The car that goes woosh
January 28, 2011 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Washington Post humor columnist Gene Weingarten somehow talked his way into reviewing a Chevy Volt (GM's new electric vehicle) for 7 hours over 4 days. That's about 6:30 more than most reviewers get to spend with the vehicle. What resulted is a auto review unlike any other you've read before.
Previously on Metafilter.
posted by COD (130 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
That was a lot more fun than I expected. Thanks.

tl;dr: Low-end pep, torque mediation, and +0.5 percentage points on the "sleepwithme?-o-meter".
posted by chavenet at 4:11 PM on January 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Rats.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:14 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, favorite line: Disrespecting this car because it doesn't have a clutch seems churlish and off-point, like disrespecting dogs because they don't have gills.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:14 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Woolsey [James Woolsey, a director of the CIA under Bill Clinton] gets in his Volt, soundlessly starts it up and whooshes away. On his rear bumper is a sticker: "Osama bin Laden hates this car." "
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:17 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Think of it as increasing your layability by a full sixth.

Any gains made in that area would be immediately lost, and then some, by my nerdy enthusiasm that a practical electric vehicle is here which could switch to gasoline and costs only in the five figure range. And, on top of it all, this might be an American car which is not a complete manufacturing embarrassment.

I might actually buy a new car at some point during my life. That's how excited I am about this.
posted by adipocere at 4:19 PM on January 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm very interested in hybrids, but I always wonder whether I can get my husband (who's a big guy) into and out of them without a crowbar. In my head they're always tiny. This is particularly weird because the car that makes my husband happy is not my Saturn sedan but the VW Beetle, which is dome-shaped and has a lot of headroom.

(Yes, I looked at the slide show. It doesn't help.)
posted by immlass at 4:19 PM on January 28, 2011


Next Year:

Toyota Adds a plug to the Prius. Continues to sell them at the same price.

Chevy: "Shit."
posted by schmod at 4:19 PM on January 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


That was a great review. And if I was rich as all get out, I'd buy this car, comfortable in the knowledge that I was incrementally contributing to a gasoline-free world.

As it happens, I can't afford to replace the busted door on my 10 year old Camry.

Still, great review.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:20 PM on January 28, 2011


He calls an 8.8 second 0-60 time "peppy" and immediately loses all credibility with me.

He also says "Me, either." Ugh.

And he abandons his bias against American cars after only a few hours in the thing. Ridiculous. That's not journalism.
posted by The World Famous at 4:21 PM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


That was hilarious. Two questions, though:

1) How does someone who lives in an apartment and parks on the street effectively own one of these?
2) It takes premium gas??
posted by backseatpilot at 4:23 PM on January 28, 2011


He calls an 8.8 second 0-60 time "peppy" and immediately loses all credibility with me.

The dude drives a Honda Civic normally. He's lucky the g-forces didn't rip his face off.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:24 PM on January 28, 2011 [21 favorites]


I can't help thinking, that despite the cool technology, it's still a Chevy.
posted by tommasz at 4:24 PM on January 28, 2011 [15 favorites]


I love this review. I am seriously considering purchasing my first new car. Except that it costs more than my annual salary...
posted by arnicae at 4:26 PM on January 28, 2011


That's a great article to sell a car with.
posted by Nelson at 4:26 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Think of it as increasing your layability by a full sixth.

Good point! Sexiness to 117% of normal, captain!
posted by hattifattener at 4:28 PM on January 28, 2011


Also, the reason he can hear the steering column is not that the rest of the car is so quiet. It's that it's a Chevy and they have noisy steering. But he hasn't driven a Chevy in 20 years, so he wouldn't know that, I guess.
posted by The World Famous at 4:31 PM on January 28, 2011


Try out some Dan Neil if you like car reviews. Damn you Los Angeles Times for driving him into the clutches of the Washington Post!
posted by effluvia at 4:35 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't help thinking, that despite the cool technology, it's still a Chevy

You know...I've been wondering that too. GM needs to publicly acknowledge that their cars (and management) have colossally sucked for the past 25 years. Acknowledging failure, and taking steps to correct it can be a good strategy in the business world (which is sadly rarely attempted, thanks to executive machoism) A rebrand (or simply a new brand) could have done wonders for their reputation. Nobody born after World War II associates Chevy with any sort of positive adjective.

Heck... GM's own finance arm did a pretty good job of reinventing itself by rebranding as Ally. (Because, let's be honest. Who would put their money in a bank with GM's name on it?)

Killing Pontiac, and Saturn, and attempting to simply write off Saab's assets, while choosing to keep other clunky brands like Chevy, Buick, and GMC also seems...odd.

A new brandname for a line of compact/electric vehicles could do wonders for the product. GM should also stop selling itself short with the Volt (agressive styling on a tiny hybrid? advertisements that apologize for the product? an extremely limited production run? not letting the press give them free advertising?)

I'm happy that we bailed the auto industry out -- Ford just announced a massive 6.6bn profit last year. However, GM needs to show leadership and competency. The Volt looks like a great car, in spite of the GM management...not because of it.
posted by schmod at 4:35 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why the humility? I'm thinking maybe GM is feeling guilty because it knows a more honest slogan would have been:

"Powered by Coal."

made me let out a horse laugh involuntarily
posted by Redhush at 4:37 PM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm happy that we bailed the auto industry out -- Ford just announced a massive 6.6bn profit last year.

But Ford's the one that didn't get bailed out.

GM has, on multiple occasions, acknowledged its history of crap. And it currently produces at least two cars that are beyond dispute that best in the world in their class (the Cadillac CTS-V and the Corvette ZR-1). But people who don't think they care about cars don't notice that. They go along driving Honda Civics and then get all surprised when something other than a Civic goes from 0-60 in just under 9 seconds.
posted by The World Famous at 4:39 PM on January 28, 2011


Shit sandwich.

This jokey article feels like more of an ad for the car than the conventional car reviews. It reminds me of local news articles about something shiny and new like the A380 or twitter, where the reporter doesn't say anything substantial other than the name of the product, and boy is he impressed. Back to you.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:43 PM on January 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, count me into the "surprisingly entertaining" group.
posted by spiderskull at 4:44 PM on January 28, 2011


Very fun. I especially liked this, early on:

Life is bewildering -- essentially, it's a fatal disease of uncertain course and unknown duration. If we are to make any sense of it, if we are to tame our existential terrors, we must gratefully cling to those few established truths on which we know we can rely: Day follows night. Sex causes babies. To lose weight, eat less. American cars suck.

And, I want this car. I love the idea of a car so quiet it has to hork/snort at pedestrians to warn them of its approach.
posted by bearwife at 4:47 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


we had a Volt at the Power Smart Village last year in Vancouver during the winter Olympics. Some folks went for rides (10 - 15 minutes or so), the rest of us saw the car parked in front of the building, with doors, boot and bonnet locket. So there was much sizzle, but no steak at that time.
this 'article', which never really takes off until the final 5th page, was dull and uninspiring. I still am not convinced why I should switch from German engineering to this car, given how I drive (very long distances, only on weekends) and where I drive (logging roads and back country mostly).
this is not a car that was built with my automotive needs in mind.
posted by seawallrunner at 4:49 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


What resulted is a auto review unlike any other you've read before.

It seems like he is driving the same rhetorical roads the P.J. O'Rourke does in his auto reviews, albeit with a bit more naiveté. Still, it was a pleasant read.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:00 PM on January 28, 2011


Next Year: Toyota Adds a plug to the Prius. Continues to sell them at the same price.

This year actually. Specs are not quite as good. 13 miles on a charge, 0-60 in 9.8 seconds. Also it will accelerate at random times as part of the Toyota driving experience.
posted by humanfont at 5:01 PM on January 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


The article wasn't a terrible review, entertaining in spots even if it was a bit too self-consciously goofy.

And seawall, I have no idea what you're complaining about. My Jeeps get 90 percent of their use on the back roads and trails of Utah and the Volt wouldn't really help much unless I started commuting again. However, have the self-awareness to know my usage patterns are far from the mainstream and the Volt, designed to fit perfectly the typical driving style and miles of a commuter, would not be for me and this article would be for entertainment purposes only.
posted by honestcoyote at 5:10 PM on January 28, 2011


I consider myself a "car guy." I am not even a little bit tempted by the Volt. The reviewer's level of awe at what he seems to perceive as luxury and impressive performance characteristics of the Volt strike me as him just not having any idea what a modern car is like.

Nevertheless, as a resident of Los Angeles and a commuter, I must admit that the Volt appears, on paper, to be perfectly suited for the sort of driving that I do everyday. If it handled really well and was a lot quicker, I would totally want one. In fact, I am in the market for a new car right now, and I would buy a car like the Volt without hesitation if it had rear wheel drive and did 0-60 in 6 seconds or less.
posted by The World Famous at 5:15 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still am not convinced why I should switch from German engineering to this car

Ahem.

