Everything Awesome and Disappointing About the Chevy Volt

The following two pictures represent both what is great about the Chevy Volt and what is disappointing about the Chevy Volt.

Photo Sep 16, 6 26 56 PMPhoto Sep 16, 6 27 06 PM

This comes from starting with a full charge, almost getting to my destination without using any gas, recharging on a Level 2 for four hours and then driving home.

The Good
3.765 mi/kwh is pretty efficient given that this was all freeway driving in North Los Angeles County (that means a fair amount of hills and mostly 60+mph with the occasional slow-and-go). On the flip side, 3 miles on 0.1 gallons is a measly 30mpg. However, the gas wasn’t really used until the end of the first leg of my trip, which went from 768ft above sea level to 1200ft above sea level.

Great thing about the Chevy Volt is that you have that generator to take you the extra miles. Plus, 97 degrees at 6 at night… It was a hot day outside but plenty cool on the inside with the AC set way down.

That 210 lifetime MPG is really nice too!

The Bad
Obviously, 30MPG isn’t great. However, it was going uphill, which is actually really good. However, it was completely unnecessary given the true size of the Chevy Volt battery. After all, the 2014 Volt has 17.1 kwh battery, which is only 3 wkh less than this total trip that included a second charge.

I was fortunate enough to have access to 240 charging during this trip. Had I only had the trickle charger (8 hour recharge) that GM claims is perfectly acceptable, I would have been blowing fumes for the vast majority of the second leg of my trip. I charged for four hours between legs. The Volt’s measly 3.3 charger didn’t give me a full charge before I had to leave. Were GM to offer a 6.6 charger, I would have been recharged completely and used even less gas than I ended up using on this two legged trip.

Of course, if I needed to run errands after I got back home, I’d be blowing fumes out the back of my Volt unless I waited for hours and hours for my trickle charger at home to get me enough juice to go a few extra miles electric.

Chevy Volt fanboys might look at this and see only the great thing about the fact that the generator allowed me to make this trip with minimal gas usage. Sure, that definitely points to a great feature of the Volt. However, it also points to an annoying feature of the Volt: no extended electric setting. Aside from the painfully slow charge rate of the Volt (which I believe will cost GM thousands of customers with the Volt 2.0), the reality is that this trip didn’t require the use of any gasoline.

If the Volt gave you the ability to set an extended EV range (like the Leaf, Tesla, and every other EV) that gives you an extra 1-3 kwh of battery usage, the gas generator would have never been needed on this trip. Even with just an extra 1kwh, I would have gotten the extra 3 miles I needed to stay 100% electric. I have plenty of other trips that I have taken that far exceed this range, so it’s not like I’m expecting every trip I take to be 100% electric. However, when frequent trips are right outside the cusp the Volt’s 60% battery utilization, it’s plain to see that something as simple as an extended EV setting would be a simple software upgrade for the Volt that would make it all that much more appealing and satisfying to Volt owners.

Better in Every Way
Larry Nitz from GM mentioned some interesting stats the other day when talking about the Volt. A few of the numbers are particularly interesting to me because I think GM interpreted them the wrong way:

  • 60% of volt customers only charge on 110v rather than 240v.
    GM seems to think that this is consumers saying that they are okay with 8 hour charge times. That’s not the case. This is consumers not being willing to invested thousands of dollars for 240 charging when they reap little benefit. Most homes don’t have a 240 that you can just plug your ClipperCreek into and call it a day. Would Volt owners like faster charge times if it wasn’t a multi-thousand dollar investment? Of course. The use of 110 at home is merely because the car sits there for more than eight hours at night most days. Take it out to the beach on the weekend and get ICEd at the public chargers, and your Volt if blowing fumes like any other car.
  • 50% of all volts are at home at any one particular time.
    Well, when it takes you 8 hours to recharge, where else is the Volt going to be. This would also indicate that the Volt isn’t a highly used vehicle. Despite the notion that the Volt is a commuter car, this number would indicate that the Volt is more of a run the local errands car or a secondary to an EV family that uses it for road trips.
  • “Volts plug in on average 10 times per week, not 7. That surprised us. We figured a once a day charge but customers charge more”
    How GM hasn’t interpreted this to mean that a 6.6 charger is needed and 8 hour charge times is NOT completely acceptable is beyond me. My guess is that there is someone at GM who really has a thing for 3.3 chargers and is doing everything they can do to interpret the data to mean that 8 hours of charging is acceptable.
    If the Average Volt is charging more than 7x a week that means that there is data that is significantly skewing the data upwards. It would be interesting to actually see what the standard deviation is on number of weekly charges as well as a scatter chart.

While, I don’t actually have the raw data that GM has, I can easily make a guess as to what the data actually looks like. My guess is that Volt fit into three major categories: 1) Garage Space Consumption, (2) Everyday Local Commuter, and (3) The Work Horse.

The Garage Volt is what makes up the majority of that 50% of all volts are at home number. The Everyday Local Commuter are the people that are okay with the 8 hour charge time because they drive 15 miles to work and 15 miles back at 40 mph and have plenty of range to spare for the gym visit and grocery store. The Work Horse Volts are what skew the plug-in numbers to 10 plug-ins/week vs 7 plug-ins. This isn’t going to be as high as a percentage of the Volt customer base as the other two, but I believe these are the customers that GM should really be courting.

GM has missed their 30K Volts/year sales goals by a gap roughly the size of the Grand Canyon. I believe that’s because the Volt caters to the first two groups rather than the Work Horse Group. If GM wants to see the 30K/year sales volume, they need a Volt that provides more range and a more efficient generator for roughly $40K before tax incentives. That’s entirely possible with a slightly larger battery, an 80% battery utilization instead of 60-65% like the Volt has now, and a more efficient generator with smaller gas tank. Of course, if GM made the 80% battery utilization a software upgrade for current Volt owners, then they could retain a lot of Work Horse customers. Instead, it seems that GM is going to double down on the first two segments. This should net GM roughly the same results they have achieved so far: missed sales goals, new to GM customers, and low repeat.

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