19 Mar

Friday should have been Friday the 13th.  Not the Volt’s fault by any means.

While we were waiting on the car to get here, we borrowed my wife’s grandmother’s 2002 Honda Civic.  Great little car, but it felt like sitting upright in a chair tied to a skateboard going down the road.

The car did not have a huge amount of miles on it and had a fresh oil change before we brought it down to Atlanta for a bit.  We were planning on taking it back to her on Saturday and she was going to sell it since she doesn’t drive anymore.  Notice the words “were planning.”

I left the Volt at home, expecting my wife to take the opportunity to drive it to work that day.  She did and loves it as much as I do already.  It also gave me the opportunity to gas up the Civic on the way home from work and have it washed before we took the two plus hour trip on Saturday to take the car back.  Atlanta traffic was extra horrible with problems on I-285 and stop and go for about 15 miles.  I decided to get off and take surface streets to the car-wash and when I hit the ramp, the engine rev’d and the car didn’t’ want to go.  Great!  At least I was off the highway at that point.

It acted like it was low on fluid, so I parked the car and headed to public transit, so I could get where my wife could pick me up.  Thus begins the saga of getting home.

The car wanted to do the same issue so I stopped on the side of I-75 and started looking for a tow service.  I called Marietta Wrecker and the dispatcher told me it would probably be between an hour and two hours to get a truck to me.  I thanked her and decided to try for something better.  It turns out she was probably honest and credit to her for that.

I then called Kennesaw Towing (who I WOULD NOT use under any circumstances).  The person that answered told me no problem, that he could have someone out in 25 to 35 minutes.  I said go ahead and send them, it sounded pretty reasonable.  Of course about 35 minutes later, the driver calls and tells me he is 7 miles away and waiting on someone to finish paperwork and would be right over.  After another hour, give or take a bit, I try to call the number he called from back.  He doesn’t answer, but calls me back again.  Then he tells me that the person he was working with did not have the money for the tow, and was waiting on them to have someone bring the money – but that he had told her she had another two minutes and he was leaving.  That he would have to take the car to the impound yard which was only about 3 miles from and he should be there either way within 30 minutes.  I should have stopped then, but I waited.  After another hour he calls me and tells me he is at the impound yard and working on the paperwork.  I wait another 15 minutes or so, and decide that I am completely fed up with the incompetence or outright lies from this organization and that I would rather wait until dawn for someone else before I spend money (EVER!) with these people.  So I call Little River Towing – who I have used before, but couldn’t remember their name earlier (believe me they are in my phone now!).   I call the Kennesaw Towing driver back again to tell him he can pound sand – remember this is now 30 minutes after he told me he was at the impound yard 3 miles away and finishing paperwork – he now tells me he was almost out of fuel and is fueling up and should be there in just a few minutes – am I sure I don’t want him to come!!!  The same song and dance he has been giving all night.  There is no way I would have let him touch the car at that point.

Now back to Little River Wrecker Service (770) 924-0034, 7475 Hwy. 92, Woodstock, GA 30189.  They don’t have a web-page, but I linked to a review of them.  These guys are great, and I have used them before.  When I called, the guy that answered told me he would be down in about 35 minutes, 40 if he had to put fuel in the truck.  I was fully prepared for over an hour, but happy not to be giving money to the other people.  Little River arrived in under 30 minutes, had me loaded and ready to go in 5 minutes or so and was courteous the entire way.  A pleasure to deal with.  He even attempted to take my credit card, but his phone was having trouble getting a signal, so I just hit and ATM and got cash, as that was easier for him and me.  He told me that they would happily come anywhere in Atlanta, but that they normally operated on the I-75 and I-575 area.  If you need a tow around Marietta to Canton, Georgia, I would say call them.


The First Commute

15 Mar

Driving in to work on Thursday was great, but then it always is in a new car.  You are keeping good following distances, you are being careful and still enjoying the new feeling.

Even considering that it was wonderful and relaxing.  I listened to my usual stuff on the way in, and then experimented with the XM Radio on the way home.  That let me find some great music instead of my usual talk radio/traffic reports.