Table to illustrate the reliability ratings of 450,000 vehicles by manufacturer (lower%=more reliable):

Manufacturer / Incidence Rate %

1 Mazda 8.04%
2 Honda 8.90%
3 Toyota 15.78%
4 Mitsubishi 17.04%
5 Kia 17.39%
6 Subaru 18.46%
7 Nissan 18.86%
8 Lexus 20.05%
9 Mini 21.90%
10 Citroen 25.98%
11 Daewoo 26.30%
12 Hyundai 26.36%
13 Peugeot 26.59%
14 Ford 26.76%
15 Suzuki 27.20%
16 Porsche 27.48%
17 Fiat 28.49%
18 BMW 28.64%
19 Vauxhall 28.77%
20 Mercedes 29.90%
21 Rover 30.12%
22 Volvo 31.28%
23 Volkswagen 31.44%
24 Jaguar 32.05%
25 Skoda 32.12%
26 Chrysler 34.90%
27 Audi 36.74%
28 Seat 36.87%
29 Renault 36.87%
30 Alfa Romeo 39.13%
31 Saab 41.59%
32 Land Rover 44.21%
33 Jeep 46.36%

posted by Sebmojo at 5:24 PM on January 28, 2011 [10 favorites]


@The World Famous:
I do not believe the point of the article is to suggest that the car is luxurious. This is a first-gen model after all, and one aimed at a consumer/commuter rather than your Lotus driver. Luxury amenities are hardly the ground-breaking area of any new car. What is ground-breaking is not having to deal with alternators, spark plugs, voltage regulators, or dirty, slimy oil changes.

The Tesla isn't for you? It goes a hundred miles to a charge and packs all the luxury amenities one could desire (aside from head room, but hey, it's a sportscar). Or were you expecting a Porsche's amenities at the price of a Honda Accord?
posted by Alcibiades. at 5:27 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shortly after writing the above post, I realized that the Volt is actually the only plug-in that doesn't address the things I just claimed ground-breaking. Oops.

I guess then we have to go with the "silent, convenient, and propulsion cost-equivalent to $.60/gallon." But the strongest point, the latter one, is not going to matter as much to one who wants their car's butt-warmers to be temperature controlled.
posted by Alcibiades. at 5:30 PM on January 28, 2011


Great article, though the author missed one very important point: due to industrial and commercial electric usage, there is in fact huge over capacity in electrical generation capacity at night. Here are the important bits from the study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory:
If all the cars and light trucks in the nation switched from oil to electrons, idle capacity in the existing electric power system could generate most of the electricity consumed by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. A new study (Part 1, Part 2) for the Department of Energy finds that "off-peak" electricity production and transmission capacity could fuel 70% percent of the U.S. light-duty vehicle (LDV) fleet, if they were plug-in hybrid electrics. (Note: an earlier version of this release referenced 84% capacity based on LDV fleet classification that excluded vans). . .

Researchers found, in the Midwest and East, there is sufficient off-peak generation, transmission and distribution capacity to provide for all of today’s vehicles if they ran on batteries. However, in the West, and specifically the Pacific Northwest, there is limited extra electricity because of the large amount of hydroelectric generation that is already heavily utilized. Since more rain and snow can’t be ordered, it’s difficult to increase electricity production from the hydroelectric plants.

“We were very conservative in looking at the idle capacity of power generation assets,” said PNNL scientist Michael Kintner-Meyer. “The estimates didn’t include hydro, renewables or nuclear plants. It also didn’t include plants designed to meet peak demand because they don’t operate continuously. We still found that across the country 84 percent of the additional electricity demand created by PHEVs could be met by idle generation capacity."

“Since gasoline consumption accounts for 73 percent of imported oil, it is intriguing to think of the trade and national security benefits if our vehicles switched from oil to electrons,” added PNNL energy researcher Rob Pratt. “Plus, since the utilities would be selling more electricity without having to build more plants or power lines, electricity prices could go down for everyone.

Lightner noted that “the study suggests the idle capacity of the electric power grid is an underutilized national asset that could be tapped to vastly reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
tl;dr: Even ignoring plants designed for peak demand, our existing infrastructure could generate enough electricity to eliminate the need for importing oil for cars and light trucks, and lower the cost of electricity and pollution levels at the same time.
posted by notion at 5:30 PM on January 28, 2011 [29 favorites]


I do not believe the point of the article is to suggest that the car is luxurious.

He specifically makes a point of oohing and ahhing about the luxury of how nice the car is.

The Tesla isn't for you? It goes a hundred miles to a charge and packs all the luxury amenities one could desire (aside from head room, but hey, it's a sportscar).

The Tesla has absolutely no luxury amenities. I mean, it does have carpet, so that makes it a tiny bit more luxurious than the Lotus Elise that it's based on - is carpet a luxury amenity? It's a cool car - don't get me wrong. But it has no luxury amenities. Zero. And a Tesla Roadster costs what, $100,000 or so?

Or were you expecting a Porsche's amenities at the price of a Honda Accord?

No, I'm expecting someone writing a car review to have some clue as to the fact that the materials quality and fit and finish of a Chevy are not groundbreaking, luxurious, or surprising.

But yeah, I do expect a Porsche's amenities at the price of a Honda Accord. Because a Honda Accord does pretty much have all the same amenities as a Porsche, unless you consider performance to be an amenity.
posted by The World Famous at 5:47 PM on January 28, 2011


Toyota Adds a plug to the Prius. Continues to sell them at the same price.

Prius is gasoline car with an electric-assist, while the Volt is an electric vehicle. Huge, huge difference, even though both have a gas tank and both have a plug.

For example, the plug-in Prius "electric only" range is about a hundred yards - unless you keep the speed and acceleration very low. The Volt on the other hand, you can hit the freeway and break the speed limit and get yourself pulled over, all without using a drop of gas.

They're both great vehicles, and they're also fundamentally different beasts. It's easy to not understand that when thinking in terms of gas tanks and plugs and batteries.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:49 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow GM has decided to more than double their Volt production. Until now, 45000 were scheduled to be build in 2012, but based on the amount of interest in these cars, they've raised that to 120,000.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:56 PM on January 28, 2011


I think it's important to remember that Gene Weingarten is a humor writer who banks on the "just a normal guy" schtick pretty heavily. He is explicitly not a car reviewer. He's a writerly guy who is well-connected enough to be able to get a Volt as a personal favor.
posted by Scattercat at 6:01 PM on January 28, 2011


for me, the bottom line is anything that helps us say no thanks to getting goods and people shipped around without burning oil can only help every facet of human existance on this planet. If all the dough we spent on this pointless war with the middle east were put into R&D for things like this.... The Volt may not be the finest piece of automotive engineering, but it's going in the right direction. Baby steps though it may be
posted by Redhush at 6:15 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


GM needs to publicly acknowledge that their cars (and management) have colossally sucked for the past 25 years.

You just need to buy the right models. In handling and performance, their corvettes have reached the point where they're going toe to toe with supercars that cost twice as much, sport fewer luxuries, and have more problems at fewer miles. The bang for buck you can get out of some of those cars is astounding.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:16 PM on January 28, 2011


1) How does someone who lives in an apartment and parks on the street effectively own one of these?

This is a huge point for city slickers to consider. How many apartment complexes have readily accessible outlets for charging? At the same time, these are the drivers who are most likely to commute shorter distances and benefit from plugging in their vehicle.
posted by dibblda at 6:29 PM on January 28, 2011


Wake me when there are ubiquitous charging posts that I can wave my smartphone over to pay with.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:31 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Prius is gasoline car with an electric-assist, while the Volt is an electric vehicle.

Eh... I see your point, and I fundamentally agree with the idea, but the Volt is a plug-in hybrid vehicle -- the gas engine drives the wheels above a certain torque load and speed (because the motors can't supply enough power to counter air drag).
posted by spiderskull at 6:32 PM on January 28, 2011


I passed Gene Weingarten's son on the sidewalk this morning. He was talking on a cell phone and walking his dog.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:41 PM on January 28, 2011


1) How does someone who lives in an apartment and parks on the street effectively own one of these?

To encourage electric cars municipalities will start putting in special charging parking spaces (via a street lamp conversion). In fact this could be a way for municipalities to make money by offering you some kind of rapid charge parking space at a premium. Eventually if electrification takes off look for wireless charging under parking spaces on streets (that would be cool).
posted by humanfont at 6:43 PM on January 28, 2011


backseatpilot writes "1) How does someone who lives in an apartment and parks on the street effectively own one of these?"

Extension cord? Plug it in at work? Or come to grips with the fact that no car can be all things to all people and buy something else.

seawallrunner writes "I still am not convinced why I should switch from German engineering to this car, given how I drive (very long distances, only on weekends) and where I drive (logging roads and back country mostly). "

No car can be all things to all people. The Volt is not designed for people who routinely drive 100s of miles at a time (though it'll do it, it is just probably a poor choice). What German engineering are you buying for logging road and back country use?

dibblda writes "This is a huge point for city slickers to consider. How many apartment complexes have readily accessible outlets for charging?"

Lots of apartment buildings in Canada provide plugs for every space. Usually only turned on in winter but that could be easily changed.
posted by Mitheral at 6:44 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've driven nothing but Mazdas since about 1992. Love seeing Mazda top that list of reliable brands. Prior to reading this article, I had zero interest in the Volt. My driving patterns and my budget don't make it a realistic choice for me anytime soon, but if I had the means and the need, I'd be interested. And as stated above, this is Volt 1.0. 20 years from now who knows much much better these things will be.
posted by COD at 6:51 PM on January 28, 2011


He calls an 8.8 second 0-60 time "peppy" and immediately loses all credibility with me.

I don't think it's overstating the case to say that this sentence is killing the Earth.
posted by DU at 6:56 PM on January 28, 2011 [16 favorites]


How many apartment complexes have readily accessible outlets for charging?

A conservative Republican at work was explaining to me how electric cars would never work because there aren't any recharging stations in rural areas like there are with gas stations.

