Monday, December 30, 2013

Conversations with friends are already interesting!

I have mentioned to a few people that I ordered a Volt and already the conversations are getting interesting! Firstly everyone is impressed with the price. The $7865 "instant government rebate" is a shocker to everyone I have spoken too. This brings the price of the Volt in line with other hybrids although I still think it is different car than the Ford C-Max plugin or the Toyota Prius Plug-in. Both of the latter cars are much bigger (seat 5) and play a different game with their smaller EV-only ranges but much better fuel economy. I think more competition is better, which is probably one of the reasons why the Volt got a near $5000 price reduction a couple of months ago.

Another interesting topic is the warranty, particularly for the battery pack. The 3-year OnStar subscription is a nice bonus, as well as the 5 years of Roadside Assistance (8 years if the issue is related to a hybrid component!). I always had a CAA membership (AAA for our neighbors to the south) so I guess I can cancel it once I get the Volt. 7 years of rust warranty is amazing but it is rare for a car to rust all the way through (even up here in Montreal) within the warranty. Surface rust is always a problem (especially for Mazdas it seems!) but a full hole right through the metal is rare. Still, 7 years is better than the 5 I typically see. The 8-years/160,000km Hybrid/Volt warranty covers the following (taken from the Chevrolet Canada website):

Hybrid Components
  • First 8 years or 160,000 km, whichever comes first, coverage against defects in material or workmanship.
  • During the Hybrid warranty period, towing is covered to the nearest Chevrolet servicing dealer if your vehicle cannot be driven because of a warranted Hybrid specific defect. Contact the GM Roadside Assistance Centre for towing.
  • What’s covered: Transmission, brake modulator assembly, hybrid battery, and 300-volt electrical system. See owner’s manual for details.
 and specific to the Volt:
Volt battery and VoltecTM Component Limited Warranty

  • First 8 years or 160,000 km, whichever comes first.
  • Covers 161 battery components in addition to the thermal management system, charging system and electric drive components.

That's a serious warranty but a little light on the details. Does this cover a decrease in range after so many years? A friend of mine also asked what happens if there is an issue with the battery pack when the warranty is over. How much is a battery pack going to cost if we replace it? This would definitely have an impact on the fuel savings accumulated over the years if a pack costs many thousands to replace. So far I hear that the Toyota Prius battery packs are working pretty much flawlessly even after many many years of usage so let's hope it translates to the Volt! The same friend recommended I sell the Volt at 7 years to avoid a massive drop in value because of the unknown in the costs of replacing the battery pack. This is a valid worry, however seeing how the Volt has already dropped so much in price, the battery pack costs can only get cheaper over the years. It doesn't seem to affect the resale value of the Prius either. I am hoping that in the future the range can be increased within the same battery-pack dimensions we have now. 

One thing is for sure, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE wants to go for a ride in the Volt! It is a unique experience from the test drive I had so I can't wait to share it with everyone. I watched a number of Youtube reviews on the Volt and it is unanimous that the Volt is an excellent car, not "just a Cruze with batteries" but a very good handling, smooth-driving car. And ultra quiet of course. I will ping the sales representative next week to see where the Volt is on the assembly line. I wish GM had a way for us buyers to check without having to bother our sales rep all the time. Maybe they can create an App for it hehe.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Interesting information regarding Volt's remote start...

The ability to "precondition" the Volt's cabin in hot or cold temperatures is an amazing feature. However there is a lot more to the whole process than just remote starting the car (from the key fob or the smartphone app). Here is what I learned from patching together posts from forums and blogs:

