When long-time EV advocate and former GM EV1 salesperson Chelsea Sexton talked to us a few weeks ago and told us she had some exciting news, we knew something fun was about to happen. Did she have news about the up-coming sequel to Chris Payne’s docudrama Who Killed The Electric Car? Was she planning to change her name to Iowna Neavy? Or had she become the latest in a line of EV advocates turning to jobs selling the latest electric cars?
No, no, and no. While she couldn’t tell us what the news was, we found out a few days later when Chevrolet announced its 2011 Chevy Volt Customer Advisory Board, a team of 15 enthusiasts and advocates which GM is going to lend 2011 Volts to for the next three months.Hand-picked by Chevrolet, the board members include celebrity scientist Bill Nye, Former Director of Central Intelligence Jim Woolsey and President of the Electric Drive Transportation Association Brian Wynne, together with influential EV advocates and drivers.
But this is not just some publicity stunt by GM to put its range-extended EV in the hands of the great and the good of the EV world before consumers get them later this year. This is a genuine final stage of testing before the Volt is released to consumers.
In a mutually beneficial arrangement, each of the 15 participants have agreed to provide regular feedback via GM’s OnStar on how the Volt is performing, from range per charge to driving experience and handling. In other words, the team will reflect on what life with the 2011 Chevy Volt is like.
To quell conspiracy theorists, GM is clear that no money is exchanging hands in either direction. The participants aren’t paying to drive the Volt, and Chevrolet isn’t paying them. This isn’t a simple publicity stunt. This is real-world testing with a group of people GM believes will provide honest feedback to help them bring the Volt to market.
At the end of the three months, each Volt will return to Chevrolet, who will use the participant’s feedback to tweak the 2011 Chevrolet Volt prior to vehicles hitting the showrooms this winter.
What about candor? What about biased opinions?
We’re not worried. Among the list are several bloggers and EV advocates known for their ability to call a spade a spade. That includes the bad points as well as the good ones. Although there are no specific requirements that participants publicly talk about their experience with the 2011 Volt, there are also no gag-orders, no non-disclosure agreements and no PR department to liase with before publicly speaking about the car.
Chelsea Sexton, writing in her blog yesterday, explains the situation in her usual eloquent, no-nonsense way.
“..while I’m definitely excited about the driving, if that were my only motivation, I’d have gone off and gotten a “regular” job years ago and simply bought one when it came available. I have been doing this work for as long as I have because I want to see millions of EVs on the road, not just one in my driveway.”
Just like the EV test-schemes which went before the Volt from BMW, Mitsubishi and Smart, we hope that the final stage of real-world testing for the Volt helps to finalise a vehicle which will help provide reliable performance and customer experience, eliminating some of the issues with always follow a new car to market.