Buying a 2012 Chevy Volt

Silver 2012 Volt

I’ve owned mostly German and Japanese cars, so when we traded in the Subaru Legacy for a 2010 Chevy Equinox last year, it was quite a leap of faith. A Government Motors vehicle in my garage? Strange but true. We have been impressed with just about everything – utility, handling, comfort, reliability, styling. And had we not been so impressed with the ‘Nox, I don’t think I would have remotely considered such a radical new GM offering such as the Chevrolet Volt.

My current ride is a 128i, which is the minimum recommended dose of Ultimate Driving Machine that money can buy. It is an altogether great car. Fun to drive, reliable, sporty, comfortable. It is one of the most fuel efficient cars that BMW makes, but even so, I get a real world average 24 MPG driving to and from work, during commute traffic, with a grandfatherly absence of sportiness. On weekends, it sits in the garage, and we use the Equinox. The coupe format makes it difficult to get the little man in and out when I’m on pickup or dropoff duty. So the car is optimized for a degree of sportiness over efficiency that just doesn’t suit my usage.

My first opportunity to check out the Volt was at Maker Faire in May. It definitely looked bad-ass, and seemed to be everything I was hoping for. Comparable in size to my 128i, four doors, with a fit and finish that seemed even better than the already excellent Equinox. Not long after, I got in touch with Tony at Courtesy Chevrolet in San Jose. When we were shopping for the Equinox, we found Tony after being thoroughly disappointed with the sales experience at the closer Dublin Chevrolet. He gave us a great deal, and made it easy as could be. Turns out that Tony is Mr. Volt at Courtesy, and gave me the scoop on everything I wanted to know.

We took a test drive, and the deal was sealed before I drove off the lot. Clearly, the Volt is an exotic novelty of automotive technology, but 1) it drives and handles just like a normal car, and 2) if it was possible to drive an iPad, this is what it would be like. It is a remarkable combination of ordinary and transformational.  Just like an iPad connects to the same Internet as the desktop PC in my office, the Volt drives on the same roads and delivers the same functionality as an ordinary car. But the experience of driving a Volt for the first time, similar to using an iPad, is like stepping through a portal into the future. In this alternate future, some things are left behind and missed: a real keyboard, a real back seat. The shortcomings, however, are easily eclipsed by the experience offered by this new platform.

EPA Estimated Energy Costs

For my normal commute, the all-electric range of the car will get me to work and back without having to use any gasoline at all, or recharging, which is quite remarkable. I expect that I’ll gladly burn some petrol for the comforts of heat and air conditioning. Maybe I’ll be able to plug in at work and avoid the need for gas altogether. Beyond the convenience and energy efficiency, the Volt also offers an impressive array of wizardry, connectivity, and creature comforts the likes of which I haven’t seen anywhere outside of an Apple Store. So there was no doubt that I wanted to own this car.

The true cost of a Volt is not easy to discern. The sticker price for a well equipped Volt is in the range of $43,700, which certainly seems like quite a premium relative to other small cars. But that is offset by a federal tax rebate of $7,500, and possibly state incentives as well. Fuel (energy) costs are a big factor, too. I figure that the cost of electricity and gasoline for the Volt will be at least half of what it is for my 128i, with the savings greater as the cost per gallon inevitably increases. Then there’s resale value, which is a complete mystery for a new creature like the Volt. The folks at Edmunds.com have a total cost of ownership calculator which attempts to factor in all of these things, including maintenance, fuel costs, and all the rest for a five year period. Here’s a breakdown of what they call the “true cost to own” for several cars that I might compare with the Volt.

5-Year Total Cost of Ownership (edmunds.com)

The Courtesy Difference

This is where we need to take a brief detour to discuss the practice of Market Price Adjustments, also affectionately known as Price Gouging. There are some interesting discussions about this at gm-volt.com, along with lots of other great information. The supply of Volts is limited and demand is high, so some dealerships have elected to avail themselves of the benefits of such market economics. Particularly in Silicon Valley, there are plenty of folks that can afford to pay whatever the dealer asks, so in some sense its hard to fault the dealer for taking their money. As of June 2011, Courtesy Chevrolet has chosen this path. By doing so, they actually have Volts available on the lot for folks that are willing to pay $5,000 or more over MSRP. I’m in no rush to buy a Volt immediately, and Courtesy wasn’t willing to sell one at MSRP, nor order one with a commitment to sell it at MSRP. Certainly they have a right to opportunistically sell Volts above sticker, but they will not sell one to me. Dealers engaging in such practices will likely suffer long term damage to their reputation and credibility for doing so. They have offended the sensibility of early-adopters and influencers, and we have a good memory.

On the other hand, there are also dealers that have elected to sell Volts at GM’s recommended sticker price. Dealers owned by AutoNation are in this category, as are others I’m sure. I recall that when my brother was in the market for a new Corvette C5, the same “opportunistic” pricing practices were prevalent, and Kerbeck Chevrolet in Atlantic City was one of the few that took the high road and gave him a fair deal. I’ve read that they are doing the same with Volts, so Kerbeck deserves the great reputation they have earned. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look as far as the East Coast for such a reputable dealer.