I told him to have a little faith in the free market.
posted by DU at 6:58 PM on January 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


Mildly amusing and interesting. Here in B.C., our power is Hydro-electric, so this option seems pretty green, on the surface at least. But this car wouldn't work to take me to Whistler or the back-country. I can see the appeal for city use though. As for the funny? Well, he's no P.J., that's for sure. This is still one of the funniest car reviews I've come across.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:58 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eh... I see your point, and I fundamentally agree with the idea, but the Volt is a plug-in hybrid vehicle -- the gas engine drives the wheels above a certain torque load and speed (because the motors can't supply enough power to counter air drag).

No, you're thinking of the prius, or have heard some of the volt drivetrain confusion that was later corrected. The Volt gas engine does not drive the wheels unless the battery is depleted. The electric engines DO supply enough power to counter air drag.

The bit of the puzzle that you might be missing is that the gas generator contains a clutch, that can split the dynamo from the gasoline engine, and the dynamo is used as an additional engine when more power is required. Since the gas engine drives the dynamo, if it is running when the dynamo needs to be used as a motor, then the gas engine helps power the wheels, but if it's not running when the extra power is needed, the dynamo is powered off the batteries.

You can drive the volt on the freeway without using gas. It is an electric vehicle. It does not need gasoline to operate.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:08 PM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The above might not make much sense unless you know that the dynamo generates electricity if you turn it, but can be operated the other way around and generate torque if you put electricity into it. The volt has a primary drive motor, and a dynamo, and a gas motor. If the batteries are charged, the dynamo is used as an electric motor, giving the car enough electric torque for freeway operation, and if the batteries are drained, the dynamo is used to recharge the batteries from the gasoline, and if the batteries are drained AND you're on the freeway, the gasoline motor will be turning the dynamo which will be turning the drivetrain, which is the source of the misconceptions that it's really just a plug-in prius.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:17 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


This might be a good place to ask: What's passenger comfort like for an EV in cold weather? Since there's not much waste heat to pump into the cabin, how do you heat the passengers at -20? Seat warmers?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:25 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still don't understand. Is there a rotational (as opposed to purely electrical) connection between the gasoline engine and the wheels?

(Not that it matters to me, I think it is cool as heck. I think the "car experts" scoffing at the 8.8 0-60 number would think the car is fast as heck.)
posted by gjc at 7:29 PM on January 28, 2011


He calls an 8.8 second 0-60 time "peppy" and immediately loses all credibility with me.

A car can feel plenty peppy without hitting a six second 0-60. I also imagine it's 0-30 is better than a lot of gas cars that have a six second 0-60 thanks to it's near instantaneous burst of torque. No turbo charger lag for instance.

I'm certainly keeping an eye on the Volt. It looks like a much better vehicle than the Prius (talking about laughable acceleration, I hate getting stuck behind those things, though maybe it's just the people that buy them). I'm sure a few years of real world shake down and improvement will help mightily.
posted by inthe80s at 7:32 PM on January 28, 2011


What is the battery lifespan?
posted by sciencegeek at 7:34 PM on January 28, 2011


Answering my own question... from the Nissan Leaf site:

Q: What generates cabin heat without engine coolant?
A: The Nissan LEAF uses an enclosed electric heater.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:35 PM on January 28, 2011


how do you heat the passengers at -20? Seat warmers?

Apparently. FTFA:

It has clean lines, a youthful, video-game feel to its dashboard display, and a few mildly decadent luxury-car amenities, such as butt-warmer seats.
posted by mikelieman at 7:35 PM on January 28, 2011


Man, am I glad I switched from Alfa Romeo to Mazda.

The Volt is a very impressive piece of engineering. Would I buy one? No. Would I buy a 2nd- or 3rd generation gas-generator supported plug-in electric vehicle? Fuck yes*.

* I'll take one with four-wheel drive, a wagon body/floorpan and sub 7s 0-60 time, please. In metallic gunmetal grey. I'll even put up with a Chevy badge.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 7:36 PM on January 28, 2011


I don't know why they tell you that you'd need to siphon the gas out if it starts getting too old. I would think you'd just stop charging the batteries at night for a week or two until you run the gas down before it gets too old and then just fill it back up again. Seems a lot less complicated to me.
posted by inthe80s at 7:46 PM on January 28, 2011


Just to make it clear, there is no mechanical connection from the gas engine to the wheels. The term hybrid is misleading, the Volt is a gasoline-electric vehicle.
posted by redyaky at 7:47 PM on January 28, 2011


HORK SNORK
posted by desjardins at 7:48 PM on January 28, 2011


I still don't understand. Is there a rotational (as opposed to purely electrical) connection between the gasoline engine and the wheels?

When the battery is depleted, there can be.

Imagine the --- are drive-shafts:

[wheels]---[engine1(electric)]---[clutch1]---[engine2(electric)]---[clutch2]---[engine3(gasoline)]


Normally, clutch1 is open, so the only thing attached to the wheels is engine1

If you need MOAR POWAR! Then clutch1 closes and clutch2 opens, so you have two electric engines joining forces to FORM VOLTRON! (If you don't know your 80s, VOLTRON is a giant badass robot that is created by joining together not-giant robots)

If your battery is depleted, and you want to keep driving, then you need gasoline. So clutch1 opens and clutch2 closes, so the only thing driving the wheels is engine1, meanwhile, in mechanical isolation, engine3 is turning engine2 at optimal revs, using engine2 as a generator to charge the batteries and send electricity to engine1.

But what if your battery is depleted but you still want to FORM VOLTRON!
Then you close clutch1, which combines engine1 with engine2 - but remember that engine2 is currently coupled to engine3 via clutch2, which means engine2 simply becomes an inert driveshaft for transferring rotary motion from engine3 to engine1.

"Why", you ask "would you ever use engine2 as a generator without also FORMING VOLTRON, since a direct rotary connection to the wheels is more efficient than converting to electricity then back to rotary motion?"

I would assume it's because internal combustion engines have a narrow band of revs in which they operate. So you don't want the gas engine coupled to the drivetrain at low speeds for example - the gas engine would be stalled.

posted by -harlequin- at 8:00 PM on January 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


i just want to clear up some facts here, the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight both are battery assisted, meaning that the gasoline engine is connected directly to the drive chain. the Prius uses the Hybrid Synergy Drive while the Insight uses the Integrated Motor Assist system. when the batteries deplete, the gasoline engine kicks it to directly power the wheels.

the difference with the Volt (using the Voltec platform) is that only an electric motor is driving the wheels. the gasoline engine is connected to a generator that is used to replenish the battery. as a result, the gas engine doesn't need to deal with a transmission, thus can run at a peak level and not waste energy idling and operating at non-optimal RPM's when accelerating.

hope that clears things up!
posted by Mach5 at 8:04 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nice, but $32k+ is a lot of money for me right now. I feel like I'm splurging by getting a Honda Fit over a Toyota Yaris. Looks like the planet is going to have to suffer longer.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:10 PM on January 28, 2011


Mach5 -
GM recently got their patents approved on the volt drivetrain, and when that happened, they released a bunch more info about it, showing that it is a even more elegant design than anticipated. Part of that elegance is that if you've let your battery run down, the car can rearrange itself from an electric vehicle and transform into a hybrid.

This has caused confusion, leading people to think it's just a hybrid. It's really a transformer. You can use it an a purely electric car, and you re-arrange its drivetrain it to use it as a hybrid. (Well, the computer does it, but it's your choice whether you run down your batteries, go on a long road trip, etc.)

The simple counterpoint to that confusion - that there is no mechanical connection between the gas engine and the wheels), is true when it has charged batteries, but is not always true if you are running the car off gasoline instead of electricity. The car is more amazing and more efficient for this bit of engineering brilliance, but the distinction is unfortunately not intuitive and difficult to convey :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 8:23 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


How does someone who lives in an apartment and parks on the street effectively own one of these?

Cut a hole in the window-screen and snake the extension cord out to the curb. Be sure to build a little plywood tunnel to put on the sidewalk, so you don't eventually electrocute one of those neighbor biker kids.

Seriously though, a $35K car for an apartment?? With the latest house prices at about $300? Step up to the Merkin Dream, my man.
posted by Twang at 8:24 PM on January 28, 2011


* I'll take one with four-wheel drive, a wagon body/floorpan and sub 7s 0-60 time, please. In metallic gunmetal grey. I'll even put up with a Chevy badge.--Nice Guy Mike

You can get some of your requests: the all-wheel drive Ford Escape Hybrid SUV has been around almost as long as the Prius.
posted by eye of newt at 8:27 PM on January 28, 2011


Sigh.

I own a Volt. Having researched electric vehicles for a couple years, I saw the writing on the wall on this one and plunked down money as soon as I could, and I got one of the first in the country (just before Christmas). I'm probably the first MeFite to have one, if not the only one (so far).

I was all set to really enjoy this little humorous article, then I got to the (inexplicably huge) page 5. So, now I must engage.

1. He underplays the key point that even if you get your electricity from coal, 100%, this car and indeed any EV is still cleaner than just about any gasoline car. And in most circumstances (less than 100% coal, comparing to average cars not just the execrable Prius) an EV is far cleaner.

2. You do not have to siphon out the gas when it gets old. Jesus Christ.

And actually, those are the only two things I take issue with. That gas siphoning nonsense just set me off, I guess. Of course, he comes around and just loves the car, as does every other human being who experiences it.

Trust me, I've been doing demo drives every day for 5 weeks now. Everyone is just stunned by this thing.

