My Volt Love Story

2008 Chevy VoltWhen I saw the first production design Volt in 2008, I was fascinated.  It was a great looking car, and the idea of running on electricity was particularly alluring.  Now, if the truth be told, I had not been a fan of GM since I was a kid coveting the Camaro or many other of their muscle cars.  The beginning of my spiral down was when we went through five clutches on our ’74 Vega before discovering that the flywheel was actually off balance.  And I continued to shake my head with disgust over the years at the declining quality of GM’s cars.

I’m pretty sure I saw Who Killed the Electric Car after I discovered the Volt, but I was certainly pleased to see GM offering an EV again.  What was particularly appealing to me was the backup generator that would allow you to drive an EV most of the time, but still have the flexibility of driving long distances.  Frankly, I think their ingenious EREV platform will help us make the transition from ICE to electric.

So when GM began rolling out Volts in 2011, of course we had to wait before they’d be available in St. Louis.  I went to the St. Louis Auto Show in January 2012, and waited 45 minutes to drive a Volt around a small portion of the Edwards Jones Dome that was the home of the St. Louis Rams at the time.  It was an excruciatingly slow maximum of 5 mph, so it was hardly the thrill of actually driving a Volt.  It wasn’t much more than just sitting in the driver’s seat while it was creeping along.  So as enthusiastic as I remained about the car, it was a relatively unsatisfying drive.  And I lamented that I could never spend that kind of money on a car.

I happen to work for a company called Microgrid Energy, and one of our product offerings besides solar is the ChargePoint EV charging station.  So when we installed one at Washington University in 2012 (and a solar parking canopy over it later in 2014), I represented our company at the ribbon cutting ceremony.  One of the major donors on the project had proudly parked his red Volt at the charging station, and saw me ogling his car with wishful eyes.  “Would you like to take it out for a spin?” he asked.  “Seriously?”  I tried to mask my excitement as I considered the opportunity in front of me.  In no time I was behind the wheel, asking questions about how long he’d had it and how he liked it.  When we got out on an open parkway, I asked him if he minded me exploring the acceleration of the electric power.  Once again, he smiled at my giddiness and welcomed me to punch it.  While it certainly didn’t match the power of a 396 in a ’69 Camaro, I was impressed.  I was hooked.

I started exploring the internet to learn more about the Volt and the various options available, and found a number of great lease deals that lead me to believe the car was more affordable than I thought.  When I factored in the $150 or more that I would not be spending on gas each month in my Honda Civic Hybrid, the $338 monthly lease payment didn’t seem so out of reach.  We had just installed a solar array on our home earlier that year, and I was already taking a fairly hefty tax credit, but by leasing the car I could let the leasing company leverage that incentive.

So on December 27, 2012, I celebrated a belated Christmas present under the trees on either side of our driveway.  I finally had the car that I’d dreamed about four years earlier, in the same color silver that GM teased us with in their marketing.  I’d heard it was important to get the heated seats, so that was the only option I opted for.  (How I wished the leather-wrapped steering wheel was also heated in the bitter cold winters!!  That became my primary reason for wanting the Gen 2!)

My appreciation for this car has actually grown over time, and it has hands-down garnered the title My Favorite Car Ever.  It’s solid, smart, quick, and good looking.  I have become an avid advocate for EVs, and the Volt in particular, and have been invited to speak about the economic benefits of EVs to several organizations.  I can’t understand why more people don’t realize what a great car it is.

When the Gen 2 came out, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the new body style and lamented the loss of some of the features of the Gen 1, like the dash stash and chirp horn.  But, having spent three cold winters with freezing hands, I was committed to upgrading when my 3-year lease was up.  My expectation was that by December 2015, the new Volts would have been around for a while, and I could probably find a good deal on a lease.  Then GM decided to ship all of their ‘16s to the 11 CARB states, leaving me stranded without an option.  I was told that Missouri would start receiving shipments of the ‘17s by February or March 2016, and that I could extend my lease up to 90 days.  So while it might be tight, I seemed to have a workable plan.

Then I found out that GM would not actually start production of the ‘17s until February or March.  Once again, I was feeling stranded.  So I started looking outside Missouri to see if I could lease a ’16 from one of the CARB states, and got mixed information from dealers on both coasts before I confirmed that GM was not offer a leasing program.  All of this was happening in the days leading up to Christmas, and a lot of dealer reps were beginning to wind down for the holidays.  I was definitely feeling left in the lurch.

My own dealer felt relatively helpless, other than to sell or lease me a ’15.  But remember, my primary desire for the Gen2 (besides the extended EV range, of course) was that heated steering wheel!  In fact, the body style was beginning to grow on me, even if it wasn’t as edgy as the Gen 1.  I would have loved to buy my own Volt, but my lease agreement required that I pay the residual value of $26,250 for the vehicle.  Which was totally out of line with what you could buy a used ’13 Volt with only 32,000 miles on it.  I’d shopped and saw other Volts going for $15-16K, but I wanted mine because it had exactly what I wanted on it, and I knew it had been well cared for.

So I asked my dealer what would happen to mine once I turned the lease back in, and they said they’d sell it to another buyer, but it couldn’t be me because of the lease agreement.  So, since only my name was on the lease, I asked them if my wife could purchase the car, and they said there was nothing to prevent that.  So, the end of that chapter is that we happily bought the car for $15.5K.

SOLR EVSo now that “we” own the vehicle, I finally decided – for the first time ever – to put personalized plates on the car.  I’ve had a number of ICE holdouts assert that I’m still burning fossil fuels because of our coal-based grid power, but we produce more than enough solar power to charge the car every day.  So, my SOLR EV tags are a great reminder of the future of electric vehicles!

This essay was written to be included in a book about Volts that is being circulated among owners around the country to share their own love stories.  Thanks to Samuel Barber for spearheading the idea!

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