Volt owners really, really love their cars, and the goodwill hasn’t evaporated because of a couple of stray battery pack fires following government crash tests. “It’s kind of like supporters of Herman Cain,” Ray Magliozzi jokes. “How much do they have to hear before they cry uncle?”
Ah, but kidding aside, Ray likes the Volt, even if it’s no Dodge Dart. “I was impressed with the car when I drove it,” he said. “The fit and finish is impressive—there really wasn’t anything about it I didn’t like.” Ray added that the battery fires—although a cause for concern—are unlikely to deter many Volt true believers. “You defend your decision to buy it,” he said. “It’s like when you bring home a girl your mother doesn’t like.”
Last week, I went to a local electric car club meeting and listened to a glowing post-fire endorsement from Kevin Porter of Easton, Connecticut. Porter is very green, with 27 solar panels on his roof in a rustic corner of the state that is nonetheless still commuting distance from New York City. “I love the car,” he said. “I traded in a Lexus, and it’s been a great experience. Because the battery pack rides low, it’s an excellent handling car. In 10,000 miles of driving I’ve used 80 gallons of gasoline.”
Jay Leno has him beat there: He’s also covered 10,000 miles, and he’s still on the original tank of gas. “I’m careful about where I drive it,” Leno said. Here he is, celebrating that 10k milestone:
Porter reports getting about 35 miles of all-electric range, and he expresses “zero concern whatsoever” about the Volt fires. “They practically cut the car in half; then, let it sit for three weeks,” he said. Other folks tell similar stories. They’re getting into contests to see how far they can drive their Volts without stopping at a gas station. Take a look at this well-done Volt PR video from Chevrolet:
In fact, the Chevrolet Volt is the number one vote-getter in Consumer Reports’ (CR) latest owner-satisfaction survey. Some 93 percent of Volt owners said they would buy the car again. Those results were taken before the fires were disclosed, but most owners are loyal and likely to remain so—they’ve made a decision, and they’re committed to it. Now if their own car caught fire, maybe that would change a few minds.
According to GM’s Greg Martin, “a couple dozen” Volt owners have taken the company’s offer of a buyback, and another 24 are taking a loaner car. “It’s a variety of reasons,” he told MLive.com December 5. “The bottom line is the reasons are secondary to what we’re trying to accomplish and that’s keeping our customers satisfied.” A minor battery pack re-design may be in the offing.
The Car Talk website has had some lively discussion about this issue. “Who knew you needed to carry a fire extinguisher in an electric car?” Whitey asks. “You’re sitting on some serious Amperage in those things man.....,” said Honda Blackbird. “Good way to preheat your car on a cold morning,” cracks Common Sense Answer. “If a cop stops you for speeding and asks ‘Where’s the fire?’ you can honestly say, ‘Under the car.’” But there’s a lot of spirited defense of the car, too. J.T. Sanders opines, “There are 250,000 car fires each year, and almost none of them the Chevy Volt.”
Eric Evaarts of CR agrees with Ray. He told me that people love their Volts for the same reason they previously gave top honors to the Toyota Prius and the Chevy Corvette. “People believe in them,” he said. “They bought them because they’re committed to the idea. And now that they’ve plunked down $40,000-plus for one, they're even more committed. The interesting thing about this survey is that we’ve seen it usually dominated by sporty cars or, more recently, green cars. Cars that people buy because they make a statement do well. Those they buy to meet a need, such as minivans, wagons, family sedans and even pickups are universally less popular.”
Volt owners’ enthusiasm knows no bounds. A letter-writing campaign in defense of the Volt that began on Facebook soon went viral and gathered 100 owner signatures. I don’t see Leno’s signature, but former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is there, as is California’s “Mr. Plug-In Hybrid,” Felix Kramer (he’s “ecstatically happy” with his Volt), former Baywatch star Alexandra Paul and Dr. Lyle Dennis, who founded GM-Volt.com.
We are keeping the keys to our Volts. We love our Volts and we feel safe driving our Volts,” the letter says. “Just as it is necessary to empty a gas tank after a major impact, it is necessary to discharge a battery pack after a major impact…. We take pleasure in the smooth driving experience. We get a thrill from the performance and acceleration. We feel at ease in its comfortable elegance. Perhaps most of all, we love the convenience and affordability of driving on electricity everyday, while also having the option of a back-up gas generator for long distances.”
Shannon Arvizu, who lives in Venice Beach, California and has put 4,600 miles on her Volt (two-thirds of that on battery power), says, “The miles I’ve driven are very happy miles. It’s the perfect car for me. I’m able to charge very conveniently in many places in my neighborhood using California electricity—from one of the cleanest grids in the country. I drive oil-free for all of my driving around LA. My friends love it, and my mom says it’s more comfortable and luxurious than her Mercedes.”
Shannon may not be the most impartial observer here, since she’s a lecturer and blogger on EVs. Indeed, many of the “early adopters” are true blue greens, predisposed to like the car. But more than 6,000 people have taken delivery of a Volt so far, and they’re not all greens.
One Connecticut Volt dealer told me he’s sold about 20 of the plug-in hybrids so far, and that owners universally love them. One (3,000 miles, nine gallons of gas) pays for the car to be hand washed, because she’s worried about it getting damaged in an automated car wash. Nobody there has asked for a loaner, and nobody seems worried about the Volt fires.
Hey, if I bought a Volt I’d probably be fiercely loyal to it, too. I still think it’s a great car, and you really should drain seriously damaged battery packs after a big collision.