As Dan Neil said:
"I get it. A lot of people don't like GM because: 1) the bailout, or 1a) Obama; or 2) the United Auto Workers; or 3) because some Monte Carlo or Cutlass Sierra or deuce-and-a-quarter left them walking a long time ago. That's understandable. These are sour times. But for the moment, we should suspend our rancor and savor a little American pride. A bunch of Midwestern engineers in bad haircuts and cheap wristwatches just out-engineered every other car company on the planet. And they did it in 29 months while the company they worked for was falling apart around them. That was downright heroic. Somebody ought to make a movie."
I haven't read the comments above, and maybe tomorrow if I get time I'll come back and review and try to respond. But right now I have to get to sleep because I've got a big demo event in the morning ...
posted by intermod at 8:39 PM on January 28, 2011 [17 favorites]


Almost forgot--a plug-in version of the Ford Escape Hybrid goes on sale next year.
posted by eye of newt at 8:40 PM on January 28, 2011


Are there any very large scale production hiccups with this system? Can we make that many batteries? If it's true about the off-peak power this is huge.

In 10 years will Hyundai be making $15k versions of this (15k in today's money) or is there some rare materials that won't scale up to world-wide levels of production.
posted by Bonzai at 8:58 PM on January 28, 2011


My cube neighbor has a Volt. I've seen it, but haven't ridden in it yet. I think the car is conceptually really cool, in a geeky kind of way. I think it looks pleasantly chunky. As a city commuter in Los Angeles, 0-60 is largely irrelevant, but tons of low end torque is where its at. I admire Chevy's engineers for designing the car, as it is totally unlike Detroit to build something forward thinking. I also would never buy a Detroit car, because I have hated driving every one I have ever driven, and I strongly distrust their reliability. My cube neighbor got his Volt the first week of January, and already his charger failed and had to be replaced. That anecdata, along with the story in the article about the guying picking his up at the press event, has me thinking that the Volt might be interesting for a city commuter like myself in a few years, once all the kinks are ironed out, and we can see if reliability is the same old Chevy or something new and cool. I wish Chevy luck. I think the car is cool. I'm not buying one.
posted by Joh at 9:23 PM on January 28, 2011


I laughed at the description of the hork/snort sound, but the Chevy engineers really blew this one big time.

The only proper sound for this car to make is that little warble from the Jetson's car.
posted by pjern at 9:34 PM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm hoping the sound can be hacked.
Seems unlikely, because it's a federal safety requirement, so there could be legal issues if people could make their own easily as cellphone ringtones.

But I want to make my own :)
posted by -harlequin- at 9:39 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, that's just what we need. The general public constantly blaring their idiotic ring-tones from their cars everywhere they go.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:55 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


He got the car from Criswell Automotive?
posted by dhartung at 10:39 PM on January 28, 2011


You know, I'm a car guy, and I absolutely cannot understand that people think that a commuter car needs to get to 60 in some dick-shortening speed or have 600 horsepower. It's plain stupid.

I never buy new cars but will be interested in seeing one of these. It seems far more elegant in its drive-train design than the prius and their ilk.
posted by maxwelton at 10:49 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wake me when there are ubiquitous charging post

This has been one of my worries about it, but about three weeks ago, an electric car charging post showed up in the parking lot of the local supermarket here, in podunk semi-rural exurbsville. Driving by it, both our heads turned in slo-mo, with a single word bubble forming over both our heads: "IS THAT WHAT I THINK IT IS?" So, they're coming, apparently.

Second: anybody know what happens if you get in a car wreck in one of these?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:37 PM on January 28, 2011


Joh writes "we can see if reliability is the same old Chevy or something new and cool"

Even Chevy isn't the same old Chevy. All manufacturers across the board have made amazing leaps forward in reliability in the last 10-15 years.

Sebmojo writes "Table to illustrate the reliability ratings of 450,000 vehicles by manufacturer (lower%=more reliable):
"

"Manufacturer / Incidence Rate %

"1 Mazda 8.04%
"2 Honda 8.90%
"3 Toyota 15.78%
"4 Mitsubishi 17.04%
"5 Kia 17.39%
"6 Subaru 18.46%
"7 Nissan 18.86%
"8 Lexus 20.05%
"9 Mini 21.90%
"10 Citroen 25.98%
"11 Daewoo 26.30%
"12 Hyundai 26.36%
"13 Peugeot 26.59%
"14 Ford 26.76%
"15 Suzuki 27.20%
"16 Porsche 27.48%
"17 Fiat 28.49%
"18 BMW 28.64%
"19 Vauxhall 28.77%
"20 Mercedes 29.90%
"21 Rover 30.12%
"22 Volvo 31.28%
"23 Volkswagen 31.44%
"24 Jaguar 32.05%
"25 Skoda 32.12%
"26 Chrysler 34.90%
"27 Audi 36.74%
"28 Seat 36.87%
"29 Renault 36.87%
"30 Alfa Romeo 39.13%
"31 Saab 41.59%
"32 Land Rover 44.21%
"33 Jeep 46.36%"


Pretty useless table suffering from both a selection bias (it only captures data from people buying aftermarket warranties) and a use bias (not much surprise that two companies making almost entirely 4WD SUVs are going to have a higher incidence of mechanical failure than those companies selling commuter vehicles that rarely see more unpaved road than maybe their owners driveway). Also collecting data from the US and the UK when the cars in each market are very different. PS: Probably should have bolded at least Audi and probably Mini in German manufacturers.

-harlequin- writes "I'm hoping the sound can be hacked.
"Seems unlikely, because it's a federal safety requirement, so there could be legal issues if people could make their own easily as cellphone ringtones."


Looks like it's not actually a requirement yet and it looks like the exact noise will be up to individual manufacturers. And holy smoke I know there is an issue with blind people but I can't believe a government body is actually mandating more noise pollution in urban areas. Makes my head spin.
posted by Mitheral at 11:37 PM on January 28, 2011


Are there any very large scale production hiccups with this system? Can we make that many batteries?

Make? Perhaps. Dispose of safely? Hmm.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:00 AM on January 29, 2011


Looks like it's not actually a requirement yet and it looks like the exact noise will be up to individual manufacturers. And holy smoke I know there is an issue with blind people but I can't believe a government body is actually mandating more noise pollution in urban areas. Makes my head spin.

Electric cars should just play the theme from Knight Rider on a loop, plus a voice recording of William Daniels saying, "Caution: Vehicle approaching."
posted by Sys Rq at 1:07 AM on January 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


You know, I'm a car guy, and I absolutely cannot understand that people think that a commuter car needs to get to 60 in some dick-shortening speed or have 600 horsepower.

It has been proven by many years of marketing that low 0-60 times and large amounts of horsepower make dicks longer, not shorter.
posted by madajb at 2:44 AM on January 29, 2011


I am so looking forward to the headlines 24 months from now- "plagued by reliability problems and high cost Chevy Volt fails to meet sales expectations". How will a company with the the problems GM had (and still has read that prospectus for the IPO) suddenly be able to built a solid, well-built car? Not to mention the potential servicing issues. Chevy mechanics haven't seen this drive train yet, will they be able to diagnose and fix the inevitable problems.?

Does this car fool anyone with a basic knowledge and history of the American auto industry? It is a glorified Prius at twice the cost. It's list price is $40,000 before the $10,000 increase to the federal deficit given to purchasers. Chevy also spent the last 3 years lying about its drive train- they claimed the gas motor powered up the generator and wasn't connected to the wheels. Turns out that's not true, it's a slightly more sophisticated version of the Prius- which by the way- is on it's third generation. Not too many people remember the first gen Prius since gas was cheap and it had a weird way of shifting.

Oh and the fit and finish is nice? Honda and Toyota have had great fit and finish for 30+ years, it's part of the reason my grand kids will be paying off GM's debt. 35 years of shitty cars, smart buyers voted with their wallets and now are stuck spending money on GM anyway.

Electric cars sound great in theory but unless there is a massive improvement in battery storage, it is a technological dead end. That Nissan Leaf with the 100 mile range? That is one fourth the range of my 6 year old Saab, and I get 25-30 MPG with decent power. Oh and it only takes 5 minutes to fill up my car, not 12 hours. Electric cars are like Nuclear Fusion energy, it's been the next big technology for 40+ year. The Tesla is a Lotus Elise powered by computer batteries- i.e. a toy for rich celebrities. Like it or not, internal combustion engines are still the best way of powering cars we have.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 5:57 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Electric cars sound great in theory but unless there is a massive improvement in battery storage, it is a technological dead end. That Nissan Leaf with the 100 mile range? That is one fourth the range of my 6 year old Saab, and I get 25-30 MPG with decent power. Oh and it only takes 5 minutes to fill up my car, not 12 hours. Electric cars are like Nuclear Fusion energy, it's been the next big technology for 40+ year. The Tesla is a Lotus Elise powered by computer batteries- i.e. a toy for rich celebrities. Like it or not, internal combustion engines are still the best way of powering cars we have.

The average American travels 33 miles in their car on a daily commute. The Leaf, therefore, covers the vast majority of daily usage needs. The Volt has no such limitation.

We already have the capacity to charge over 80% of commuting electric vehicles. Not only could we reduce pollution (since ICEs are far less efficient at converting gas to forward motion), eliminate terrorist-funding oil imports, and create American jobs, but we would also make the transition to non-fossil fuels much easier.

(Also, all life on earth is powered by nuclear fusion from the Sun. We even have panels that let us convert that fusion into electricity.)
posted by notion at 6:55 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Over the last two years I've watched my father, an automotive engineer who toiled in the Metro Detroit area for ~40 years selling parts and systems to the Big Three, negotiate and produce a job he admits is the most complex of his career.