I made it all the way to work on the charge, and as the day warmed up it actually gained a little range, so I got about 6 extra miles out of it when I headed out.  It is still very weird how quiet it is starting off from things like stoplights.  The weather was great, so I had to let the windows down a couple of times and just listen.

Downsides: Two known issues with Volts, really.

1)  The image quality for the fish-eye lens on the backup camera sucks.  The camera does a great job overall, being helpful and letting you know what is back there, but in the world of Hi-Def that we have gotten used to, a fuzzy standard definition camera and the fish-eye lens leaves you with a gritty feel.  It is perfectly functional, and I am sure cost effect.

2)  Wind buffeting.  The Volt really wasn’t meant to have the windows down.  You get bad buffeting with he windows down at anything over about 20 mph.  There is a customer service satisfaction campaign for this, where they replace the mirror covers with ones that have a slight deflector on them that is supposed to help greatly, at the cost of a slight coefficient of drag increase.  Originally I had thought that I wouldn’t do it, but after driving with the windows down for a bit, I might consider calling the Volt Advisor and scheduling it, if the campaign is still free.

Neither of those kept me from getting home with a smile on my face and a round trip average of 69 mpg!

I drove a Honda Civic in to work today and the contrast really helped me understand how nice commuting environment is in the Volt.

It Is Here!

14 Mar

Got the call on March 13th, that the Volt was at CarMax and ready for me to come and see.  I have not posted picture until now, but will definitely add some.

I fell in love with the car on the pictures on the web.  Isn’t that a great way to shop for cars?

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Of course, pictures are great, but you really don’t know anything until you see it in person.  But it got there yesterday and I got to see it and drive it.  I will say that a continually variable transmission or electric motor is completely different driving than what I was used to.  It wasn’t bad, just very strange at first, but I slowly got used to it.

It did not take but just a little bit to be sure the car was right for me.  So it was back to CarMax (Town Center in Kennesaw) to sign everything and make it mine.  The car does not seem to have been driven a lot in the EV mode, but that will change.  Here is the Driver’s Information Center and the car yesterday at when it was mine.

Volt1 Firstscreen

We finished that and headed to downtown Woodstock, Georgia for dinner.  Woodstock has recently installed several public Blink Charging Stations as part of the EVProject.  However, marking and regulations haven’t caught up and there was an Internal Combustion Engine equipped vehicle parked in each one of the spaces with the chargers.  Hopefully this will soon be a ticketable and/or towable offense, similar to handicapped parking violations.  There is no reason to mark and reserve the spots, if the use isn’t enforced.  However, in the mean time, I took my money and my business back to Cobb County where I knew of another public charging station.

I went to my local Whole Foods, who has two public charging stations.  We charged there while we had dinner at the Marlow’s Tavern in the shopping center.  I thought one lady walking by was going to break her neck looking as my wife handed me the cord and I plugged the car in.  Overall not bad. We got dinner, and the car got dinner too!

FirstCharge FirstPubChargedata

I got home and put it on the 110V wall charger in the garage since I don’t have a 240V charger yet. It finished a full charge before I had to leave for work this morning.  My impressions driving in is that this is a very well built car, without the typical squishy American suspension setup.  The seats are very, very comfortable and overall the car is fun to drive.  There is enough torque to go pretty well when you want to, but it still isn’t Mustang or big V-8 fast.  However it is comfortable on surface streets as well as at 75 mph on the freeway.  It feels very solidly built and, honestly not what I expected from General Motors. This is a world class car that drives like one.  Oh and the 193 mpg average on my drive into work this morning sure doesn’t hurt my feelings.  Now if only I could charge at work to drive home….


The Hesitations

14 Mar

On Wednesday I got really weird, concerned I wasn’t going to like the customer service from the Chevrolet dealers, that I wasn’t going to like the Volt and stumbled across a 30,000 mile, C350 Sport with black leather, navigation, panoramic sunroof and birdseye maple interior for less than the Volt.  It was a couple of years older, but exactly what I would have ordered in a W204 C-Class.  It came with a known good quantity:  Keeping my same service advisor and dealership experience.