  • The owner's manual recommends plugging in the vehicle, particularly in more extreme hot and cold temperatures to allow the car to moderate the temperature of the battery pack. This will help prolong the life of the battery.
  • The Volt has a 3.3kW charger onboard. This is the maximum draw of the charger and will only happen with the L2 charging station.
  • Remote starting the Volt will "start the car" for 10 minutes. You will need to start it again after 10 minutes. 
  • I need to confirm this, but it looks like you can only remote start the Volt twice.
  • The car will use your last climate settings, however if you left the climate settings to "Off" or "Fan-Only", the car will enable heating or A/C as needed. 
  • The heated seats will also go on as needed. I am not sure if you can actually adjust the level of heat though. 
  • The climate system can be a massive drain on the battery (as much as maintaining a constant speed, maybe more!). It can use more than the maximum 3.3kW that the charger manages. Therefore preconditioning the cabin will result in a mix of grid power and battery power! This is critical and explains why some people precondition their cabins but start with less than 60km range
  • Some people precondition the cabin about 25 minutes before departing. This means the car will be on for 10 minutes, then charge for 15 minutes to get some of energy used back into the battery. Others precondition twice then leave more time for charging.
  • Preconditioning works even better with the 240 L2 charger because more of the grid power will be used for preconditioning than the battery. And even then, the energy used by the battery will charge even faster if you leave 10-15 minutes after preconditioning finished.
  • On the more recent Volts (2013+) there is a climate control setting that allows you to configure when the gas engine starts up to help with heating the battery packand cabin. There is "Cold Weather" and "Very Cold Weather". If the temperature drops below something around 2  degrees Celsius the gas engine will turn on when plugged in to help. Apparently this is much more efficient and only runs in short bursts of a couple of minutes. The "Very Cold Weather" setting will only turn on the gas engine when temperatures are below -15 C. 
  • The gas engine turning on is a cool idea and I am anxious to try both temperature settings. To avoid CO2 issues indoors it is a good idea to ensure that the garage temperature is above 2 degrees C!
Phew! Not so straightforward eh? I think adding a heated steering wheel to the Volt is a must in the future. I had one on a previous car and it would literally warm me up in 30 seconds, long before the heated seats did. Until then, I will try preconditioning the car in the following ways to compare the maximum range before leaving:

  • No preconditoning before leaving. I want to see how much of a draw the climate system is when needing to warm the car completely. This will happen if I cannot plug in at work.
  • Preconditioning 10 minutes before leaving so that I can see how much battery power was used during 1 preconditioning phase.
  • Preconditioning 25 minutes before leaving then allowing the car to charge for 15 minutes.
  • Preconditioning 25 minutes before, then 10 minutes before to see how well two phases can warm up the car.
  • Preconditioning twice within an hour then letting the car charge for about 25 minutes or more to see if the car is still warm and I am at full charge. 
Can't wait to get the car! Only 1 more month or more to go! <sigh>

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Charging the Volt will be more difficult than I thought...

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I am currently renting an apartment. After looking at some pictures of the Voltec charger, I realize it will have to be outside, exposed to the elements and possible theft. Unless by some miracle the owners have a GFCI outlet right behind their garage door and they won't mind me going in and out of their home a few times per day, then I am stuck protecting the Voltec charger. At worst, I will have to use a 50ft extension cord hanging from my balcony with the charger locked to the front wheel. I will be locking the charger itself with a cable lock (around the handle and wheel) and I will also loop the cables around the wheel and use a padlock like in the picture below. The Volt comes with  nifty security feature where it will sound the alarm if the charger is disconnected from the car (when the doors are locked). I have seen more people keeping the extension cord and charger in the drunk or front seats but I really do not want to damage the weather stripping or force the trunk down harder than needed. I also saw another owner put the charger in a large Rubbermaid container and cut holes to just pass the cables through. Cool idea but it will not make it easy to lock the charger...unless I get a longer cable lock. Hmmm. Anyway, I am not panicking yet as this is about the only worry I have so far.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What I plan to log when my Volt arrives...

I think one of the unknowns for me regarding electric/hybrid vehicles is their performance in cold weather. By performance I don't only mean electric range, but overall comfort and use as well. For example a friend of mine has a Nissan Leaf and mentioned that it is never truly "hot" inside the car during the winter. He also mentions there are little quirks like having LED lights means they do not get hot enough to melt any ice that accumulates.

Montreal is a perfect testbed considering our winter days routinely hit -20 degrees Celsius (-4 F). We are all aware that the driving range will drop in colder temperatures and I plan to find out by how much. I love the fact that you can "precondition" the cabin temperature when the Volt is plugged in. I think this can help minimize the affects of colder temperatures since the car will be warmed up before you roll out. The HVAC system uses quite a bit of power, especially when the rear defogger is running, the heated seats are on and the fan and heating are at full blast (which can include the air conditioning compressor!). This is a few kW for sure. The owner's manual really recommends using the heated seats only if possible, but at -20 C that will not be comfortable. I am curious to see how the climate system's "ECO" mode handles these lower temperatures. I will also be monitoring fuel consumption. The Volt requires 91 octane which is significantly more expensive than our already expensive gasoline. Sure some people still put lower octanes but I will not be going that route. According to the GM website, the 2014 Volt has a fuel consumption of:

  • 6.7L/100km  City
  • 5.9L/100km Highway 
  • Combined: 6.4L/100km

Now these numbers are sometimes ambitious however they are still really good, especially compared to my Mazda3 (2.3litre). I am getting 10 L/100km in the winter for sure.  

