Car described as a fuel saver, but also a little pricey
By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Chevrolet Volts have begun rolling onto car dealer lots in the Northern Shenandoah Valley over the last three months, signaling the arrival of a unique gas-saving option for the region's commuters to consider.
Car salesmen not surprisingly tout the vehicle's fuel efficiency, and their claims are mostly supported by reviews in the automotive press.
"It's unbelievable," Glenn Murphy said of the mileage he has been getting in the demo model Volt he has been driving to and from his job as sales manager at Jack Evans Chevrolet in Front Royal. "People who run around town, they might not need any gas at all."
The Edmunds.com Web site called the 2012 Chevy Volt "arguably the most fuel-efficient car on the market, but it's pricey for what you get."
Contrary to what its name suggests, the Volt is far from an all-electric vehicle. It is powered by a 149 horsepower electric motor that relies on a lithium-ion battery pack until the battery charge nears depletion. A four-cylinder internal combustion engine then kicks in and replaces the battery pack in generating power for the electric motor. A fully charged Volt can travel about 35 miles before it begins using gasoline at a rate of about 40 miles per gallon, according to the EPA.
The battery can be recharged in about four or eight hours, depending on whether it is plugged into a 120-volt or 240-volt charging outlet.
The cars available at dealerships in the area sell for $39,000 to $44,000, but a $7,500 federal tax credit cuts the buyer's cost to the low- to mid-$30,000 range.
The Volt's introduction to the region has been accompanied by a wave of news stories reporting an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into potential fire hazards linked to the Volt's battery pack. The agency reported two fires and an incident of smoke and sparks stemming from safety tests conducted by regulators this year.
The traffic safety administration said in a written statement announcing the investigation that it is "not aware of any roadway crashes that resulted in battery-related fires in Chevy Volts or other vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries. However, the agency is concerned that damage to the Volt's batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire."
The agency added that Volt owners who have not been in a serious crash "do not have reason for concern."
Murphy blames the media for spreading excessive fear about the Volt. He said the outside company contracted by the government to conduct the safety tests failed to follow rules for safe handling of lithium-ion batteries after crashes.
The Volts at Jack Evans have generated more attention than sales so far. The dealership received its demo model, which cannot be sold for six months, in early fall. Another Volt that is for sale arrived about two weeks ago.
Other dealers in the area have given the Volt a mixed reception.
Jim Stutzman Chevrolet-Cadillac of Winchester has sold three Volts, one in each of the last three months, said sales manager Jason Manning. The buyers were a doctor, a businessman and a Realtor, he said.
"They're pretty well received," Manning said of the Volts. "We have had two customers report back to us that they have logged more than 100 mpg," he said. "The [demo] car we have here had some 400 miles logged on it, and the last time we checked, it had used only half a gallon of gas."
Bobby Grubbs, owner of Grubbs Chevrolet Inc. in Woodstock, had a distinctly cooler view of the Volt. He said he is not selling the Volt because "you had to pay a bunch of money upfront to sell the car."
"It's not that big a deal," until there's more demand for Volts and there are more places away from home for people to recharge them, Grubbs said.
Murphy said the demo he drives has proved to be "a real head turner" on the streets and in parking lots. "They love it at the Bowling Green Golf Course," Murphy said. "People are just all over it."
"We get a lot of people who are interested in the car, but nobody who says 'This is what I really want,'" said Ron Nicholson, a salesman at Jack Evans.
Nicholson said he expects the sales will come eventually.
"When something new like this comes along, it takes awhile for it to catch on," he said.
John Grassmick of Luray has owned a Volt since May 12, when he drove one off the lot of a Fairfax dealership. He estimates he has used about 200 gallons of gas during that time "and the only reason I used that is I drove the car up to Rochester [N.Y.] twice to visit relatives."
Grassmick's late father was in charge of the department that made carburetors and fuel injectors for GM.
"I grew up with cars, I know quite a bit about them," he said.
Grassmick said he had "absolutely no issues" with the Volt's reliability or maintenance so far.
Grassmick, who subscribes to Consumer Reports, cited a recent survey by the magazine that showed the Volt received the top score in its annual owner satisfaction survey. The survey asked owners of vehicles from model years 2009 to 2012 if they would buy the same vehicle again. Volt owners replied favorably at a rate of 93 percent.
"I'm one of them," Grassmick said.