I decided to stay with the Volt, but the C350 was the backup plan if I didn’t like the Volt when it arrived.  Remember, I had not driven one at all.

So How Did I Get Here?

7 Mar

What have I driven, and how have I ended up with a Volt?

I started off with a Dodge Pickup (D100 to be exact) with a 318 C.I. V8.  Great truck, add a shift kit to the transmission and a lucky acquisition with whatever gearing it had in the rear-end and it was actually quite a quick vehicle for the time.  Somehow I started tinkering with vehicles then.  Now before you scoff too much at the idea of a pick-up, you have to remember that in 1978, the Dodge Little Red Express was the fastest American made vehicle 0 to 100 that Car and Driver tested that year (Yes, faster than the Corvette that year).  Of course it was a 360 C.I. engine with a 4 barrel carburetor instead of the 2 barrel that was on my little 318, but the basic block was the same. Now you see where the ideas started from?  Yes, my truck ended up with the anti-sway bars (or which ever term you prefer for them) that were production on some other models, the factory high-rise 4 barrel intake and carburetor and some other goodies.  In short it managed to pack a surprise, but most importantly, I had fun playing with it.  It is still the only Dodge pickup of the pre-1978 range I have ever seen with a factory tachometer and oil-pressure gauge in the dash.  Of course that wasn’t how it started life.

I “graduated” from that to a 1985 Ford Mustang GT.  The last year with the 4 barrel carburetor, 5 speed manual transmission.  And I couldn’t leave that alone either, it ended up with some goodies from the Mustang SVO version and some later model improvements.

Life got a bit calmer after the Mustang (and fortunately I managed not to kill myself with it) as I got older.  I have had four Honda Accords (1988, 1989, 1993, and 2002), a Mercedes 190 2.6, and a Chrysler Concord.  I liked all of them, but then I end up liking almost everything I drive.

Until recently the garage has had a Mercedes SLK320 with a 6-speed Manual that belongs to my wife and a C230 SportCoupe, which was mine.  Nearing 200,000 miles on the C230, we decided it was time for a replacement, and I would have expected it to be a newer body style C-class Mercedes.  The Coupe had Bluetooth, Navigation, Voice Control plus all the normal options and leather interior – for a 2002 car it was *very* well equipped and I had a great relationship with the Dealership and the Service Adviser.  I had no thoughts other than a newer version of the same car.

The Chevrolet Volt had caught my eye when it came out, mainly because I like the idea of an all-electric car using the gas-fueled generator to extend the range provided by a battery.  This is a proven concept really, as the diesel locomotives you see going by are actually electric.  They have used DC and are moving toward AC current for reasons I don’t remember, but I am sure related to efficiency.  But in short, it isn’t the diesel engine that is actually turning the wheels for the train.  The diesel is used to power a generator, which in turn produces the current that drives the electric motors.  So the Volt is a lot like a train.  I sort of liked that idea.

However, Chevrolet has had a downside to me.  My general impression of Chevrolet started to be formed with mid-1970 vehicles.  I liked the Camaro’s and Z28s of the late 70’s, but the quality kept going downhill.  I suppose they were not any worse than the Mustang I drove at the time, but part of it was perception.  General Motors got into the low-cost vehicles and low cost vehicles are not usually maintained well by their owners — so they look like crap.  Those particular cars were also made with cheap materials to keep the cost down, but that didn’t help with the impression.  I will freely admit that this is not completely General Motor’s fault, but perception is important.

As I got older, I found, as many people did that the Japanese car manufacturers, and Honda in particular made a very high quality long lasting product.  I also began to develop a distaste for the UAW.  Side point here, but I really am not a fan of the union side of things.  I think they have been a problem with American manufacturing in general.  They may have been needed at one point in history, but I don’t think they are still needed.  Plus I just simply disagree with some things – for example, if you are a welder on an assembly line, I will agree that as you gain experience you are more valuable to the company, speed of production and such – but only to a point.  So the idea of continually getting salary increases after that point is not in the best interest of the company, nor the consumer.  And there are the typical horror stories (which I am sure are exaggerated) of “I can’t pick that up, because that isn’t part of my job” silliness.  I also just can’t grasp the idea of “you have to join a union to work here.”  I guess I am just a product of right-to-work states.  That one concept in particular is my biggest complaint.   So, between the quality difference and the philosophical difference with unions, I found buying non-American vehicles easier.  Before someone points it out, German and Japan manufactures may have unions too, but I am blissfully ignorant.  And do I feel bad on the “not buying American?”  No – they couldn’t compete.

