Chevy Volt Uses No Gas – Unless it’s Cold Out

Volt in snow phtotoHere’s another surprise for Chevy Volt owners. Autoblog reports that General Motors is holding an online chat with Volt owners about winter driving. Part of the chat reveals that, despite the fact that GM claimed the Volt is purely electric for a range of about 35 miles, the vehicle will use gas in cold conditions. GM states, “Please be aware: when starting your Volt in these colder months, in some instances, your gas engine may engage regardless of the state of charge of the battery. This was designed into (the) Volt to generate heat for the battery when temperatures are well below freezing.”

I guess those environmentally conscientious Volt owners will have to wait for warmer weather to save the planet by being totally gas-free. They can settle for being “mostly green” in colder weather. That is, if you consider it green to drive a vehicle that runs on coal power and volatile lithium-ion mined elements.

GM has taken heat in the past for claiming the Volt was purely electric until battery was drained. Under certain acceleration conditions the gas engine does engage, even within the initial battery powered stage. Now GM has waited until the cold weather is here to drop the latest surprise on Volt fans. But I’m sure Volt apologists will claim, “It’s only a little gas used.” Kind of like, “It was only a few fires.” Or, “It was only a limited number of GM dealerships gaming tax credits.”

It will be interesting to see how the satisfaction of Volt owners holds up when they struggle to keep warm in cold temperatures. One of the early complaints about the Volt was the lack of adequate heating. Engineers had to tone back the heat to help conserve battery charge. The cold weather also greatly reduces the Volt’s battery range. Early Consumer Reports’ tests showed a reduced range in cold weather closer to 20 miles than the much-hyped 30 to 45 mile claims. That was before CR mysteriously became a fan and recommended the Volt, despite the lack of long-term reliability data and the safety issues that have surfaced.

I guess the warm weather conditions that Jay Leno drives his car in helped contribute to his low gas usage. If you hadn’t read one of the thousand or so internet stories on it, Mr. Leno supposedly only drives one of the hundred or so exotic cars that he owns. His car of choice? Of course, the Chevy Volt! Who would want to drive a Ferrari or Lamborghini when you can help promote the favorite car of President Obama? And I’m sure it wouldn’t have anything to do with the millions of dollars of GM ad revenue Leno and friends at his network receive.

I’m glad to see that the $7,500 tax credit Mr. Leno is entitled to for buying the Volt is going to good use. Actually, I’ll bet the claims that Jay Leno only drives a Volt, drove 11,000 miles in one year and is still on the first tank of gas, is about as true as most of Government Motors’ other claims about the vehicle. That includes the one that there is so much demand for the vehicle that supply can’t keep up. You can probably add the claim that GM tried but couldn’t replicate a crash-test induced fire in the vehicle for five months to the list of GM half-truths.

I look forward to hearing about how happy the Volt owners in cold climates are with their vehicles. Maybe some of the NY city police officers who have been forced to drive the poorly heated vehicles when Mayor Bloomberg (make that taxpayers) purchased a fleet for them earlier in the year can give me some feedback. Mayor Bloomberg may want to consider making space heaters standard issue for the unlucky officers to carry along with their Glocks. I’m a supporter of New York’s Finest and wish them the best. Happy Holidays and stay warm, guys.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.