It was a sad day.
After three years, 34,752 miles, roughly 7,500 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 327 gallons of gas, I said good-bye to my 2011 Chevy Volt last week.
Its lease was up, and there was no one left in the family to drive it. I've been at the wheel of a Tesla Model S for the last 18 months.
My wife, a fanatical stick-shift devotee, refuses to give up her Mini Cooper. And my 18-year-old daughter--the Volt's primary driver since I got the Tesla--has gone off to college.
After three years of ownership, I've concluded that the Volt is a splendid vehicle. It's the only electric car I recommend to virtually everyone who asks.
The two friends who finally succumbed to my incessant prosyletizing are both delighted with their Volts. (Too bad I couldn't persuade my wife.)
2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
Leaf or Volt?
Back in the Dark Ages of electric cars--2009--I had dismissed the Volt as not a "real" e-car, compromised by its gasoline-powered range-extending engine.
I'd already put down my $5,000 deposit on the Model S, but delivery was three or four years away. To get me through the interim period, I also put down a $99 deposit on a Nissan Leaf.
But by December 2010, when the Leaf and Volt both hit the showrooms, I was getting more and more annoyed by a total lack of communication from Nissan about when the Leaf would be available in New York state, where I lived.
How much longer would I have to wait for my Leaf? A month? Six months? A year? No word from Nissan. And every day I was driving by a local Chevy dealer with a Volt sitting right out front.
Growing more and more frustrated with Nissan, I stopped by the Chevy dealer for a perfunctory test drive. Having expressly avoided owning a Chevy--or any American car, for that matter--for all my car-owning life, I wasn't expecting much.
2011 Chevrolet Volt 5dr HB DashboardEnlarge Photo
But the Volt surprised me. It drove great and seemed well put together. Eventually, I signed on the dotted line. With my trade-in of a 2006 Mazda CX-7, my lease payment worked out to $247 a month.
For 18 months I drove the Volt every day, marveling at its smoothness, peppy acceleration, and remarkable efficiency.
For the first year, mostly local driving, I did maybe one six-gallon fill-up a month. Roughly 80 percent of my driving was on battery power, for an average of almost 200 mpg--all without a whiff of range anxiety.
With gas savings of about $150 per month compared to the Mazda, I figured my net lease payment was about $100 a month.
When the Tesla arrived, of course, it instantly became the king of my driveway. The faithful Volt was relegated to the humble role of my then-16-year-old daughter's driver-ed car.
Until, of course, I needed to make a long trip.
2011 Chevrolet Volt, before lease return, Hudson Valley, NY, Aug 2014 [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
Volt to The Rescue
In those dark days, during the peak of the Great Northeast Tesla Supercharger Drought, the mighty Model S was useless for long trips.
Visiting friends in Baltimore in the winter? Take the Volt. Going to Cape Cod for a long beach weekend? Take the Volt. Visiting my cousin in Utica? Take the Volt.
Ironically, all these long trips filling in for the Tesla ate away at the Volt's lifetime gas mileage number. By the time it went back to the dealer last week, the lifetime fuel economy was "only" 106 mpg.
To Buy Or Not?
The residual value of my Volt, which had an MSRP of $42,000, was about $26,000. That meant, according to the lease deal, that I had the option to buy it at that price.