Driving a Smartphone: Esurance COO Discusses His Volt

Esurance COO Chris Henn discusses what it’s like to drive the all-new Chevy Volt.

Esurance COO and the Chevy Volt

I’m just about to reach 4,000 miles in my Chevy Volt. I’ve used 27 gallons of gasoline in 3 months, about a tank a month. I had to check my calendar because I couldn’t remember the last time I stopped for gas — it was June 25th. Since I’ve owned my Volt I’ve averaged 145 miles per gallon. Pretty cool.

How the Volt all works

But isn’t the Volt an electric car? It is, but it’s referred to as an extended-range electric vehicle. It works exactly as promised, running 35 to 45 miles on a charge, only using electricity from the lithium ion batteries. I plug it in to a regular 120-volt outlet in my garage at home, and about 10 hours later, it’s fully charged.

If I drive more than the max without being able to charge the car again, the on-board generator (basically a 4-cylinder gas engine that generates about 80 horsepower) kicks in and starts charging the battery while the car’s moving. It has a 9-gallon gas tank, and gets 35 to 40 miles per gallon when the generator is running. So I never have to sweat out whether I have enough juice to get home (a condition referred to as “range anxiety”). And, except on long trips, I use minimal amounts of gas, which I love.

What it means in the real world

If I’m only driving to work or around town, I never have to buy gas. The last time I filled the tank, I was on a business trip to our Sacramento office from our headquarters in San Francisco — 120 miles one way. I did the first 40 on electricity, then the on-board generator kicked in to keep the batteries juiced the last 80 miles, so I ended up using about 2 gallons of gas. In Sacramento, I plugged in my car, worked the rest of the day, and then headed home on electricity.

Engineering tricks and handy perks

Mileage from the batteries will depend on driving style and variables like outside temperature and what’s being used in the car, particularly climate control. If it’s very hot and the air conditioning is running full blast, the batteries deplete quicker. The same goes if it’s very cold and heat is used.

One neat trick the engineers at Chevy came up with is heated seats that automatically turn on if the temperature gets below a certain level. It takes much less energy to heat just the seats than all the air in the car, so that’s the first thing that comes on when it’s cold (which it often is in San Francisco).

Driving a smartphone

Chevy designed the car with a 40-mile battery capacity because their research said about 80 percent of drivers commute less than 40 miles round-trip to work each day. I’m in that group: 18.5 miles one way to be exact, or 37 miles round-trip. I usually get home with 6 or 7 miles to spare on the battery. I liken it to driving a smartphone. Just like my phone, I plug it in at night, get a day’s charge, come home, and plug it in again.

Chevy estimates it costs the average consumer about $1.50 a day to charge the car. I haven’t tried to figure out exactly what my cost is, but all the testimonials I’ve seen confirm that it comes in between $1 and $1.50 as advertised.

Good surprises

The most surprising thing about the Volt is that, at 6′ 5″, I fit in it! It’s designed with good seat travel, so I can push the driver’s seat all the way back (no one but my dog can sit behind me when I do this, but 90 percent of the time I’m in the car by myself). The headroom is excellent, with a couple of inches to spare even for me.

The second most surprising thing is how much fun it is to drive. I wanted to do the right thing for the environment, and figured I’d sacrifice a lot of driving performance in the process. Not at all. In regular driving mode, the car drives like any other and accelerates fine. But it’s whisper quiet. I mean completely quiet! In fact, I understand the next version will have some kind of sound engineered in so that pedestrians will hear the car coming. Needless to say, I’m very careful in parking lots!

The Volt also has a sport mode and the car is flat-out fast when I use that. If I know I won’t be using all the battery before I charge it overnight, I’ll throw it in sport mode and have some fun. It does run the battery down faster, so I can’t go as far on a charge, but if I know I have the miles to spare, why not?

My favorite moment in the Volt so far?

Leaving the gas pump after paying only $4…now that was fun!

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