Chevy allows 15 future buyers to drive Volt
Christina Rogers / The Detroit News
— Kris Trexler isn’t used to the silence.
As the Chevrolet Volt he’s piloting picks up speed across an expanse of asphalt, Trexler is a bit surprised by the absence of engine noise.
“Listen to the sound,” he exclaims. “There is no sound. It’s just tires on the road.”
Trexler, a 60-year-old Los Angeles film editor, was among nine advanced technology enthusiasts and electric vehicle advocates who test-drove the Volt Tuesday. They will help General Motors Co. gain real-world feedback about the highly anticipated Volt plug-in hybrid before it hits the market later this year.
The nine, part of Chevrolet’s hand-picked, 15-member Volt Customer Advisory Board, met at GM’s Milford proving grounds for their first spin in a test Volt.
Each will get a pre-production Volt in late October to drive for three months. They will be the first consumers to subject the Volt to real-world driving conditions. The electric cars, equipped with backup gasoline engines, will be delivered to their homes along with a 240-volt charging station. Chevrolet will collect information weekly about their experiences.
“We want to know their thoughts, impressions and perceptions,” said Volt marketing director Tony DiSalle. “This special group of electric vehicle experts gives us the opportunity to learn even more as we near market launch.”
Advisory board members come from the seven markets where GM will launch the car: Michigan, California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Texas and Washington, D.C.
Many of the board members have experience with electric cars, as participants in GM’s EV1 program in the 1990s, or test-driving other automakers’ electric cars. Some represent energy industry groups; others have backgrounds in advocacy and environmental work. A couple are celebrities: Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” and Brian Voltaggio, a “Top Chef” contestant and owner of the Volt restaurant in Maryland.
“In its own way, the Volt is a really nice car, the best of both worlds,” said advisory board member Chelsea Sexton, 35, of Los Angeles. Sexton, an electric car advocate, worked for GM in the 1990s as a marketing specialist for the EV1 and is prominently featured in the documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”
Sexton urged the automakers for years to listen to consumers and get them more involved in developing electric cars. “They’re sort of calling my bluff,” Sexton said with a laugh.
The Volt is expected to travel 40 miles on average on a single charge, but the range will vary based on climate, road conditions and driver behavior. After the battery is about 70 percent depleted, a gas engine kicks in, extending the car’s range another 300 miles.
The advisory board members took turns driving four Volts across an expansive stretch of asphalt at the GM proving grounds, nicknamed the “Black Lake.” It rained earlier in the day, and the course was dotted with puddles.
“You know what this is?” said Eric Rotbard, a 41-year-old attorney from West Nyack, N.Y. “This is like getting the golden ticket in the Willy Wonka bar.”
Two years ago, Rotbard participated in GM’s “Project Driveway” program for its Equinox fuel cell vehicles. Now, he’s excited to get behind the wheel of a Volt because he’s looking to replace his 1997 Chevy Camaro.
The Volt did have one hiccup Tuesday: When Rotbard took his turn at the wheel, he pressed the car’s power button and nothing happened. The car sat for a while and eventually started when another driver tried it.
GM spokesman David Darovitz didn’t know the exact cause of the problem but said glitches are not uncommon at this stage in development and are “part of the process of doing this testing.”
GM has limited production for the 2011 model year to 10,000 Volts but eventually will make as many as 30,000 a year.
For adviser Robert Becker, 50, an executive recruiter who came from Rye Brook, N.Y., the Volt is a vast improvement over the EV1. Becker, who owns two Toyota Prius gasoline-electric hybrids — 2004 and 2010 models — was part of the EV1 program.
“This is a much sportier, fancier car,” he said of the Volt. Becker is considering buying one over Nissan Motor Co.’s pure-electric Leaf, which also goes on sale this year. “GM has a lot more experience with electric cars and Nissan is a newcomer.”
The Volt will start at $41,000, but is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.
View photos and more information about the 2011 Chevy Volt