To Tahoe and Back in My Chevy Volt
By Felix Kramer
For the past three weeks, driving in my family's new Chevy Volt, I've had a sense of unreality -- I'm driving an official mass-produced version of the car I've been talking about for almost 10 years. What a welcome sensation! This week, I got around to giving it a workout. We at CalCars have been saying that plug-in hybrids combine the "best of both worlds" in a single car -- it's electric for local and commuter driving, but if you ever need to go a thousand miles, you can do it with no extra planning. (Of course, for two-car families, it's a no-brainer that the second car can be a 100-mile range EV -- that's why we're also getting a Nissan Leaf.) But what's it like to use the Volt to go the distance? I've found out -- and in the process, made a little history.
I love travelling to Lake Tahoe -- a spectacular four-season destination that's 235 miles from where I live. Since 2006, my converted Prius has made the trip often. Its large 100+MPG signs got lots of attention when the Hyatt at Incline Village rolled out a short red carpet to cover an extension cord so I could park and charge at the front entrance. I was invited to showcase it at the National Cross Country Junior Olympics in 2009 and at Earth Day at Squaw Valley in 2010.
Among Tahoe residents and visitors, I found a level of interest and enthusiasm as high as I've ever seen in Silicon Valley -- these are people whose SUVs have "Keep Tahoe Blue" stickers. And frustration: everyone asked, "when can I get a four-wheel drive that plugs in?" (More about that later.)
So I couldn't wait to show up with the first Volt. It was only after I got to Northstar-At-Tahoe on Sunday night that I realized I'd made a bit of history. As far as I know, my car became the first-ever mass-produced plug-in vehicle to travel 225 miles from the Bay Area to Tahoe WITHOUT REFUELING along the way. (Though the driver stopped to stretch his legs and refuel his mug.)
I checked around to validate that claim. The most likely predecessor was Tesla, with a 240-mile range -- but that can't include a climb over Donner Pass at 7,085 feet. Distance specialist Chad Schwitters says his Tesla uses about 6.5 miles per thousand feet -- see his informative chart on Tesla's range (which doesn't show elevation effects). And I confirmed that while Roadsters have made the drive, they've all stopped to charge along the way. That infrastructure is still in development, especially for the Sacramento-Reno route.
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