The Best-Loved Car in the World

http://www.motherearthnews.com/green-transportation/fuel-efficient-car-review.aspx

I’m feeling missionary tendencies these days. I have found love and I want to share it with the world. As I travel around I keep my eyes open for people who share my beliefs, scanning their cars for signs that they are part of my flock. When I see them, I say a silent “Good On Ya!” I pray for the hordes of unenlightened people, still laboring in darkness, driving conventional internal-combustion automobiles.

bryan welch with chevy voltI think everyone should have a Chevy Volt.

I was gratified when, two weeks ago, Consumer Reports announced that the Chevy Volt was the best-loved car in the world among people who drive one – for the second year in a row. I felt gratified, but not surprised. I got my own Volt in August. I have never loved a car like I love this one.

And I have loved some cars.

There was my rusty, shag-carpeted 1969 Toyota Land Cruiser, vessel of my teen-age dreams. Then I had a 1967 Dodge Power Wagon crewcab pickup. Best truck ever.

A decade ago I developed an obsession with Audis. I blush. They weren’t the most reliable cars; they weren’t the most fuel-efficient; they weren’t the most affordable. They just felt so, so good. They’re pretty, too. If you love driving, don’t get in one. Stronger men than me have fallen.

 Then I met the Volt and it won my heart.

And my head.

I’ve had mine for four months. Symmetrically, over the course of 7,760 miles I’ve averaged 77.6 miles per gallon of gasoline.

Personally, I sacrificed nothing to achieve this efficiency. The car and I took long interstate trips. I habitually drive eight miles per hour over the speed limit. Mea Culpa. In town, I set the Volt for “Sport” mode and myself for “Mild Adrenaline.”

In my normal routine of errands and commuting, I use no gasoline at all. When I go a little too far, like my 110-mile round-trip to the airport, I need the gasoline motor’s assistance to recharge the batteries.

Yet in spite of my lack of personal effort, my fuel savings made my lease cheaper than a sub-compact. Look at the math:

The average passenger car sold in the U.S. in 2011 got about 34 miles per gallon on the highway. So if I had driven 7,800 miles in an average car, over the last four months, I would have burned 229 gallons of gasoline. At $3 per gallon, that’s a cost of about $688. Instead, I burned about 100 gallons of gasoline and $10 worth of electricity. So I’m saving $90 a month in fuel costs compared with an average car, or 25 percent of my lease payment. With the tax incentive and the fuel savings, the Volt’s lease now actually costs me about the same as a typical lease on a $20,000 new car, or maybe less.

power wagon pickupAnd the Volt is no $20,000 car.

I think the car’s interior and driving qualities compare favorably with a BMW 3 Series or an Audi A4. It’s beautiful and comfortable. The cabin is snug but well designed. I’m happy in the front seats. I’m 6’2”; 210 pounds. And that’s not a lean, compact 210 pounds, either. I feel great in the Volt, even on an 800-mile drive to see my in-laws.

If you’re not familiar with the Chevy’s hybrid technology, it differs from other hybrid automobiles in that its propulsion system is strictly electric. There are two electric motors that drive the wheels. The gasoline engine under the hood is simply a generator. When the batteries are depleted to about 25 percent of their capacity the gasoline-powered generator replenishes them.

As a result, the Volt gives very little indication that the gas engine has started. It doesn’t change the car’s driving characteristics at all. And that conserves oil life. With about 8,000 miles on my car I’ve only used about 20 percent of the oil life, because most of the time the gas engine isn’t in use. I may go 40,000 miles or more before my first oil change.

Naturally, I was excited to see that other Volt owners feel the same way I do. We’re the happiest new-car owners in the world. And that, apparently, makes some people angry.

I read about the satisfaction survey on the Wall Street Journal’s website. In addition to being one of the world’s best sources for economic and business news, the Journal maintains an editorial preserve for the antediluvian opinions of several species of dinosaur – not extinct, just obsolete.

The skeptics appear to have two fundamental objections to any claims of success regarding the Volt:

  1. Government subsidies played a role in its development.
  2. Volt owners are smug.

Someone called Charleen Larson wrote,

Satisfaction survey? More like a self-satisfaction survey. 

There aren’t enough Volt owners in the entire United States to fill the seats of a small stadium, yet their smug satisfaction at driving an electric car (it isn’t) and having gotten a huge government subsidy is obvious.” 

69 land cruiserAnd a person self-identified as “Skeptic” wrote,

Do you really think someone who bought one of these feel-good machines would admit they made a mistake?” 

“Ellen” took a more proactive approach:

“…the buyers of the Volt think they are ‘saving the planet,’ i.e., they are left-wing nutcases. So what do you expect, they sure as heck aren’t going to say they were wrong, liberals never do. 

Personally I am going to buy a BMW 640 next year, because I can, and I don’t care about the gas mileage or ‘saving the planet’ for a bunch of liberals to live on.” 

Obviously, Ellen is angry about something other than the existence of a nice electric car.

There was one comment from an engineer whom I instinctively wanted to have over to share a bottle of bourbon and a couple of grass-fed burgers. He called himself “EAP,” and here’s what he had to say,

I’m … a right-wing nut, smoke Marlboro’s, despise Priuses with unmitigated passion, but engineering is engineering. The biggest stain on the Volt (which began engineering in 2006) was Obama’s seal of approval in 2008, which has stigmatized it ever since. It’s a passenger vehicle, not a suppository with wheels, so it doesn’t have much panache with the greens. Conservatives are afraid they’ll be labeled greens, so there the Volt sits in limbo — unless you actually do research and learn before running one’s mouth. Or as some here have, pony up for one and discover their uniqueness and pleasure.” 

Well, Amen.  Unlike “Ellen,” I do want the save the planet for a bunch of liberals – and conservatives and reactionary brutes – to live on. But even if I didn’t, I would love that darn car.