I contacted Fremont Chevrolet, which is about five minutes away from my office. I quickly got a call back from Kurt Mietz, their fleet sales guy, and also Volt specialist. They sell all their Volts at MSRP, so for now you have to order one and wait. It just so happens that Kurt was spec’ing out the first eight 2012 Volts allotted to Fremont, so he asked me how I wanted mine configured. I told him on the phone, and then when I stopped by later that day, he handed me the piece of paper with a tracking number. Done. Absolutely couldn’t have been easier. If you’re in Northern California and shopping for a Volt, give Kurt a ring at (510) 445-8700.

Some other things that I’ve learned… I had wanted the “Cyber Gray” color, but learned that it is not available for 2012 because the supply of the pigment was impacted by the tsunami in Japan. So I went for Silver. We expect that my Volt will be in production sometime in August, rail transportation will take about 30 days, and after that delivery will be sometime around October. Plenty of time to get a 220V charging system installed in the garage. I’ll post Part 2 once the Volt makes it home.

On Sheds

California homes are usually storage challenged. Basements generally don’t exist here, and attics are typically useless. Garages are most often outfitted as man-caves or warehouses. But I’ve noticed that my garage is actually attached to the driveway, and is a convenient place to store our cars when they are not being driven around. So for as long as I’ve lived in this house, the lawnmower, edger, rakes, shovels, and their kin have been trashily resting in a heap on the side of the house. This year, I finally broke down, and decided to buy a shed.

Shed Decision Tree

I found that there are three types of sheds in the universe: Expensive, Cheap, and Very Cheap. It should be noted that all three of these are actually expensive, just to varying degrees. In my case, I was in the market for something about 8 feet by 8 feet in size. So to elaborate… Expensive style sheds are fabricated from actual wood, and assembled like actual buildings, but smaller. Cheap Sheds are, as best as I can tell, pre-fabricated from high-fructose wood-flavored particle fibers, packaged into transportable bundles, and then assembled on site. Very Cheap sheds are fabricated from simulated plastic, and assembled like simulated garbage cans, but larger and more rectangular.

So, considering my personal circumstances, I quickly decided that I was in the market for a Cheap shed. Naturally, I then visited both purveyors of such outdoor storage solutions: orange and blue. Home Depot has aligned itself with an outfit called Tuff Shed. You can specify and buy your Cheap Shed from Home Depot or from Tuff Shed directly. The results are exactly the same in either case. Expensive. The “Garden Ranch” 8×8 shed with shingles and some shelves quoted out at $1,600, delivered and assembled. Seems steep. Over at Lowes, you can buy a Heartland Liberty 8×8 shed for $749 plus shipping, unassembled. Sounds better, but what about my shelves? And assembly? And what if I want a window and weather vane on top? Their website was much less versatile than the Home Depot / Tuff Shed site, so I decided to go to the source. But it didn’t exist.

“Heartland”, it seems, is just a thinly disguised rebranding of the pre-fab sheds sold by “Backyard Buildings & More” aka Backyard Products LLC, which seems to be located somewhere in Michigan. Or, more conveniently, on the interweb at http://backyardbuildings.com. So I dialed them up, found that the Lowes “Heartland Liberty” is suspiciously identical to their “Value Line Seneca” shed, and it can be customized as desired (just the shelves in my case), equipped with shingles, shipped, and assembled for about $1,000. Now that’s the Cheap Shed I was looking for.

I placed the order online, and forgot about it for a week. When I noticed that a shed failed to materialized anywhere in the vicinity of my home or back yard, I became a bit concerned. Checking the email confirmation, they should have called me to schedule delivery within 48 hours. Uh oh. So I called the distributor at the number listed on the invoice, and talked with someone who seemed a bit confused. Eventually, he admitted to finding my order, and asked when I wanted it. Well, how about Monday? No problem. They’ll call in the morning.

On Monday, I got a call from the driver, who wanted to confirm my street address, which he correctly identified. Except he thought it was in Sacramento. Which is about an hour and a half away. Remarkably, though, he and his able assistant actually arrived at the correct location eventually, sporting their “Lowes” shirts. While they seemed a bit put off about having to drive to Pleasanton, they did successfully assemble the thing in about four hours.

Backyard Buildings seemed a bit shady to me when I was considering what to buy, but all and all, everything worked out OK. I would say that the Tuff Shed model that I checked out at the Orange store seemed to have a bit high build quality, but I think that can be attributed almost entirely to the door latch / handle which was much more substantial on the Tuff Shed. Otherwise, they seems to be built from the same particle fiberboard stuff, and both have that weird smell inside. Backyard Buildings doesn’t offer an option for painting, which was available for $131 from Tuff Shed. But I bought some paint for about $30 and did it myself in a couple of hours.

In my research, I found The Internets seemed to be sadly lacking in rambling essays on applied shed research and procurement practices. This unfortunate void has now been filled, as has my freshly painted and still weirdly smelling shed.