There's a saying that the best way to convince someone he wants an electric car is to let him drive one.

In light of lower-than-projected Chevrolet Volt sales and continued media misinformation about the car's capabilities, GM is taking that lesson to heart.

In Southern California, members of the GM communications team are running an informal program to loan out Volt plug-in cars for a few days or a week. They call it "Cars to People."

As GM rep Shad Balch explained it, "The Chevy Volt is unlike any car on the road, so trying to explain how it works is a challenge."

"On any given day, we encounter literally dozens of folks who either have an interest in--or a misunderstanding of--the Volt," Balch said.

"You should see the reactions we get when we respond by handing them the keys."

Those encounters come in many different ways, he said, from event sponsorships and speaking engagements to Volt owner meetups and consumer ride-and-drive events.

The communications team also gets "significant numbers" of referrals from current Volt owners, Balch said. "Our owners are our biggest advocates."

And it works, he claims. "The best way for people to fully understand how the Volt works--and, more importantly, how it can fit into their lifestyle--is actually to live with it for a few days."

Over several months, the communications team has loaned Volt range-extended electric cars to almost 300 people, Balch said. Loan periods range from three to seven days.

The "Cars to People" program is currently planned to last through the end of this year, so several hundred more drivers could get their own seat time--free--in a brand-new Volt. Borrowers must be 21, have a valid driver's license, and meet a few other legal qualifications.

2012 Chevrolet Volt

2012 Chevrolet Volt

The loan program is part of a larger effort to launch the revised 2012 Volt in California, now that the newest models qualify for access to that state's HOV lanes and a $1,500 purchase rebate from the state.

One example of a successful convert is Steve Glenn, founder of a company that sells factory-built LEED platinum-certified prefabricated homes in Santa Monica, California.

A six-year Toyota Prius owner, he had actually put down a deposit on the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid because it would qualify for the HOV-lane green sticker.

That sticker also qualifies any car for free parking in the city of Santa Monica, a huge benefit for Glenn, who walks to work and may leave his car parked for several days at a time.

When Glenn met Balch at a luncheon event at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November, he mentioned his deposit--and Balch told him Chevy was planning to launch a qualifying Volt early in 2012.

Then Balch loaned Glenn an earlier 2012 Volt for a full week in December. "I totally loved it," Glenn said. "I love the elegance of a full-time electric car with a gasoline backup."

He took delivery of his Volt last week, one of at least a dozen drivers who've told Balch after their loans that they intend to buy a Volt--and asked for a dealer referral.

Once drivers get behind the wheel, "the Volt sells itself," Balch concludes. "Given the chance, it converts skeptics, educates the misinformed, and--in the end--sells cars."

Do you think more drivers would be inclined to purchase a Volt if they spent time behind the wheel?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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