I did not get the Volt to "save money on gas" considering a used car would have saved me tens of thousands compared to the purchase price of the Volt. However since I am part of the perfect Volt "demographic" the savings are still there. I live close to work so I can probably drive 2-3 days before charging. I currently spend upwards of $80 per month on gas and I estimate it will be around $6 to $12 per month of electricity in the Volt. Hydro Quebec keeps upping their rates however we still pay some of the lowest electricity around! On a given day it is a maximum of 7.78 cents per kWh (as of this writing). So technically a FULL charge (16.5 kW) is just $1.28. However I will not usually be charging it fully every single day, and this might be even less if I can charge at work. We also need to add the "preconditioning" power usage and the occasional engine maintenance (runs the engine for 10 minutes when not used for 6 weeks or so). These add to the costs but I will be surprised if I even hit $8 per month. 

Details about the Quebec "Drive Electric Program"

For those that live in Quebec, here is the link to the government website that talks about the "Drive Electric Program." This includes the car rebate I was able to get, as well as a charging station rebate. Quebec Drive Electric Program As I mentioned previously, General Motors and Chevrolet should be ALL OVER this! A base Volt has an MSRP of $36895, but it drops to $29k after the $7865 government rebate!

Securing the Voltec charger if charging outside...

I thought about how I will be charging my Volt's battery when at home (currently renting) and I realized I need to protect the Voltec charger from theft and the elements. I Googled for some solutions and found the following recommendations from the GM Volt Forums:
Seems simple enough. I've also seen recommendations of leaving the Voltec in the car and either passing the cables through the windows or the trunk. I'm not sure if the cables will be crushed a little from the trunk lid, and I imagine they would also leave "dents" in the weatherstripping. I think I will try the solution with the lock above initially. If the Voltec charger is not long enough to each the outdoor plug socket I will get a 25-50ft 10/3 extension cord. The owner's manual does not recommend using an extension cord though! However, the 10 AWG cord will be overkill (better safe than sorry!) when charging at the lowest 8 Amp setting. Now if I can only convince my boss to have a charging station installed at the office...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Lots to learn!

While our new Volt is being assembled, I already started reading the user manual (downloaded from a dedicated Chevy owner site located here: Canada GM owner site . I did not dig too much into the website but there is a section that outlines the maintenance schedule for the car you select, a resource section with information about warranties, financing/leasing and even the chance to chat with a live "Customer Care Ambassador". The information is pretty standard (benefits of winter tires, taking care of your vehicle etc.) but it's still a nice touch that I was not aware of. There's a section about OnStar which is a technology and service I have heard about but after a quick glance, it seems to be a potentially feature-rich service. I already knew about OnStar being able to unlock your car doors and detecting when the car is in an accident, but there are other services like having a service representative download destinations to your Volt, turn-by-turn navigation (not sure how/if this works with the on-board Navigation) and even hands-free dialing (also not sure how this works when you have a cellphone paired via Bluetooth). Here in Quebec at least, the Volt comes with 3 years of OnStar service. I took a look at and in Canada there are various monthly plans depending on which features you want. Looks like they start at $18.95/month and can go up to almost $40 (plus tax). Ouch. It's almost as expensive as some cellphone plans! OnStar is a type of cellphone service though so the rates kind of make sense, except the cellphone always stays in the car. Given that the Volt warns you when you try locking the doors with the keys still in the car, it will be tough to spend an extra $20+ per month for the other services however the Stolen Vehicle Assistance service is a nice-to-have. I wonder if having an active OnStar subscription can reduce insurance premiums? I will need to look at car insurance soon and I hear that hybrids/electric cars actually reduce premiums. Sweet. Another cool gadget for us technology junkies is the MyLink App. You can monitor the Volt's charge status, expected range, and even set it up to email or text you when charging is complete or interrupted. Nice! I was interested in the Volt before finding out about these nice extras, but either I did not do enough research, or GM/Chevy are not advertising these benefits enough! My friends (also car guys) are not familiar with these perks! I only found out about these by reading all 394 pages of the owner's manual. There's more to the Volt than just a range extender!