However, the Volt appears to be competitive. All of the above being said, I find American engineers ingenious and very creative when challenged.  American workers are very industrious when allowed to be, and for the most part, I believe they actually want to do more than just perform their “task.”

I still find the dealership experience, be it Ford, Chevrolet/GM, or Chrysler to be much more unpleasant than any of the foriegn manufactures.  But I believe some of this has been because dealerships have been an inherited right that the corporate arm had very little control over, and since the big change up and closing of dealerships between 2008 and 2010, I think this is starting to change.  The corporate entity has more control over how their products are displayed and promoted than ever before, along with the look and feel of the environment.  This is much more like you find the European and Japanese dealerships, where if they don’t meet the standards, they can loose the right to sell that brand.

Do I think that the Chevrolet dealership will ever be as calm and inviting as the Mercedes or BMW dealership?  No, but that is a result of selling 15,000 cars at the low end as opposed to 30,000+ cars as your low end.  You have a higher volume of customers, and you have customers who are less inclined to budget for careful maintenance with the less expensive vehicles.  It just goes with the selected market, and I understand that.  But for comparison: when my C230 was having routine maintenance (read oil-change) done at the dealership when it had 185,000 miles on it, I still got a free loaner car, and it was a newer Mercedes.  But the cost of doing that is both wrapped up in the purchase price of my car, and the cost of the service at the dealership.

So on to how I started looking at the Volt.   Instead of buying new, I was going to CarMax.  I like CarMax a lot – good vehicles, good people, low pressure overall, and a very solid extended warranty.  As a family we have purchased quite a few vehicles from them and have never had problems with a claim.  My initial options were a newer Mercedes or maybe a BMW.  Then I happened to stumble across an Infiniti G37 Coupe Sport on their website.  After driving that, it opened up the non-European doors and I had to look at a bunch of other things.  I liked that G37 a lot, but it had more miles than I wanted.  In the looking I stumbled across a Chevrolet Volt.  Very much by accident, but I remembered I thought they were neat, so I looked closer.  And in looking I found a decent deal – a 2011 Volt with fair miles on it, a lot of factory warranty left, every option available and everything I’d want, in a color I liked.  The only problem was that it was in Chicago, and I had never even driven a Volt.  Well, really neither was a problem since CarMax will do the transfer just for the cost, and then I can drive it and see if I like it.  I decided that was worth the risk, so here I am 300 or so dollars poorer, and going to get to drive it in the next few hours.

Some Information About Me

5 Mar

Some information about me.  Since my backgrounds and opinions will color how I view and comment on life with the Volt, this actually is important.  For better or worse, these opinions will color some of my comments in writing about my experiences.  I hope that someone can find some useful information in my experiences with the Volt and help make their own decision for better or worse

Political Views:  I am basically a Conservative – let me expand on that.  I am fiscally conservative, but fairly liberal socially.  I don’t mind things that we (as a Country) can afford.  Taxes are a part of life and a part of existing in a society, so I am not opposed to taxes on the face.  I do believe that our tax system is fundamentally flawed and am a big FairTax proponent. If you haven’t read the FairTax book – or better yet, the bill itself, and understand it, then you should give it a try.  Don’t depend on people who tell you what it means.  It is actually a very well researched plan, it just confused people because it completely changes how we consider taxes.

Now that we understand that I don’t really mind taxes themselves, let me follow with that I believe the government (be it city, state or federal) has a responsibility to be careful in spending tax revenue and to avoid making it a matter of income redistribution.  Build roads, build parks, provide public access for things, even help people on hard times and fund research – and I will admit that the line on what is acceptable and what shouldn’t be is fuzzy, even to me.  However, most art and entertainment should be able to stand on their own.  Buy some statues for parks and public places, if we decide to, but we don’t need to provide a living for the sculptor in general.

