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Claude Cartaginese

The New Chevy Volt is GM’s Answer. Now, What Was the Question Again?

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Posted on August 13 2009 12:48 am

Chevy Volt

One doesn’t usually tune in to the Rachel Maddow show for car reviews, but there is quite a buzz in the media these days about the new General Motors electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, and Maddow doesn’t want to be left behind.

Can anyone blame Maddow for being excited? Who wouldn’t be enthused after hearing about GM’s recent announcement that the Volt, which is expected to herald a new dawn for the company when it is released next year, will get the equivalent of a staggering 230 miles-per-gallon!

I’ll take two of them!

Before you trade in your Prius, however, there some things you should know.

First of all, have a look at the photo of the car. It kind of makes you wonder whether Barack Obama also dismissed GM’s entire design team when he fired former Chief Executive Rick Wagoner earlier this year.  The Volt is U-G-L-Y! Can this car really have come from the same design studio that gave us the Corvette or the new Camaro? Of course, that’s just one writer’s opinion (and beauty is said to be subjective), but a car this homely had better be a real screamer.

So how does it perform?

Let’s start with the much-vaunted 230 mile-per-gallon figure. Is it accurate? Depends. You don’t like to drive with the air conditioning on in the hot weather, or run the heat in the cold weather, do you? If you do, it’ll cost you some precious mpg’s.

And how far is your commute? Chevy says the car has a range of “up to” 40 miles. It’s probably less. (Does the vehicle you currently own achieve the mileage figures that were advertised when you bought it?) And it’s probably a good idea not to get stuck in traffic. As the car runs only on electricity for those first “up to” 40 miles, the battery is draining while you’re sitting there (while hopefully not baking in the hot summer sun or shivering during a February deep freeze) waiting for the traffic to move again.

What about re-charging the batteries? Well, that might be easier for some than for others. Do you own your own home? If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t buy a Volt, since recharging stations aren’t really ubiquitous, and running an extension cord up to the 7th floor of your condo building might not be practical. By the way, Chevy doesn’t really give you any idea of what the cost of re-charging the batteries is, but hopefully you don’t live, like many of us do, in an area of the country where electricity rates are obscenely high.

Do you have a lot of free time? If not, recharging the Volt around your schedule might pose a challenge (unless you’re not in a hurry to take off again anytime soon). As the Volt will take anywhere from 8-10 hours to recharge, you may have to keep your Prius anyway if you need to make a mad dash to the local Whole Foods Market for groceries. The Volt does have a “small gas engine,” but GM doesn’t really tell us that much about it. The new battery design is what GM is emphasizing.

Oh, yes, let’s not forget to talk about the batteries! The batteries powering the Volt are the latest in lithium-ion technology. Never mind that it’s South Korean technology (the battery components will be produced by LG Chem, a South Korean company, which will send the components to Detroit for final assembly). If the Volt is successful, we may finally be able to reduce our dependence on those unstable Middle Eastern states for our supplies of oil.

By the way, does anyone know where the lithium comes from? It comes, primarily, from Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Tibet and China. Not exactly islands of political stability, but we should all have faith in our government’s capacity to find alternate sources, should the need arise. (Now might be a good time to start the debate about offshore drilling for lithium.)

One last thing about the batteries: they’re going to be expensive. Very expensive. So expensive, in fact, that the Volt may not even come equipped with a battery at the time of purchase. You might have to lease it separately from another company. For the first time ever, car buyers will have the opportunity to have both a monthly car payment and a monthly battery payment!

Sounds like a sweet deal.

And how much will the Chevy Volt cost? You can have it for about $40,000. Batteries not included.

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