Chevy Volt?

Since my blog post last month about the imminent demise of my old mommy-car stationwagon, millions of Midlife Bat Mitzvah readers have been clamoring to know what new car I wll be buying.

Well, okay, maybe two MBM readers made polite inquiries. But this has been an interesting thought process, so I figured I’d write about it.

I clearly want to get as environmentally benign a car as possible. (Yes, I know someone will say that going carless is the most environmentally benign option.  But I do want a car. And after 17 years with my current car, I feel I’ve earned a new one.)

A Prius is the obvious choice, perhaps the new plug-in Prius hybrid that Toyota is just starting to sell. It’s a safe choice. Nearly every other driver here in this bluest-of-blue-states Bay Area has a Prius. There are probably five on our block alone. My neighbors have one. My brother has one. Plus every car I’ve owned as an adult has been a Toyota, and they’ve all been sturdy and reliable.

But then there’s the Chevy Volt.

Chevy Volt, charging in a driveway

The Volt can travel up to thirty-five miles on its electric battery, without burning an ounce of gas!

My daily commute is only about six miles round trip. I could recharge the car at night in our driveway and go for weeks, maybe months, without visiting a gas station. And for longer trips, the Volt switches seamlessly into hybrid mode like a Prius. So there are no restrictions on how far I could drive. Averaging the no-gas battery driving and the hybrid driving, the EPA estimates that the Volt gets something like 60 miles per gallon.  (Battery driving uses the energy equivalent of 93 miles per gallon; hybrid mode gets around 37 miles per gallon.)

The Volt represents the future. It’s the Detroit we want to see — innovative, environmentally conscious, forward-thinking. Of course I want to encourage and support that trend. BUT….

It’s an American car.

This is where the thought process gets weird and interesting. In my parents’ generation, it was considered unthinkable to buy a car that wasn’t American. To me, it’s unthinkable on a gut level to buy a car that is American.

I bought my first car in 1978, the height of the oil crisis. Remember lines queued around the block to buy gas? Jimmy Carter wearing sweaters in the White House to save fuel? Japanese cars were small and cool. American cars were big gas hogs. And American cars were lemons — we heard all sorts of disaster stories about American cars falling apart after a couple of years, while Toyotas and Datsuns and Hondas just kept going and going.

So on a purely emotional level, there is a big fierce grizzly bear that rears up and growls and makes me stop short when I think of the “Chevy” part of “Chevy Volt.”

But then there is other emotional baggage too.

I have never been someone who bought a car on emotion. I’ve always been practical, down-to-earth. No shiny sports car to cater to my inner supermodel, no BMW for status, no Hummer for… well, why would anyone of my gender want a Hummer anyway? I bought useful sedans with no frills. No leather seats, no upgraded stereos, no moon roofs. Basically, I wanted a machine that would get me from Point A to Point B as safely, cheaply and efficiently as possible.

But now I have this emotional response of deep-in-the-chest fear when I think about buying the Volt.

And then I have another emotional response when I think about buying a Prius! It’s the safe, cheaper choice. But it feels so… boring!

Maybe if I lived in Texas, buying a Prius would be a statement of visionary nonconformity. Here in the Bay Area, it’s like owning a piece of Ikea furniture. Yawn. Another Prius on the street? How will I be able to remember which house is mine?

For the first time in my life, I have all these feelings roiling around about cars. Fear of Detroit. Desire to be in the green forefront.

And that’s on top of actual practical considerations. The Volt is about $10,000 more expensive than a plug-in Prius would be. The Volt has a bucket seat in back, so it can only hold four people. The Volt has a tiny trunk because of its battery.

Sounds like I should get a Prius.

But… shoot! I want a Volt!

Now if only I could get over this spasm of grizzly-bear terror at the prospect of buying American, I could perhaps buy a car.


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20 Responses to “Chevy Volt?”

  1. stevegoesgreen Says:

    This is very well put. As an auto writer I have driven these cars and lived with them. One option you aren’t mentioning is the non-hybrid cars, such as, say, the Kia Optima, which can get mileage in the 30’s and cost MUCH less than a Volt or a Prius. Or even the new Prius C, which starts at $19K. You have a lot of choices. The Volt will deliver 32 miles gas-free, it’s true, but when it runs out it becomes more like an electric car–powered by gasoline. The Prius might be a better option for you (and the price matters). I completely relate to your feelings about American vs. Japanese, and Chevy knows they’ve got a long way to go to reassure buyers. My experience with both Plug-in Prius and Volt (n the Bay Area) has been positive, except for the scary high price tags. See my blog– for more. And good luck.

  2. Nicholas Says:

    This is a nice characterization of the problem. Some states (and the IRS) have tax incentives to buy green. At least that’s what I’ve heard. I haven’t a clue myself. I suspect this has figured into your cost calculations, but just in case….

  3. susiew Says:

    Ilana, my brother owns one. I’m sure he’d be very happy to talk to you about it. He is an engineer and very analytical. let me know.

