Chris Bagdikian’s Take on the Chevy Volt–I Love it

By Chris Bagdikian

For Paul Gipe, a casual acquaintance from years past, his first opinion of the Chevrolet Volt was that ugliness is skin deep – it looks like the Chevy Cruze, which he does not like.

But as a long-term Volt owner – supposedly the first retail customer in Kern County (serial number 615) – for me beauty, and it is all there, lies beneath the skin. With an engineering background Paul must realize that most new, efficient cars, including his Prius and the Cruze, look roughly the same for the same reason: form follows function. To get the greatest fuel economy and meet other environmental goals the big stuff has already been done: Superior materials technology, sophisticated engine management computers, oxygenated fuels, catalytic converters, infinitely variable transmissions, etc.

Chris Bagdician was a long-time editorial page editor for the Bakersfield Californian. I happened to run into Chris at jury duty and we got to talking about cars and EVs. Chris is a real car guy and I asked him to post his view on the Volt.–Paul Gipe

So what’s left? Everything you get with the Volt: weight savings (there goes the full-size spare tire with an air pump and sealer kit instead); hybrid or pure electric motive power; and aerodynamic efficiency, something that General Motors is unaccountably good at compared to other vehicle manufacturers.

The often unfair stereotype of Roger & Me’s General Motors is that the joint is filled with left-brained engineers who can tinker endlessly but don’t have a spark (sorry!) of right-brain creativity. Phooey. They got it all right with the Volt.

In fairness to Paul, he stands head and some shoulder above me, much of it in long legs, so he may have felt cramped. But as a sports car buff with some amateur racing background, and as a pilot, I love the “cockpit.” Every control is placed logically within fingertip reach, and two video screens can display simple data or thorough information depending on one’s desired level of operation.

More than that, it is safety and performance that count. Combine that with low operating cost, huge environmental benefits, the best factory and dealer support I have ever had from any manufacturer, and the pathfinding leadership impact the Volt has had on every vehicle manufacturer in the world, including the Japanese – they’re all scrambling to catch up.

So, take it from the top:

  • The Volt handles precisely, is quick, nimble and fast (supposedly it will do 100 mph), with phenomenally low rolling resistance due to superior aerodynamics and purpose-built Goodyear Assurance tires. That spells efficiency: In 10,000 miles I have used 50 gallons of fuel costing $195 (at Costco’s $3.89 price), and that doesn’t count the environmental benefits. My former Tahoe burned $3,000 in gas a year (admittedly at higher gas prices, but only slightly). And I recently drove a Ford Taurus for two weeks and dumped $70 worth of gas in the tank doing exactly the same driving I do every day in the Volt. I was never comfortable in the Taurus, it didn’t handle nearly as well, didn’t have the Volt’s environmental benefits, and the sight lines were much worse. And the electricity cost offset to operate the Volt is negligible (in the interest of full disclosure I have solar panels on my house, which helps).
  • The Volt is not a hybrid, at least not by the casual definition of an electric car whose engine runs almost all of the time (i.e., a Prius). And it is not a pure electric (the Nissan Leaf). GM properly calls it a plug-in extended-range electric. It does away with range anxiety (what happens when the battery runs out??). But the engine (same as in the econo version of the Cruze) only comes on to generate power when the battery depletes – you can’t even make it drive on gas until that happens. You can drive from Barrow, Alaska, to Key West, Florida, without ever using gas, or, alternately, plugging in depending on how you manage the trip. (Interestingly, GM recently queried Volt owners to see if they wanted to add charging stations to the on-board GPS routing options).
  • Reliable and safe are Volt watchwords. As much as is possible, everything is electric (steering, brakes, motive power, air conditioning, etc.). Gone are so many of the mechanical parts that cause problems – drive shafts, universal joints, pitman arms, high-pressure pumps. And as a friend found out after a collision, GM put more high-strength steel in place of mild steel in the car than most manufacturers do. No wonder it aced so many safety crash tests, the feds’ botched battery crash issue not withstanding.

In short, the Volt is everyman’s everyday car – no need for a city daily driver and a road car if you want a great car to drive, get great economy, care about the environment, global warming and energy efficiency. It took far too long, but GM’s new advertising campaign finally got it right:

“I love my Volt” (and it doesn’t look that bad to me — in fact, it is kind of cool!).