Volt lover revolted by publicity
By JIM LARSEN
South Whidbey Record Editor
May 4, 2012 · Updated 3:48 PM
With a Ph.D in physics and a long career with a Detroit auto supply business behind him, Norm Bodine of Clinton knows his cars. And he’s revolted that a futuristic car he purchased new last fall came with a questionable reputation after a faulty report on FOX News and various other media outlets.
In response, Bodine wrote to the FOX reporter who made the misinformed report as well as its popular commentator Bill O’Reilly, complaining about the erroneous “facts” regarding a fire and the Volt’s mileage. He didn’t get a response, so instead set out on a one-man crusade to sing the praises of the Chevrolet Volt.
The Volt isn’t an all-electric car, as it depends on a small gas generator when the lithium battery’s charge falls below a certain point. Bodine sees that as a good thing.
“There’s no anxiety,” he said, comparing the Volt to the all-electric Nissan Leaf. If an all-electric car like the Leaf loses its charge, he said, “You call a tow truck and wait for an hour.”
He described the Volt’s battery as “a large array of the same batteries you use in cell phones.” It’s light and recharges in about 5 1/2 hours on 110 household current or 2 1/2 hours at one of the 240 volt charging stations which are starting to pop up around the island. But it can be driven any time on its gasoline engine, supported by a 5 1/2 gallon fuel tank.
The Volt, unlike the Prius, boasts an all-electric drive train, but even using the gas engine it costs only 2.5 cents per mile to run. “I pay one-quarter the cost for gas,” he said, comparing the Volt to his pickup truck.
But it’s the electricity that makes all the difference in the mileage. After 5,000 miles of driving, Bodine’s Volt has averaged 246 miles per gallon according to its onboard computer.
Bodine drove his Volt into a Coupeville parking lot recently and pulled up next to a BMW 3 series vehicle. The Volt cost $42,000 but came with a $7,500 government rebate, making the two vehicles similar in sticker price. In terms of handling, braking, appearance and features, the two cars are comparable, he said. He lauded how the Volt handles on the road and he can relax in his heated leather seat while listening to the Bose sound system. Having owned a gas-electric hybrid Prius, he said it doesn’t approach the capabilities of the Volt.
“There’s a pretty dramatic difference,” he said. “It doesn’t handle well at high speeds. This handles like a BMW 3 series.”
He drove 24.5 miles all-electric from his Maxwelton area home to reach Coupeville, and the computer display reported he had 12 miles of battery usage left. It wouldn’t get him back home, but the gas engine would with, as Bodine frequently says, “No anxiety.” On a warmer day, the car can run for 50 miles or more on battery power.
Bodine has a head for numbers but not everyone does, and he says that’s frustrating. “I get a lot of questions but it’s hard for them to understand,” he said of inquiring people. “Electric cars are the car of the future except for the ‘anxiety’ problem. This is a practical car.” He’s confident enough in its dependability to say it would be suitable for a family with just one car. The battery, which comes with a five year warranty, is built in behind the front seat, dividing the two back seats, so seating is limited to four people.
The Volt got off to a shaky start when FOX and other news outlets emphasized a battery fire it experienced during federal safety tests. Bodine said the test was extreme. “They ran a spear through the battery, rolled the car twice and let it sit. Two day later it burned,” he said. “A normal car would have burned instantly. In a crash in a Volt, there’s no immediate problem.”
He noted the Volt eventually achieved the highest 5 star federal safety rating, but by then the damage had already been done. “It’s a press problem,” he said. Chevrolet offered a recall for all Volt owners to reinforce the box protecting the battery, but Bodine calls the safety fix only “marginally necessary.” He might take his Volt to the Anacortes dealer he purchased it from when he has time.
Bodine said the Volt is a new concept in electric vehicles because of the lithium batteries, electric drive train and small gas motor which soundlessly kicks in when the battery is low. “What’s new is the combination of everything,” he said. “But marketing is hard. It’s hard to tell the customer what he’s got.”
Despite the poor publicity, Chevrolet has sold about 30,000 Volts. There is one other on Whidbey that Bodine knows of, owned by a man in Greenbank. The federal $7,500 rebate is good on the first 200,000 cars sold.
“It puts the American car industry back at number one after 30 years,” Bodine said. “I’d recommend it to anyone, and I have no stock in GM.”
Contact South Whidbey Record Editor Jim Larsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-360-221-5300.