His company supplies the motors that circulate the coolant around the Volt's batteries, which are uncommon because they are required to be on continuously for the entire lifetime of the car: when it's running, when it's charging, until it fails.

The process has been fraught with uncertainty. They've been at the job through the GM bankruptcy, through the ups and downs of the economy, designing, prototyping, negotiating, testing, retesting. All the while, it's still a paradox to me as to how you engineer and test something in four years so it's designed to last for 40.

It's his last big project before he retires. And I'm sure there are a lot more folks like him attached to the car, Boomers who have invested an uncommonly large amount of personal pride and care in developing it thinking "this one will be different." People who know it could be the biggest revolution in American auto manufacturing in recent history.

So it makes me really happy and grateful to read someone like Gene W start skeptical and experience the bits of delight and wonder that can change your heart. I can't wait to drive one, because I know it'll make me happy and hopeful too.
posted by paryshnikov at 7:19 AM on January 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


The average American travels 33 miles in their car on a daily commute. The Leaf, therefore, covers the vast majority of daily usage needs. The Volt has no such limitation.
The Leaf has a 100 mile range under optimal conditions. Try getting that range in any Northern state from November to April. Cold kills batteries. Not to mention having to have this big issue when driving the leaf- "Do I have enough power to get home?" That is a huge stumbling block. Even if the average person only has to make one unplanned errand once a year and can't because "the car isn't charged yet", they will think twice about buying a leaf. Especially when the Versa (the platform the leaf is based on) gets great MPG and doesn't have the same limitations. I can see Chevy having the same problem- people test driving the Volt and then noticing the Cruze next to it at half the price. Even at $4.00 a gallon $20k buys 5000 gallons of gas- enough to drive 150,000 miles at 30 MPG.

since ICEs are far less efficient at converting gas to forward motion- Not exactly true, if you consider the cost of converting power from one source, transmitting it, storing it in a battery and creating motion. Part of the reason the Prius is so effective is that it runs a gasoline engine at its maximum efficiency and uses battery power to boost power when needed. Not to mention things like regenerative braking, a CV transmission, etc., which all boost power.

We already have the capacity to charge over 80% of commuting electric vehicles. - actually we don't. The grid is designed to push out the maximum power in the afternoon, which is the peak time for power usage. Plants, etc. are brought down in the evenings and having a bunch of cars attached to the grid at night is a really big concern right now. Not to mention the increased coal usage (now there is a clean source of power) that all the new electric cars will need.

If people really wanted to save resources and pollution, they'd maintain cars well and drive them into the ground. The "reduce" part of the reduce, reuse, recycle seems to be the big stumbling block.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 7:27 AM on January 29, 2011


JohntheContrarian writes "Try getting that range in any Northern state from November to April. Cold kills batteries. Not to mention having to have this big issue when driving the leaf- 'Do I have enough power to get home?' That is a huge stumbling block."

You know, for many people it really isn't. I put about 600 kilometres a month on our family car. I live in Canada where it gets plenty cold. Even if cold weather reduced the Leaf's range by 2/3rds (if cold even does this I haven't seen any numbers on reduced range due to cold) I still would never have to worry about getting home. Once a year or so I might venture out of the Leaf's range at which point I'd just rent or borrow something different same as I do now if I need something to haul my car trailer or to drive around with the top down.

Even if that isn't the case the Volt doesn't suffer from "no charge to get home" because it has unlimited range same as your six year old Saab. It's the marketing brilliance of the platform in the face of American ignorance of how they actually drive vs. how they think they drive (see also 2wd SUVs)

JohntheContrarian writes "Plants, etc. are brought down in the evenings and having a bunch of cars attached to the grid at night is a really big concern right now. Not to mention the increased coal usage (now there is a clean source of power) that all the new electric cars will need."

Central plants burning coal to power cars are better than each car hauling around its own ill tuned ICE. And electric cars are the perfect buffer for all those intermittent renewable electrical sources.

JohntheContrarian writes "I am so looking forward to the headlines 24 months from now- 'plagued by reliability problems and high cost Chevy Volt fails to meet sales expectations'."

Why would you look forward to the failure of this product? Personally I hope they succeed and this kind of transportation becomes wildly available thanks in part to the efforts of GM in pioneering this product.

JohntheContrarian writes "Not to mention the potential servicing issues. Chevy mechanics haven't seen this drive train yet, will they be able to diagnose and fix the inevitable problems.? "

Geez way to insult the skills of a broad swath of skilled trades people. Mechanics will handle this just fine through on going education same as they always have.
posted by Mitheral at 8:48 AM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eponysterical, John.

I don't think you've read any literature on the performance of the LEAF's battery pack in cold/hot weather, which can reduce the range by a maximum of 20%. This is particularly odd after you applaud 30 years of Japanese engineering, and then assume that they forgot about weather.

I don't think you have read the study from the PNNL which states unequivocally that the production capacity is there, not including peak power generation plants. You apparently haven't read any literature on the mechanics of generating forward motion from electric versus ICE powerplants, which is based on physics, and not on opinions. And finally, in that same PNNL study, they point to the fact that centralized coal power produces less pollutants per mile than a gasoline engine.

I'm not sure what your preoccupation is with pretending that all of these things aren't true, but it is very peculiar to say the least.
posted by notion at 9:05 AM on January 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Make? Perhaps. Dispose of safely? Hmm. It's my understanding that car batteries approach 97% recycling. I would imagine once you switch from lead to lithium-ion that rate will approach 100%.
posted by Bonzai at 9:42 AM on January 29, 2011


Electric cars sound great in theory but unless there is a massive improvement in battery storage, it is a technological dead end. That Nissan Leaf with the 100 mile range? That is one fourth the range of my 6 year old Saab, and I get 25-30 MPG with decent power. Oh and it only takes 5 minutes to fill up my car, not 12 hours. Electric cars are like Nuclear Fusion energy, it's been the next big technology for 40+ year. The Tesla is a Lotus Elise powered by computer batteries- i.e. a toy for rich celebrities. Like it or not, internal combustion engines are still the best way of powering cars we have.

If there was only some way to run the car once the batteries run out.
posted by Bonzai at 9:44 AM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I put about 600 kilometres a month I put about 600km a week on my car, that's way averages can be deceiving. For 1/2 the potential buyers, range becomes an issue.

If they Volt turns out to be a game-changer I'll come back and admit I was wrong but knowing the history of GM, I don't think I'll have to. $40k for a car that's functionally equivalent to a 10 year old Prius is a joke. I don't understand people sometimes, 30+ years of bullshit from a crappy car maker but they slap some "green" nonsense in their ads and all is forgiven.

Chevy has never made a competitive smaller car- see the Vega, the Citation, the Cavalier, the Cobalt, and now.... Every single one of those cars was touted as the next big thing by Chevy, and at best they were mediocre cars with quality problems that drove two generations of buyers to foreign car makers.

Geez way to insult the skills of a broad swath of skilled trades people.- Not meant to be an insult at all, but there will be a huge learning curve for fixing Volts. Weird problems will show up when the cars become daily drivers. GM has always done new tech badly, and these cars are very different from the traditional GM car.

This is particularly odd after you applaud 30 years of Japanese engineering, and then assume that they forgot about weather.
I don't think Nissan expects to make any money on the Leaf, it looks like a green wash designed to bring in showroom traffic. Tout the Leaf, sell a Versa (or better yet an Armada- that would be funny).
posted by JohntheContrarian at 9:48 AM on January 29, 2011


Nissan says the Leaf has a 100-mile range, but the EPA says it's 73 miles, BTW.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:52 AM on January 29, 2011


$40k for a car that's functionally equivalent to a 10 year old Prius is a joke.

Much of your argument seems to hinge on this assertion ... which I believe is wrong. The Prius uses electricity to support its gasoline engine. No gas means you can only go a mile or two. The Volt is pure electric for ~40 miles (with an occasional assist from the engine in rare circumstances). Not functional equivalents.

The rest of your argument seems to hinge on hating Chevy. To which I'll only point out that way too many people still cling to their "American cars suck" belief long after the data indicate that they have largely closed the quality gap.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:08 AM on January 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


"A conservative Republican at work was explaining to me how electric cars would never work because there aren't any recharging stations in rural areas like there are with gas stations.

I told him to have a little faith in the free market."


Heh, the new $10 million parking garage here in Central Illinois has 20 charging stations. Also echoing notion's comment above; the huge role that electric cars may play in the development of a smarter more efficient power grid could be huge. It would be interesting to watch the development of the power infrastructure.
posted by stratastar at 10:23 AM on January 29, 2011


Johnthecontrarian:

You need to learn a lot more about these cars and EV in general. Almost everything you've said is old myths that have been debunked a long time ago.

The engineering involved is serious, which is why it ignores misconceptions you hold.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:20 PM on January 29, 2011


Non-engineering prediction:

In the future, people will be far more laid back about electric range.
I was talking to someone who bought an electric car as his only vehicle. I didn't even know you could do that - the range-problem fear is so firmly grounded in our psyches - how could you possibly have an EV as your ONLY car?! Are you CRAZY?!
But it turns out that that the statisticians are right, and in the real world, its not at all the terrible problem we fear it is.
I suspect that given 10-20 years for electric to become commonplace enough for that to become firsthand knowledge for everyone, and everyone will stop worrying about it.

The same way people today happily buy a Honda civic and don't care in the slightest that they can't use it to get through a snow-drift mountain passes for their winter ski-trips that they do every year, people will eventually buy electric without caring in the slightest that for road trips you need to either take regular bathroom breaks on road trips so it can recharge, or else pay a premium to gasoline for a rental long-range car, because that's just the way things are done, and the way things are done works fine.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:32 PM on January 29, 2011


That's a great article to sell a car with.