The purchasing experience

I have to admit, not needing to negotiate (because of the GM Supplier discount) took all the stress out of the purchase. The price was what it was. There are a few GM/Chevy dealers in Montreal so I picked Hamel (Chevy, Buick and GMC). They are an authorized Volt dealer and have been there for longer than I can remember. I was disappointed that there wasn't a Volt in the showroom but it is kind of expected. They did have a used one out back (a 2012 Joule colored Volt). I asked for a representative that knew the Volt and within 30 seconds I met one of the most knowledgeable sales representatives I have ever met. Hamel is family owned and the representative was part of the family. He knew all about the GM Supplier discount program, all about the instant government rebate and all about the Volt. Considering how few Volts there are on the road, it was extremely impressive to see a representative know so much about such a niche car. I did not waste any time and took out my printouts (GM supplier discount program, Quebec Drive Electric program and the Volt I wanted). I imagine I gave Hamel a good customer experience since I was fully prepared. After I showed the rep that I was serious he brought the 2012 Volt up front and let me take it for a test drive! Given that it is a niche car, I do not think everyone gets a free Volt ride unless they are serious. Before driving off, the sales rep went through an incredible amount of details about the car itself, the driving modes, the touchscreen etc. Amazing guy! The most striking part of the test drive was the silence in the cabin. Imagine you are sitting in an office and someone is in your office and the door is closed. That's how conversing in the Volt feels like. I bet this reduces fatigue in long trips! The acceleration was super smooth, especially since there are no gear changes. Transmission today are incredibly fast but nothing is smoother than one long gear! It wasn't difficult keeping the "efficiency ball with leaves" in the center. I tested the "L" mode (instead of "D" on the shifter) and noticed the regenerative braking a little more however it was really not that aggressive. It's equivalent to downshifting on a manual transmission but much more subtle. I am not sure if we can leave it in "L" all of the time instead of "D" but I would have no problems with the extra regenerative effect slowing the car down a little faster than simply coasting in "D". I did find the driver information center a little cluttered (too much information) but I just read in the user manual now that there is a "simpler" display. Awesome. Although the Volt is "just" a 4-seater, I liked the look of the 2 bucket seats in the rear. This 2012 model did not have the armrest and the rear passengers felt it was kind of cheap without one because there's a hole between the seats that reveals the trunk space. The door panels in the rear were all plastic as well so that was a little disappointing. The front seats and panels were great though. The touch-sensitive center console worked well, although sometimes the "buttons" did not always register a press if I was too fast. Anyway, I chose the premium trim package to get the rear armrest. Also, you can see in the "trunk" behind the rear seats like you are in an SUV. This was kind of cool but like the Mazda3, this results in more cabin to heat up so it might take a little longer to warm up during the cold Montreal winters (unless you "precondition" the car which I will discuss in another post). Anyway, I brought the car back and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It drove like a normal car but certainly didn't feel like a normal car. I signed the papers to reserve a car but the financing/bank stuff will only happen when I receive the car. As it is now, if the interest rates drop before receiving the car I will get the lower rate, otherwise if they rise I will keep the one available now. It's not the best rate so here's hoping GM financing helps me out a little more by reducing the rate in a new promotion very soon (boxing day special???)!

The Volt we ordered

I might have seen maybe 3 Volts here in Montreal, Quebec (white, pearl white and the green/blue Joule color). It wasn't easy deciding on interior/exterior color combinations without seeing it in person. Chevy's website has lots of pictures but the lighting and composition of those pictures are perfect and it's not necessarily the same in real life. Anyway, my wife and I went with what we thought would we would prefer. Given that there is only 1 model we just clicked some options and our Volt was born. Here's what we ordered:

2014 Chevy Volt
  • Exterior Color: Black
  • Interior: Leather Jet Black/Dark Accents  (I actually wanted to risk going with the Ceramic White trim but my wife won that battle hehe)
  • Premium Trim Package (automatically selected when I chose leather)
  • Enhanced safety package 1 (Auto-dimming rear view mirror, Rear camera, Front and rear parking sensor)
  • Enhanced safety package 2 (Front camera, Lane departure warning, Forward collision warning)
  • Chevy MyLink With Navigation
  • Bose Premium 7-speaker sound system (the ultra compact and low power upgrade)

Basically it is fully loaded on the technology front. We should be receiving it in less than 8 weeks, most likely sooner as there is already a Volt on the assembly line just before the customization step. However production most likely shuts down for the holidays so I will be contacting my dealer every now and then to get updates.

