I couldn’t get Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” out of my head Friday as Stephen Marlin, a driver relationship manager with General Motors, chauffeured me down Hogan Road in a Chevrolet Volt.
Unlike anything I’ve ever owned, this sleek four-seater set for a November limited release in large cities and in town for the American Folk Festival runs strictly on battery (a honking big T-shaped lithium-ion beast under the front floorboards), so there’s not a sound to be heard when you accelerate from stop. Actually, there’s a slight, very slight, hum or whine, but you have to listen closely. The only other noise is of tires on the pavement. Eerie at first, then strangely calming.
There’s a dashboard that displays your speed, how aggressively you’re driving and a range meter to let you know how many miles you can go strictly on the battery and how many more you can go after the internal combustion generator kicks on (as many as 340 total).
Otherwise, you’d be hard pressed to know you were riding on a battery-platform car. Except for the sound of silence.
The Volt won’t leave you stranded either. Marlin said the greatest phobia non-electric owners have is out-driving the extension cord. Have no fear. First off, you can charge it with household current. About 8 hours worth will give you around 40 miles of strictly on-battery operation. (A quicker charge of around 3 hours can be had with a 220-volt electric hookup.) But your battery won’t run out, because as it depletes the internal combustion generator kicks in to keep the electrons flowing. Over the course of a year the cost of keeping your vehicle charged will be around what it costs to run an electric hot water heater.
That works out, Marlin said, to about 2 cents per mile, versus 12 cents for fuel costs of a comparable-sized internal combustion vehicle.
And you can expect GM to stand behind the battery for 8 years or 100,000 miles, Marlin said.
The future’s not clear on what happens to big lithium-ion batteries, Marlin admitted, but as more and more hybrid and battery-powered vehicles get on the road, battery technology will progress and costs should decline. At the moment the estimated cost of the battery is around $10,000.
Drivers contemplating the switch to electric have some assistance from the government in the form of a $7,500 rebate, which would bring the $41,000 expected retail price down to $33,500.