Would you buy a Chevy Volt hybrid vehicle if you could lay your hands on one? Would I? While test driving the vehicle over a period of four days last week, I sought the views of a few regular folks.
They generally liked the car, found it comfortable, and thought the technology inside amazing. Everyone thought the absence of sound at start-up was eerie, and each time I opened the hood to show off the engine, I was tickled silly by the head scratching that followed: This car is powered differently than conventional gasoline-powered engines, and it shows. The only disappointment was that it couldn't drive further than 40 miles on a single charge in electric mode. (See: Driving Miss Volt and Chevy Volt: A Jolt of Reality.)
My test-team didn't include engineering experts but consisted primarily of regular folks, the types who buy vehicles for the pure pleasure or functionality. I'll share here the response of two of them. Samuel Adunyah, chair of the department of biochemistry and cancer biology at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., was visiting a colleague and mutual friend in Pennsylvania and got a ride from me to the train station in the Chevy Volt. He wanted more mileage in electric mode but was fascinated with the quietness of the ride.
Adunyah and I watched in quiet amazement as a young girl chatting on the phone sauntered across the road, totally unaware of our approach. I didn't honk the horn, waiting until she crossed, and meanwhile thought of a world -- perhaps a mere two decades from now -- populated with soundless cars coasting past unaware humans. Will we have to embed software in hybrid cars to ensure they make the kind of sounds gasoline engines emit, or should we steer humans gently but firmly into a future that has more of the innovations our ancestors could only have imagined?
That's what the Avnet Express co-sponsored Drive for Innovation project is all about: a world recognizing no limits and that sees only the thrills of new, empowering discoveries. The Chevy Volt might have disappointed Adunyah in its electric mode, but he was also thrilled at the seamless transition from electric to gasoline power.
"This car certainly has a lot going for it," Adunyah said, "but we need to keep up the pace of innovation." As someone who explores new frontiers of the human body, I thought Adunyah nailed both the essence of what the Chevy Volt delivers today and what it promises for tomorrow.
That was also the focus of Obalolu Ojo, a friend, (not a relative), pharmacist, and entrepreneur visiting from Nigeria, a major exporter of crude oil to the United States. Lolu, as we call him, was intrigued by the thought that if properly implemented and if the technology becomes efficient enough, countries like the US could wean themselves from oil exporters like Nigeria. Troubles in the Middle East may then be of lesser concern to the US, Lolu said.
"Oil exporters should watch these technologies closely," Lolu said. "It's going to reduce them to bit players in the economic arena."
He may be right. Rather than repeat what others have written or said about the car, I would like to point EBN readers to the information GM has online about the Volt, as well as comments from one satisfied buyer who also happens to be a reader of EBN. "RobertinHouston," as he calls himself, had some pointed comments about the Volt, and they are worth checking out. (See Actual Volt Owner.)
On Sunday, when I delivered the car to the exhibition staff at the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston, I was feeling nostalgic already, and I wasn't so eager to let the old girl go. So, I got a towel and wiped down the Volt again. The only other vehicle I've given a similar cleaning was my first car, a Volkswagen Beetle. The Beetle, with its hard pedals, manual transmission, rear-engine, crank-up windows and mechanical gauges, is hardly comparable with the Volt.
As I walked out of the convention center, I recalled the smooth drive in the Volt from Philadelphia to Boston, the easy acceleration, the digital information it spewed out on two separate LCD screens about my acceleration and deceleration efficiencies, the mileage left to electric or gasoline power, the beeping sensors when I reversed or moved too close to another object -- in short, all of the dazzling electronics in it. These are the innovations electronics engineers have given us, and they foretell more to come.
So, I walked out knowing I had an answer to the question at the top of this page. Yes, yes, and yes, I would buy a Chevy Volt.