In general, I tend to follow a Republican line of thought on fiscal issues, but frequently wish they would get off their social high-horse. I am probably somewhat Libertarian, but then some of the issues there seem to go against my beliefs too.  I am not a fan of isolationism, and think that we should be involved in some extent with events on the world-stage.

Moderation, at least in politics, from all sides is a good thing.

Social Views: Socially I really don’t care.  Live with who you want, it doesn’t bother me if they are of your same sex or not – however, do not ask a church that does not want to view it as a “marriage” to call it Marriage.  If you want to call it marriage, that is fine with me, and if the given church decides to call it a marriage that is also fine with me, just like if they don’t.  As far as the City and State government. Well, they are using the word “marriage” differently from the churches — and this is our basic point of confusion.  If you want to be legally obligated to each other, you should be able to – and the particular government should recognize that and all of the benefits or liabilities that go with it.

I will go ahead and jump off the Abortion issue – and it will be the first and last time I mention it on this blog – I am not a woman, so it really isn’t an issue I will ever have to deal with.  I don’t have the the plumbing for it to really be an issue.  It is legal, yes and that is the end of the story right now. If you are married, legally obligated to each other, then the other person might have some grounds for input in what happens. Otherwise, it is the woman’s decision to make, and I will not make that any harder than it already is for her. I will stay out of it.

On most other issues, I will go back to my moderation point.  Really, if whatever it is you want to do doesn’t impact (read limit) another individual’s rights, then have at it.  This goes with the even if I think what you are doing is stupid – example: Motorcycle helmets: I don’t think you should be required to wear one after you are 18 or so, you should be able to realize the dangers.  If you injure or kill yourself that is your business.  Now some people will make the arguments about increased healthcare/insurance costs and things like that.  Those are parts of the cost we have to bear to allow people the freedom to make choices.  Now I have no problem if the insurance companies offer a discount for agreeing to wear a helmet. I also believe the cost will average out, although that sounds cold, but some of the people that choose to not wear a helmet and do something stupid that would have been just injured will be fatalities.  I think that defines my basic logic well enough to see how I think about these type issues.

Other Items: Rich paying their fair share?  They already do. They take risks, they invest.  I don’t hate the rich, I am not jealous of them.  I don’t get this class-warfare thing we having going now.  Neither do I hate the poor.  What I don’t like is those that want handouts and expect to have everything without making the efforts to get it.  I am not rich, that is why I don’t have a multimillion dollar house – and I don’t think anyone owes me one.  Part of being poor is not having things like a Corvette.  Part of being rich is being able to have one if you want.  That is the incentive to change your status.  I am all for helping people out, but not long term and every creature comfort.

Environmental Concerns:  Well, I am not getting a Volt because of the “Green Factor,” or to make a political statement.  I like the looks of the car, I think the Extended Range Electric Vehicle is a cool concept, and I like the technology.  I am not a big Global Warming (Climate Change, this year…) supporter or fan.  I am sure that will get me a bunch flack with some people, but I just don’t see the support for it.  Don’t get me wrong, I think some of the EPA regulations we have are for good, I think emission controls for vehicles have done a lot for our air-quality in cities.  I am glad that we check to make sure some companies are not dumping oil straight in streams and rivers.  But I also think that people sometimes go overboard and forget that there has to be a balance between doing what we need to do to support our modern life and taking care of the environment.  Have deer been decimated because of the Alaskan Pipeline, no – the actually have found it to be a source of warmth in excessively cold weather. It has been adapted into their environment quite well.  But if you had listened to all of the suggestions people put out as it was proposed, you would have thought Alaska would have no wildlife at all by now.  I suspect the current Keystone pipeline project will be similar, if it is ever done.