You're right - its almost as if the advertising dept. is dictating/influencing editorial content.

2 Pulitzers or not, I am "meh" on his stuff. I just do not see the appeal.

Interesting car though.
posted by archivist at 12:50 PM on January 29, 2011


Who else got 15-second ads for "clean coal" when going through any photo gallery on that site?
posted by Madamina at 3:20 PM on January 29, 2011


Forget gasoline. Where is my diesel-electric hybrid plugin?
posted by meehawl at 3:23 PM on January 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


JohntheContrarian writes "I put about 600km a week on my car, that's way averages can be deceiving. For 1/2 the potential buyers, range becomes an issue."

I suggest those people not buy a pure electric car then. Which will still leave the Volt as an option because it has unlimited range with occasional stops for fuel like essentially every other car out there. Even so not all cars can be all thing to all people. I suggest people needing to tow a boat, haul plywood, convey 12 people, or needing to mount 35" tires not buy a Volt either.
posted by Mitheral at 3:40 PM on January 29, 2011


Regarding the range problem, there's a clever approach taken by at least one electric sportscar of yore (the tzero): the car itself was all-electric, but you could get a generator trailer that was designed to work as part of the car (faired-in, and had some sort of linked steering) which, when attached, would give you the range (and mileage) of a normal gasoline powered car. The nice thing about this is that you don't carry the weight of a gas engine around with you all the time for no reason. And if you really don't need the range (second car, etc.) you don't need to buy the generator-trailer at all.
posted by hattifattener at 4:49 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Funny, hattifattener, I was just thinking of that very idea. But I was thinking of a DIY kind of guy, driving down the road with a Honda generator strapped to the roof. The notion amuses me.

I don't much like cars. But I'm from Flint, and I'm a sentimental slob. I hope GM can do this thing right and earn a new reputation. But I'm from Flint, and I know a lot about hope.
posted by Goofyy at 10:45 PM on January 29, 2011


Your Volt owner here again.

Thanks Mitheral and -harlequin- (and notion, and others) for answering the various questions and neatly dismantling the contrarian arguments. Indeed I hear the same tired old myths over and over every day, especially from semi-educated folks like our John The Contrarian here, and I just have to quietly engage and hope I'm not wasting my time. Alas, sometimes they really are oil company shills and you're essentially arguing with a brick wall.

Aside to notion and a couple others: I think you're overstating how well the batteries resist cold weather. We are finding that there is significant degradation of range in cold weather, more than 20%. For the Volt, that's no big deal. For the Leaf, it could be a deal breaker.

That's a great article to sell a car with.

Right! The funny thing is, they all end up like that. Read pretty much any Volt article (that's not a halfwit fact-lite blog entry) and they go through the same cycle. Skepticism, laying out of facts, grudging support, teary eyed cheering.

It takes premium gas??

They had to deal with the problem of gas going stale. If you drive less than 35 miles a day, and charge up every night, you'll never use any gas. So they did three things: 1) require premium gas which takes longer to go stale, 2) pressurize the fuel tank a little bit (yes, after you close the cap it's pumped up to a slight positive pressure) and 3) after 6 months of the same gas it just starts up the engine and burns the gas. If you went 6 months without burning through a couple gallons of gas, then hooray for you but you should have bought a pure electric like a Leaf!

This might be a good place to ask: What's passenger comfort like for an EV in cold weather? Since there's not much waste heat to pump into the cabin, how do you heat the passengers at -20? Seat warmers?

Indeed. The Volt has electric seat warmers (well, if you get the leather seat package, which nearly every buyer has so far) and they work beautifully. And there's also electric heat to warm the cabin air, however I will admit it's rather anemic and certainly can't give you the blast of heat that your regular car's waste heat generator, oops I mean gas engine, can give you.

What is the battery lifespan?

The whole electric drivetrain, in both the Volt and the Leaf, is warrantied for 8 years / 100,000 miles. GM has said it was designed to last 15 years. I won't go into how they achieved that but there's real science and engineering involved, not just wishful thinking. The smart money says GM's battery will actually achieve it, but Nissan's won't and in about 5 years the Nissan balance sheet will start taking hits due to warranty battery replacements.

Let's see, what else? The "powered by coal" argument has been swatted down already here but it's so insidious I'll say it again. Even if you take 100% dirty coal as the power plant input, any electric vehicle is still cleaner than any gasoline car. Period. It's called "well to wheels" efficiency and there is study after study showing this. And that's the worst case scenario. Once you factor in less than 100% coal (e.g. some other plants in the mix, like nuclear, hydro, wind, solar), average gasoline cars instead of just Prius, then the electric car is fantastically cleaner.

These facts coupled with the eerily fabulous EV performance (rocket sled acceleration) are why every carmaker is now racing to catch up to GM's formidable lead.

I'm just as much a skeptic as anyone about anything, but this is the real deal here folks. GM knocked it out of the park.
posted by intermod at 7:10 AM on January 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


intermod: "Even if you take 100% dirty coal as the power plant input, any electric vehicle is still cleaner than any gasoline car. Period. It's called "well to wheels" efficiency and there is study after study showing this."

Gas/petrol, mild preponderance of evidence in favour of electric, yes, with caveats given the inputs required to create the electric components and the ongoing energy generation costs. However, gas/petrol is the most handicapped of all internal combustion fuels against which to eval electric:
The main finding of this study is that the impact of a Li-ion battery used in [a battery car] for transport service is relatively small. In contrast, it is the operation phase that remains the dominant contributor to the environmental burden caused by transport service as long as the electricity for the [battery car] is not produced by renewable hydropower ... A break even analysis shows that an [internal combustion vehicle] would need to consume less than 3.9 L/100km to cause lower [impact] than a [battery car] ... Consumptions in this range are achieved by some small and very efficient diesel[s], for example, from Ford and Volkswagen.
posted by meehawl at 10:47 AM on January 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Regarding the range problem, there's a clever approach taken by at least one electric sportscar of yore (the tzero): the car itself was all-electric, but you could get a generator trailer that was designed to work as part of the car --hattifattener

This post motivated me to do some Googling, which lead to some interesting results.

tzero is built by AC Propulsion, which was founded by Alan Cocconi.

Alan Cocconi used to work for GM. He developed the controller for the GM Impact and EV1 electric vehicles before founding AC Propulsion.

He also licensed drivetrain technology to Tesla, and a Wired article that suggests that his ideas were the inspiration for the Tesla.

Sounds like this man's ideas are behind much of the electric vehicle industry in this country.
posted by eye of newt at 11:06 AM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


> You know, I'm a car guy, and I absolutely cannot understand that people think that a commuter car needs to get to 60 in some dick-shortening speed or have 600 horsepower.

Maybe because a lot of people only have one car, i.e. the one they have to communte with, and still want a car that's fun to drive the rest of the time?
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 11:53 AM on January 30, 2011


Yes, there are places that get most of their power from coal, but that's not true everywhere.

California only gets 0.3% of its electric power from coal. It gets ten times that much just from wind power alone. Probably the majority comes from natural gas. Just from air pollution alone, which is a big problem in California, I'd say the electric car comes out a win.
posted by eye of newt at 12:01 PM on January 30, 2011


You know, I'm a car guy, and I absolutely cannot understand that people think that a commuter car needs to get to 60 in some dick-shortening speed or have 600 horsepower.

I'm a car guy who wants my car to do 0-60 in around 6 seconds at worst. That's not a "dick-shortening speed." I like the car to be able to really go if I want it to. I don't care if it has 600 horsepower. In fact, I think reducing weight and increasing efficiency is a lot better way to improve performance than adding horsepower. Unfortunately, the U.S. government keeps adding requirements to cars that make them heavier. Oh well. Anyway, my car does just fine with under 300 bhp, thanks.

And I cannot afford an extra car to drive for fun, so I like my commuter car to also be enjoyable to drive. I drove cheap crap cars for decades and now I can afford one I actually like to drive. If I was trying to save money, I'd buy a 15-year-old car, not a new hybrid or electric.

As I said above, the idea of the Volt is very appealing to me. If a reputable company sold a car like the Volt that was actually quick and responsive to drive, I would probably buy one. I'm in the market right now anyway. If reducing weight were the way to do that (it probably is), I'd buy a two-seat sports coupe with the Volt technology.

General Motors could kill Tesla off pretty quick if they started selling a good-looking $40k sports coupe with Volt tech. The Saturn Sky or Pontiac Solstice might make a good donor chassis, actually. I'd buy a $40k electric Solstice in a heartbeat and my only regret would be that it has no trunk (seriously, no trunk - what were they thinking?).
posted by The World Famous at 12:20 PM on January 30, 2011


Quite frankly, that article was a thinly-disguised GM ad. I had to stop reading when I read this line:
To be fair, studies have shown that even dirty coal is kinder to the atmosphere than is gasoline.

What studies? Kinder, exactly how? At that point it becomes stridently clear that the GM executive gave this car to a humorist rather than to a journalist because he knew that real journalists, even car journalists, who are usually the worst kind of shills around, would ask harder questions than this guy.
posted by Skeptic at 4:26 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kinder, exactly how?

Kinder in pretty much every way. Less net energy used to do the same amount of work. More efficient combustion of the fuels. Better emmissions scrubbing.

