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.
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.
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.