Combining all of that together I don’t think that anyone will be surprised by my thought about tax incentives for Volts and other electric vehicles.  On the surface, I really don’t have a problem with the government providing incentives to motivate changes.  I am a bit more hesitant when we get into picking exactly what gets encouraged or not, but I like the idea of encouraging a lot more than I like the idea of penalizing.  I am buying a used Volt, so I will not be eligible for some of the Federal tax credits related to it.  But if there are any that I am eligible for, you better bet I will try to make use of them.  Do I think as a Country we can actually afford a lot of this right now?  No, I really don’t. But the fact is they are out there right now.  We need to change the course going in the future, but I am not going to make a stupid gesture that won’t do anything by not taking advantage of what is already there.

Some Background about Atlanta

1 Mar

Atlanta is the capitol of the State of Georgia, for those of you that have forgotten Geography, or happen to be from outside the United States.  Atlanta is located in the South-Eastern section of the U.S., more affectionately known as “The South.”

Unfortunately, sometimes this hampers the perception of Atlanta that the rest of the United States has, often leading to the view of the city and it’s inhabitants to “backwoods” or other similar terms.  The retired radio talk-show host Neal Boortz often commented that his show was not carried in syndication by many radio stations because it originated from Atlanta and was considered a “Southern show.”  A side note on Neal Boortz:  He is a very opinionated, fiscally conservative who I find very funny.  He did a daily radio talk-show in Atlanta for over 40 years, and was honest enough to say his only real goal was to keep listeners interested enough that they stayed tuned in through the commercials, thus keeping him employed.  Since retirement, he post occasionally as he travels on twitter ( @Talkmaster ).  Give him a try.  You may like him, or hate him, but you will find him interesting either way.

Even with the 1996 Summer Olympics being hosted in Atlanta, the small-southern town image of Atlanta has persisted.  Atlanta is actually a significantly sized population center, and decidedly not just a southern town.  The Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is one of the busiest, and often rated as the busiest, airport in the world.  Atlanta sits at the intersection of Interstates 20, 75 and 85, with all three of them intersecting in the downtown area.

The metro-Atlanta area is home to over half of the Georgia population.  Georgia was the 8th most populous state at of the 2012 census (9.9 million) with the metr0-Atlanta area being home to 5.48 million. Frequently there are conversations comparing Atlanta to Los Angeles, CA.  Are they they same, or even have the same general personalities as a city? No.  However, it does seem that Atlanta is following a general L.A. growth pattern in population density, traffic and sprawl.  My own opinion is that if you transplanted someone from L.A. in the early 1970’s, they would be able to point out many similarities.

In short, if you are not familiar with Atlanta and its sprawl, Atlanta has traffic and long commutes.  It is not uncommon for people to live 45 or 50 miles from their workplace.  The average commute distance in Atlanta is 35 miles (one way), but with that being the average, you have to remember that means there is a large number of people with much longer commutes.  Of course Atlanta also has traffic, with all those people trying to drive to their work.

Public Transit you ask?  Yes, Atlanta has Metro-Atlanta Transit Authority which has heavy rail and bus options. MARTA rail/subway actually does a nice job of running north/south and east/west through the city and transporting people, especially for special events.  The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) also sponsors “Express” bus services that run dedicated routes from suburbs into the city connecting with MARTA.  However, people in Atlanta seem to like to drive.  We have HOV and HOT lanes and some very large interstates. (For some reason the term “Freeway” has not caught on in Atlanta like it has in other cities.  There are several state highways that are “Freeways” – multi-lane, divided, Interstate-like roadways, but we usually just refer to them by number — 400, 166, 78, etc.)

Let’s see, anything else about Atlanta?  Well, with tax rates in California, Georgia – and Atlanta itself is finding a significant increase in the movie and television industry, with a lot more T.V. shows and movies being filmed in the region.  Atlanta is also home to several recording studios and is a major player in the production of a lot of hip-hop and rap artist. Oh yeah, back in the mid-to-late 1800’s it pretty much got burned to the ground in that little thing called a Civil War.  A small undertone left from that is that Atlanta seems to constantly be rebuilding.  “That’s old — yep — tear it down and build something else there, something new” seems to be the overall attitude within the city.  I am sure that will change with time, but the city seems to constantly be renewing itself.