Seriously, it's not an extraordinary claim, it's all but common sense if you look into it. In Rush Limbuagh Fantasy World, greenies are too stupid to notice that electricity in the USA involves coal and everything they do is wrong and stupid and counterproductive and obviously so. And those soundbites have been making the rounds for years masquerading as fact. But in reality world, even with all the loses incurred getting electricty from coal to road, electric still beats what you can do with a shoddy little internal combustion engine in a car, hands down.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:37 AM on January 31, 2011


- harlequin - Your sources?

Less net energy used to do the same amount of work.

This depends on a number of factors. As somebody has pointed out, some diesels are close to electric cars in their final energy balance. But, apart from that, this doesn't directly relate to the assertion "coal is kinder to the atmosphere than gasoline". Because coal is almost 100% carbon, burning it releases considerably more carbon dioxyde, for the same energy, than hydrocarbons such as gasoline.

More efficient combustion of the fuels.

Not at all. Coal, being solid, burns less efficiently than gasoline, which vaporizes within the engine and is throughly mixed with the combustion air. You would have a point if you said that both the scale and thermal cycles of power plants in general (not just coal-fired ones), in addition to the fact that they can be run at nearly constant power outputs at their peak efficiencies, result in an more efficient overall operation than a car engine. But the combustion of coal is most certainly not more efficient than that of gasoline.

Better emmissions scrubbing.

That's an extremely dishonest claim. Coal has plenty of pretty noxious stuff in it, in particular sulphur. Moreover, that solid, inefficient combustion releases plenty of soot. As a result, coal-fired plants are forced to install extremely expensive scrubbing equipment (in developed countries...places like China are a completely different matter). Acid rain from German, Polish and Czech coal-fired power plants almost devastated the Central European forests just twenty years ago. And scrubbing is not a perfect solution: there's always the danger of a failure, and the scrubbing residues are some of the most toxic waste around. By contrast, the exhaust from a modern gasoline engine (or even a diesel) with decent emission control is pretty clean.
posted by Skeptic at 6:08 AM on January 31, 2011


Skeptic, I don't think you are being fair.

When someone says "coal is kinder to the atmosphere than gasoline", I think it is a pretty safe assumption that they are not talking about coal-burning cars. So if they aren't talking about that, what do you think are they talking about? Small, filling station sized coal burning stations?
Of course they are talking about large coal plants, which in the US implies 'extremely expensive scrubbing equipment'. I don't understand how, at least in the US or Europe with today's standards, you can make any other assumption.
posted by eye of newt at 8:12 AM on January 31, 2011


I stopped by a Chevy dealer this morning to check out the Volt and see if it might be a viable candidate for my next car. It was very nice compared with other Chevy vehicles in terms of fit, finish, and materials. The plastic console looks and feels really cheap, but no more cheap than all the other Chevys. The compartment on top of the dash didn't fit on right and wouldn't latch all the way. I imagine it would rattle, which would drive me crazy. The exterior had some paint and fit/finish issues, but nothing out of the ordinary for Chevy.

But the leather seats were very nice and I was generally very impressed. The trunk looked adequate on initial view, but then it became apparent that the designers cleverly made it look a lot bigger than it really is by making it a hatchback design with no cargo cover and opening up the space between the back seats so that you see right into the trunk all the time (oh, and there's no middle seat in the back - just a huge plastic console thing between the seats - there's probably electric hardware in the hump there that they needed to cover up somehow).

So, basically, I was sold on it. It was very nice.

But then I saw the price. Rougly $40k. Well, that's not really the price. There's a tax credit, after all. But there's also a $9,000 dealer mark-up, putting the sale price at just shy of $50k. So the tax credit is more than erased by the dealer's greed.

Oh, and they won't let you test drive it until you buy it.

So, yeah, I'm not going to spend $50k on what is basically an economy car with nice leather seats. I can get a new Fiesta for $30k less than a Volt, including leather seats, a nicer interior than a Volt, equivalent performance, better handling, and about 40 miles per gallon.

Here's the thing: You can buy a lot of gas for $30,000. And, as I said above, people trying to save money are better off just buying a used compact for a tenth the price of a Volt.

The Volt is, for now, a very expensive way for very rich people to feel good about themselves.

But that's ok. Because instead of a Volt, I'll probably buy something that's a lot more fun to drive. See, I like my commute to be fun. And I can buy a lot of gas for the difference between the price of an incredibly fast car that seats 5 people (I have three small children, so I need all three back seats) and the $50k that I would have to spend to get a Volt.

I mean, seriously, 50 thousand dollars? Who has that to spend on a car and also is worried about fuel economy?
posted by The World Famous at 11:07 AM on January 31, 2011


> I mean, seriously, 50 thousand dollars? Who has that to spend on a car and also is worried about fuel economy?

Early adopters are usually doing so for a few reasons: 1)because it's new and cool and they can afford it, 2)they know that if they help open up the market then less expensive electric cars will be available as tooling and production costs are reduced.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:26 AM on January 31, 2011


So, in other words, no one has $50k to spend on a car and is also worried about fuel economy. But, fortunately, there will be enough rich (or credit-foolish) people buying the things that something that makes more sense will eventually come along.

I seriously wanted to kick the car dealer when I saw that they had added a $9000 dealer mark-up to the price. General Motors wants to kick them, too, I suspect.
posted by The World Famous at 11:33 AM on January 31, 2011


Skeptic: here you go (PDF). People that have studied this a LOT longer than you or I have come to the conclusion that EVs are simply more efficient in virtually any scenario, usually without a performance compromise. That's why every car maker is now furiously developing EVs (Honda and VW were the last to cave, last fall).

The World Famous: check out the lease deal. That's the clincher. I wouldn't buy it outright for $41K either, and I didn't (although some have). With the lease terms, it is no longer limited to being a "very expensive way for very rich people to feel good about themselves", as you overstated it, and becomes instead a within-reach option for "early adopters [who are buying it because] 1) it's new and cool and they can afford it, 2) they know that if they help open up the market then less expensive electric cars will be available as tooling and production costs are reduced" as Burhanistan said.

Continue debating if you wish, but keep your mind open. You'll come around. Might take a year though. Back in Jan 2008 I was right where you are now, coming up with reasons to swat down EV technology, until I realized I was wrong.
posted by intermod at 12:46 PM on January 31, 2011


I'm not swatting down EV technology. I think it's fantastic and I would love to have a car that uses it. But I cannot afford a $40,000 car. Period. No matter how cool and new it is and not matter how good it would feel to help open up the market for future vehicles.

And leasing for $2,500 down and $350 a month for 36 months is, frankly, a bad deal. If I'm going to pay that much every month with that much down, I want to actually own something at the end of the 36 months that I can either have paid off and keep driving or sell and get a chunk of my money back. Moreover, if I want a lease, I can lease a 40-mpg car that's just as comfortable and drives better than a Volt for under $200 a month for a shorter term.

Really, I don't see what you mean when you say I'll "come around." What will make me come around to being willing to pay a lot of extra money? A sudden burst of both wealth and environmental altruism?

Again, I'm not "coming up with reasons to swat down EV technology." I'm not swatting it down at all. The only thing I'm swatting down is the idea of me spending $50k on a car - any car (and yes, once you add in the dealer premium add-on price and the taxes in Los Angeles, that's about how much it is). I'm also swatting down the Chevy dealer's $9000 add-on to the price, which I think is a greedy obstacle to the progress represented by the Volt.
posted by The World Famous at 1:20 PM on January 31, 2011


The World Famous writes "But I cannot afford a $40,000 car."

Then why are you looking at the Volt, the list price is more than that.

The World Famous writes "(I have three small children, so I need all three back seats)"

Again why are you contemplating a 4 seat car then?

The World Famous writes "I mean, seriously, 50 thousand dollars? Who has that to spend on a car and also is worried about fuel economy?"

Lots of people. Many of the people with that kind of money got there by paying attention to the little things. And fuel economy isn't just about dollars in the tank it's also about pollution out the other end. Not everyone with 50K to burn on a new car is unconcerned about pollution. Having said that people buy cars more expensive than your basic transportation appliance for all sorts of reasons. It's pretty well the foundation of the auto industry. Maybe they just want an electric car with a national dealer support network. Maybe they just think it's cool (god knows I've bought cars for that reason and then enjoyed the heck out of them). Maybe they just want to pick up granola guys. The Volt doesn't seem to meet any of your basic needs or abilities. I can't really understand your angst at a dealer mark up on a hot new car that you were never going to pay in the first place. It's like GRARing 'cause you can't afford a single Lincoln on the lot even though none of them will fit in your garage.
posted by Mitheral at 2:03 PM on January 31, 2011


The World Famous writes "But I cannot afford a $40,000 car."

Then why are you looking at the Volt, the list price is more than that.


I sort of thought maybe I would save money by not having to buy gas. And I was curious as to just how nice the car is, given the ridiculous gushing about luxury in the linked article.

The World Famous writes "(I have three small children, so I need all three back seats)"

Again why are you contemplating a 4 seat car then?


I didn't realize until I opened the back door of the Volt that it had no middle rear seat.

Many of the people with that kind of money got there by paying attention to the little things.

If they got there by paying attention to the little things, why would they be willing to pay a $9000 dealer surcharge for the privilege of driving a Volt? I mean, other than vanity or altruism, of course. Seriously, the thing that really annoyed me was the $9000 dealership surcharge. To get electric vehicles to really catch on, a company needs to make one that is a viable transportation option for the masses - something that shows people that an electric car isn't just a cool thing that rich people get to have. I hoped the Volt would be that. But it's not.

Having said that people buy cars more expensive than your basic transportation appliance for all sorts of reasons.