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      I’d love to talk to your brother! I’m going to test drive one tomorrow, owned by a woman in Piedmont who goes to my haircutter. She’s had hers for a year and is very happy with it.

  4. Kaveh Says:

    I’m sure you would recoup the extra cost of the Volt with gas savings (just wait a few years when gas is $6+/gal), so don’t let that be a factor if you can afford it now.

    I think I mentioned some of this before: My wife has been driving a Leaf for a year now (13000 miles–she loves it). We’ve saved about $2500 in gas costs this year, compared to our old 4-cyl car, which I drive now. Extremely low maintenance costs, and it came with significant Fed & CA rebates. On days that she needs to drive longer distances, we just switch cars–it has never been a problem. And we use the old car on infrequent trips. The cheapest car, long term, by my calculation. Anyway, just a plug, no pun intended.

    But give the Volt a spin, and read the reviews. Go for it if you like what you find. It’s just a car, American or not.

  5. Kaveh Says:

    Forgot to mention: we have solar panels, so we pay almost nothing for electricity. But it would be cheaper than gas even without. Not to mention the environmental considerations.

  6. fuff Says:

    Have you done a test drive? Sometimes you just have to feel your way to the decision. I ended up with a Honda Fit because I loved the feel of driving it. The cost of the car was a factor, and it gets pretty good mpg.

  7. kidseyemd Says:

    Get a Volt. You will love it. It’s a premium feel, silent ride, incredibly cheap to drive, and often compared by former BMW 3 series owners to the latter in handling. And driving without gas is an incomparable experience, let alone the knowledge you are personally contributing to national security / world stability.

  8. Mike Murphy, OD Says:

    Ilana: come join the Chevy Volt group on Facebook and check out the stories there. By ALL means feel free to jump in with questions. BTW: the EPA estimates are actually very low on the Volt. I am getting 120MPGe in electric mode, and the range on battery was only down around 35 when it was winter time. I’m getting 45-50 miles this spring. It is extremely telling that the biggest complaints from any Volt owners are 1) whining about not having features on the cars of the earliest adopters that later iterations have had, and 2) complaining about the OnStar website that has crappy programmers. California Volts now have a 10 year 150,000 mile warranty on the battery and are HOV eligible, and the drivetrain has a 5 year 100,000 mile warranty.

    One thing you need to get over is the fear of poor quality: US cars have caught up with and PASSED most foreign models in quality measures in the last few years. Unfortunately the american public is even slower to swing back to domestic autos than they were to leave them.

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Thanks Mike! I went out driving with a Volt owner today and the ride was great. The rear window visibility is a lot less than what I’m used to… Have you found that’s an issue or have you gotten used to it? (I know there’s the back-up camera, but I’m think about rear-view visibility when driving.)

      • Mike Murphy, OD Says:

        visibility to the rear does take a little getting used to, but the rear view mirror is actually double hinged, at the mirror and at the end of the hanging rod, so it can be adjusted for maximum visibility for any height driver. the backup camera is invaluable. Even my wife says that she doesn’t know what she would do without one now that she has used one for 5 years in her 2007 Prius. adjusting the center mirror and side mirrors for overlap you can feel pretty confident that you will see everything you need to.

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Hi Mike. I wanted to thank you for your input and let you know that two days I BOUGHT a VOLT!

      Haven’t actually brought it home — am waiting until I get back from vacation — but I appreciated your comments. And am looking forward to driving it. I blogged about it at

  9. Mike Murphy, OD Says:

    BTW: when you went on the drive today, did the Volt owner ever put the car in Sport mode? that’s a kick that you will love. I took a guy for a drive in mine Wednesday, and in Sport mode I punched it from a standstill and was doing 55 in half a block. his response? “Holy Crap!!”

  10. Chris Says:

    I purchased a Volt last month and LOVE IT!!!
    Since I got it I have driven 328 miles and all of that was electric. I have not burned an ounce of gas yet. My daily commute is 28 miles round trip and when I get home my battery is still half charged.
    Hands sown the best car I have ever owned and I have had Prius, Porsche, Mercedes, and Lexus. Buy one as fast as you can. You won’t be disappointed. :-)

    • Mike Murphy, OD Says:

      I’ve had mine since 11/29/11. I have only added 11.8 gallons of gas since then. I’ve burned another 1.1 gallons since I last filled up (March 7) and have driven 39xx miles since then. Overall I have driven 8414 electric miles out of 8847. My electric bill has only been another $25-30 per month. My Fuel cost is around 2 cents/mile(electricity cost about 7 cents/kWh) and my wife’s Prius is running around 7 cents/mile right now with gasoline at $3.31 (at $4.09 it was 8.3 cents/mile). The Prius needs frequent oil changes (3-5000 miles): the Volt needs one every two years. at the 2 year point I will have about 40,000 miles on my car: a Prius would have had 8-12 oil changes.

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Hi Chris. I wanted to thank you for your input and let you know that two days I BOUGHT a VOLT!

      Haven’t actually brought it home — am waiting until I get back from vacation — but I appreciated your comments. And am looking forward to driving it. I blogged about it at

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