My Chevy Volt arrived Tuesday afternoon. It’s not mine, exactly. Chevrolet is letting me borrow it for a week. I’m sure they are expecting me to say nice things about it. Based on my initial impressions, I think they won’t be disappointed. I am predisposed to like the Volt. For most drivers on most days, it is an electric car. But it’s one that comes with no range anxiety issues because it has an internal combustion engine in the usual location under the hood.
My Volt is a 2017 car with the 1.5 liter four cylinder engine that uses regular gas. It is finished in a very pleasant dark gray. It is a welcome change from the ubiquitous electric blue that Chevrolet uses in most of its commercials and press photos. It is tasteful and understated.
The car was delivered by a team of Chevy representatives who spend their days delivering cars to members of the press and other select individuals. I was given an introduction to the car, asked to sign a few papers, and then they left. They will be back next Tuesday to pick the car up and deliver it to some other scribe or favored personage. It arrived with 1,734 miles on the odometer.
This all started last month when a story I wrote about the Volt got a lot of unfavorable comments from readers. It turns out many people have had negative experiences at their local Chevy dealers. In several instances, salespeople had no idea the car had a battery in it or that it needed to be plugged in. I tweeted Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, about these dealer issues and she put me in touch with GM’s customer care team.
Those folks asked the Gas2 readers who complained to contact them and share details about their unfavorable experiences. Several did. One of them has since purchased a Chevy Volt of his own. I understand that Chevrolet offered him a discount on an option package to compensate him in some small way for his negative experience.
Elon Musk and Tesla insist they cannot sell their cars through a dealer network because conventional dealers don’t know enough about electric cars to market them correctly. Not only that, many of them have no desire to learn. For them, an electric car is a curiosity and a distraction. The problem is not confined to General Motors, of course. Selling an electric car requires educating consumers about what makes them special. That takes time.
The conventional sales process for new cars seeks to minimize the amount of time it takes to sell each car. The goal is to slam as many people as possible into a new car each month. Manufacturers offer sizable incentives to dealers who successfully meet sales quotas. Salespeople can earn substantial bonuses for meeting similar targets. It’s a “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” process. I was in the car business for 6 years. Trust me, I know what I am talking about. The pressure to move product is intense. Nobody wants to slow down to smell the roses — or educate consumers.
So far, I have only driven the Volt about 10 miles on back roads near my house. My initial impressions are all positive. It is quiet and smooth. It accelerates well. It rides and handles well. Right now it is sitting outside plugged in, waiting for its first full day of use. Stay tuned for updates.
Photo by the author.