiss band Yello. I really wish I could have video recorded them for this. I also kept the car in the ‘Sport’ driving mode and would launch it to the speed limit from each light. Good fun for all!

Charging on this night proved to be a little more challenging than I expected. I mean, I had already setup the cords and all the previous night so I didn’t think there could be any issues. Turns out having both the dryer AND the car charger both drawing from the same breaker would prove to be too much. I was alerted to this in two ways. First my wife asked me if I had turned off the lights in the living room, and second when the car sounded an alarm. It wasn’t as loud as if you hit the panic button, but annoying just the same. I resolved to finish the laundry first, and then start charging the car. All’s well that ends well.

August 3rd, 2012 – Final Day

Seeing that so far I had mostly driven the Volt as just a commuter, I decided to take the day off for our last day with it and take the whole family for a drive. Nothing big, but my wife hadn’t even been inside the car yet. We had a very nice time rolling out to Fairfax and 3rd to visit one of our favorite places: Farmers Market. After brunch and minor shopping, we dropped mom off at home and I took the kids to Jamba Juice for a snack and then on to a local park for fun. The service handling drop-off and pick-up was scheduled to pick up the Volt at our house at 4pm. I managed to get home with the kids by 3:30, but one family member had missed out on the Jamba goodness, so I decide to make a run for it in ‘Sport’ mode! I made it to Jamba Juice by 3:37 and wouldn’t you know it the pick-up crew called to let me know they were waiting at my house for the car? They didn’t mind waiting and were fine with me getting it back home by 4. I still had to order. Jamba Juice still needed to make the smoothie, and then I needed to get all the back. It is only 2 miles, but the area is very busy on a Friday at this time so it was a real challenge. All I can say is… I really love that car in ‘Sport’ mode! I made it back home before 4pm and the kids and I waved farewell to the Volt.

What Did I Think Of Chevy’s Volt?

Overall the Volt proved itself to be a wonderful car to drive that the whole family (plus a couple neighbor kids) really loved. Page One Automotive, the fleet service that handled the delivery and pick-up, made the experience really special (please don’t judge them by their website). Without their services, it would have just felt like a cool rental car, but with them it made me feel special and valued. One thing I must point out when it comes to the kinds of cars I’ve owned is that I usually get the version of a model with little or no added options. This version of the Volt was pretty much fully loaded. I checked out Chevy’s website and basically built the version we had and it came out to an MSRP of $45,495. I can honestly say that even though I would love to own one of these wonderful vehicles, I couldn’t even afford their base price of $39,145 much less could I afford one with so many of the things that had me sold on it as a great car. So thank you Chevy. Thank you Page One Automotive. And thank you Klout for providing me with a truly unique and wonderful opportunity!