Why we ordered the 2014 Chevy Volt

The Volt was always in the back of my mind since its inception. There was a lot of positive and negative hype surrounding the car. Some people believe that 100% electric cars are the future, others believe that hydrogen powered cars will rule the world, while others believe diesel cars or more fuel-efficient cars are still just fine. Honestly, I find the Volt is a compromise and a stepping stone to alternative energies. Anyway, I am not here to discuss this in particular, I just wanted to mention that I thought the Volt was a cool idea from the beginning.

Here's the build up to the eventual order for our Volt:

A little over 3 years ago I bought a used 2004 Mazda3 (5-door sport, 2.3l)  from my friend. I needed a car for just a couple of months until I bought something newer. Over 3 years later and my wife and I still do not want to let go of the Mazda3! We absolutely love the little car. It has been one of the most solid and most reliable cars we've ever owned! It is pushing over 166000km (bought it at 145k km) and it's seen maybe $600 of general maintenance in over 3 years. Love it. However last week I thought the transmission was finished so I panicked and decided maybe it was time to look for a new car for real now. It ended up that I hit a solid chunk of ice and cracked the transmission pan, resulting in the tranny fluid to drain completely. New tranny pan and the Mazda3 is as good as new again. So now you're thinking, why the Volt? Well, being on vacation and working for an awesome worldwide company I found out that they are an official GM Supplier. Googling "GM Supplier Discount Canada" I found out that as an employee of this awesome company I can buy an eligible GM vehicle (no 2014 Corvette unfortunately ) at "Cost + 1%!" I haven't bought a new car in the longest time so not worrying about negotiating is a big plus (remember Saturn???). Also, as a resident of Quebec, Canada I heard about some kind of government incentive when purchasing electric/hybrid vehicles. I always thought it was a tax credit. Googling "Quebec electric car tax credit" led me to the provincial website where I found out that it is NOT a tax credit (at least for 2014) but a cash rebate! Get's a whopping $7865 for the Volt because of its 16.5 kilowatt battery pack! Maximum is $8000 for 17kW or above. Maybe this is why we pay some of the highest taxes in the world...but this issue is for another day and another blog.

So I went to Chevy Canada's website and built my very own Volt. I printed out the GM Supplier discount information, the Quebec vehicle credit and my special Volt and marched to the nearest dealer. I didn't intend to buy on the spot but it ended up that I did! The dealer instantly reduced the after-tax price by $ my loan will not incur interest on that amount! Not a single person I know is aware of the instant government rebate. Why isn't GM/Chevrolet advertising this? Without disclosing my final price, just going from the MSRP of $43xxx to $35xxx because of the instant government rebate is pretty awesome. Throw in the GM supplier discount and I got a Volt for many many thousands less than I (and everyone else I know) ever thought a Volt was sold for. A $43k Volt is nearly $50k after taxes here! Seriously I ask again, why isn't GM pushing the government rebate hundreds of times per day on websites, radio stations and newspapers??? Ok, the Volt is still the cost of nearly 2 Chevy Cruses and I do not want to argue about this here but the price is more palatable after the Quebec rebate that's for sure.

So as of last week we placed an order for our new Volt! None were available locally with the exact options I wanted so there is a Volt being assembled as we speak (or maybe not since it is the holidays hehe)!

Welcome to our 2014 Chevy Volt blog!

Thanks for checking out my new blog! I started this blog to document everything regarding the 2014 Chevy Volt that my wife and I just ordered last week. From the purchasing experience, to the research and studying I will be doing before receiving the car, to the short term and long term updates, I want to track our total ownership experience of this very different and very cool car. I realize that there is a total lack of knowledge about the Chevy Volt in general, and what little knowledge there is, is usually full of inaccurate information. I am learning so much as I go along and I hope to provide more accurate information based on my real life experience with the car.