Your basic transportation appliance costs about $20k new. A Volt is more than twice as expensive as your basic transportation appliance.

Maybe they just think it's cool (god knows I've bought cars for that reason and then enjoyed the heck out of them).

I recognize that. I think that's a perfectly legitimate reason to buy a car, actually.

I can't really understand your angst at a dealer mark up on a hot new car that you were never going to pay in the first place.

Really? You seem like you're enthusiastic about electric vehicle tech and like you hope that it will be successful and promote the production and sale of more electric cars. My "angst" is due to the fact that I, too, hope to see EV tech take off and become widespread on America's roads and the fact that dealers tacking on several thousand dollars to the price has a history of hurting demand for a vehicle and sabotaging the manufacturer's ability to sell the number of vehicles they produce. I'm not upset that I'm not going to buy a Volt. I'm upset that the dealers are undermining GM's entire marketing strategy, which aims to sell the Volt as a viable mode of transportation for people who are not rich. Can you really not understand that?
posted by The World Famous at 2:27 PM on January 31, 2011


Th world famous:

Dealers are adding crazy markup right now because they can - the Volt is the sexiest thing to hit the showroom floor in years, and production is so tiny that they're super-exclusive. It happened with the Camero, it happened with the Corvette ZR1, its dealer SOP when a hot new car is so new that demand exceeds supply.

The thing to remember is that it won't last. :-)

The popularity cuts both ways. Because of this interest, GM has announced they're going to near triple the production numbers next year - and that was already going to be five times the production of this year.

For every Volt made this year, next year they will be building 12.

That may not be enough to slack the thirst for them right away, but give it a year or so more, and you'll be talking dealers down below MSRP, and they'll be ones wanting you to take a test drive.

You're right - the dealers are undermining GMs strategy, to everyone's disadvantage, and it's annoying, but that's the way the world has always turned, and they'll be working for their commissions again soon enough.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:49 PM on January 31, 2011


I couldn't agree more, -harlequin-.
posted by The World Famous at 4:58 PM on January 31, 2011


Let's do the math! (warning: I'm bad at math)

Assume the dealer markup will go away but all other values stay the same. Also assume you drive the car 100,000 miles.

Price of electricity - $1.50 per 40 miles (according to article)
Price of gas - $3/gallon

Volt: (best case scenario, all electric)

$40,280 (retail price)
- $7,500 (tax credit)
_________
$32,780 purchase price
+$3,750 in energy cost (100,000 * (1.5/40))
______
$36,530 total cost

Fiesta:

$17,500 (retail price)
+$8,108 ((100,000/37) * 3)
_______
$25,608 total cost

If the Volt comes down (doubtful) or electricity goes down (very possible if the night time over capacity mentioned upthread is true) or if gas gets more expensive (inevitable) the gap will close.
posted by Bonzai at 7:20 PM on January 31, 2011


I'm having a hard time understanding your assertion that increased demand for electricity will lower the price of electricity.
posted by The World Famous at 9:02 AM on February 1, 2011


It's not my assertion it was up-thread.

But the basic idea is this. A certain percentage of power plants run 24 hours a day. At night, a significant percentage of that electricity is unused and therefore wasted. EVs are usually charged at night and will therefore use the electricity that would otherwise be generated but unsold.

So if your local power plant generates X megawatts of power a day and sells .7X it charges enough for the .7X to pay for X. If it now sells .8X it will still charge for X.

If indeed there is enough nighttime overcapacity to fully charge all these cars then these cars add no extra carbon to the atmosphere.

notion spelled it out better than I did.
posted by Bonzai at 11:47 AM on February 1, 2011


The fact that power plants apparently have capacity to add consumers during current off-peak hours says nothing about the amount of money that they could and would charge for that power. Faced with increased demand for a product that costs a producer nothing to produce (because they have already produced it), what market forces (or other forces) exist that would tend to cause them to reduce the price that the consumers must pay?

If supply remains the same and demand increases, why would price go down?

Notion did not spell that out at all.
posted by The World Famous at 11:58 AM on February 1, 2011


I can only lead you to the forest I can't make you see the trees.

Let's say you're with some friends and you order some pizza.

The pizza costs $12 and there are 3 of you. Each of you has to pay $4.

Let's further say that because you are all healthy eaters and you throw away any pizza that is left over after you are full. This pizza is so filling that you throw away 1/4 of it.

Now let add another friend you comes home after you all go to bed and also wants to chip in so that he can eat the cold leftover pizza.

Now each of you have to pay $3 for the pizza.
posted by Bonzai at 12:06 PM on February 1, 2011


I understand how the "use the unused power supply" argument means that a fixed amount of power can be used by more people, and thus in a fair world, the cost per unit could go down.

But I think the counterargument is: it might be too optimistic to think that power companies will actually reduce the price per unit, rather than just leaving the price per unit the same and increasing the amount of profit they make.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:02 PM on February 1, 2011


I'm having a hard time with that analogy Bonzai. Are my friends and I supposed to be the power company? And are you saying that, like me and my friends, the power company will totally be cool and not try to make a profit?

Because that doesn't seem to work - I mean, wouldn't the power company be the pizzeria, rather than the group of friends who buy a pizza? That seems to make a lot more sense. And in your hypothetical, the pizzeria didn't have any surplus - the consumer did and the consumer had already paid full price for all the pizza. And, in your hypothetical, I and my friends were really cool and didn't try to charge the new guy full price for the pizza.

You just assumed away my whole question. I asked "If supply remains the same and demand increases, why would price go down?" You answered "because you and your friends are nice to the guy who shows up late to the party and wants your extra pizza." What??

The power companies produce the electricity according to estimates of consumer demand and then, due to the nature of the technology, they end up with a certain level of surplus at certain times of the day, week, or year. And power companies are in it for the money, so they're not likely to decide voluntarily that they don't want to make any money due to increased demand. They sometimes charge less for off-peak power, but that's an effort to boost demand and sell a product that otherwise would go unsold. If demand independently increases, it would make no sense for them to reduce the price further. Let's see if we can fix the analogy.

To stick with the pizza analogy, since we're there already:

Let's say you're with some friends and you go out for pizza.

The pizzeria has an oven that only works if it makes 2 pizzas at a time. So it makes 2 pizzas and then charges $12 per pizza.

But you and your friends only decide to buy 1 pizza, for which you pay $12.

So the pizzeria now has one pizza that you and your friends did not buy.

Then I walk in the door and I order a pizza.

The pizzeria sells me the pizza for $12.

"But you already made that pizza!" I cry. "It was surplus pizza! You had extra capacity! You (the pizzeria) would have just thrown it away at the end of the night!" I shout.

"Tough luck," the pizzeria tells me. "Pizzas are $12 each."

Your analogy seems to rely on the assumption that, like me and my friends, the power company will totally be cool and not try to make a profit when someone wants to buy something from it.

As far as I can tell, notion did not make the assertion you made that increased demand for electricity during off-peak hours will exert downward pressure on price is that it makes no sense. notion's comment was about the idea that the power companies have capacity for vehicle charging on a large scale during off-peak hours. Whether they have the capacity is a separate question from that of what price they are likely to charge for it.

All other things being equal, high supply and low demand means downward pressure on price. And when the demand increases but the supply remains the same, price generally increases.

tl;dr version: Your analogy breaks down in several places, but the most important one is the very end where you forget that the only one of my friends who is still awake when the new guy comes in and offers to buy a slice is a dick and charges the new guy full price or more. The power companies are not a group of nice friends. They are in it for the money. They are the pizzeria, not the roommates who bought the pizza.
posted by The World Famous at 1:08 PM on February 1, 2011


Are you just fucking with me? If so you are doing a good job.

If the per unit cost of electricity goes down then the cost should come down. The utilities are not a monopoly and are subject to regular market forces.

They will make more money overall but less per unit.

The power companies may indeed be dicks but they are also in competition with each other.
posted by Bonzai at 4:53 PM on February 1, 2011


If the per unit cost of electricity goes down then the cost should come down.

1. Why would increased demand for electricity cause the per-unit cost to go down?

2. Even if the per-unit cost were to go down, what incentive would the power companies have to pass the savings along to the consumer?

When demand goes up and supply stays the same, price goes up.

The power companies may indeed be dicks but they are also in competition with each other.

Even assuming that assertion is true, why would increased demand for electricity create a greater incentive to reduce price than already exists?
posted by The World Famous at 5:23 PM on February 1, 2011


I'm out.
posted by Bonzai at 6:11 PM on February 1, 2011


I am not an energy economist, all of this is off the top of my head at this point and I imagine that individual areas have wildly ranging specifics. Power companies in certain states already have variable pricing depending on peak-demand usage, in other countries, its basically the rule. As mentioned above, the last plants to fire-up during high demand times are the costliest per unit production costs, reducing the usage of these plants should reduce costs for consumers.

This was also one of the major rallying calls behind power plant privatization a few years ago: that our prices would be cheaper because people would use their power in more maximally beneficial ways: I know to run the dishwasher / drier / whatever at night, when demand is lowest, and the prices would fall accordingly, because less of the high-cost plants would have to run ever. (Enron is tied into this btw).

For a variety of reasons, removing regulation led to increased prices in the majority of cases despite the introduction of variable pricing (part of this was the fact that consumers in the US were never really educated about variable pricing; the power production and power transmission systems are run by separate entities, power production never became perfectly competitive, and finally alot of companies just started gaming the system).

True power production competition was never realized, so the consumer surplus (lower prices) was never achieved.
posted by stratastar at 7:01 PM on February 1, 2011


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