Gene and the Machine: The shocking truth about the electric Volt

Post columnist Gene Weingarten test-drives the Chevy Volt.
By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, January 30, 2011

Here's the hyphen-heavy heap of hype on the Chevy Volt, GM's new, highly touted plug-in hybrid electric car: It's packing a 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. It has a 1.4-liter, 16-valve, 4-cylinder, in-line gasoline engine fed by a 9.3-gallon fuel tank. It's got front-wheel drive and does a peppy 8.8-second zero-to-60.

You don't care about all that? Me, either. I'm not sure why automotive writers think we do. Ordinary people tend to make their car-buying judgments on a different, non-hyphenated calculus. This is particularly true for a concept car such as the Volt, which has been selling disproportionately to men, and which is why, to better serve you, the discerning consumer, I am stopping an attractive woman on a Bethesda sidewalk and asking her if she would sleep with me.

K.C. Hernandez is 32, a marketing associate visiting from Chicago. I assure her that I am a working journalist and that my question is purely hypothetical. Judging by appearances alone, I ask, what would be my theoretical chance of having sex with her, expressed as a percentage?

K.C.'s friend is frantically girl-coding, bugging out her eyes and shaking her head no, no! But K.C. is laughing. She'll play. She surveys my body, which has the muscle tone of a yam souffle. I am 59. I did not arrive there the way some men -- say, Harrison Ford -- did.

"Three," she says finally.

Three percent! I'm pretty sure it's a mercy vote, but I'll take it. Next, we walk across the street for the second part of the experiment. I pat the hood of an obsidian-black 2011 Chevy Volt, on loan to me for the day.

"This is my ride," I say. "Does this new information change the hypothetical answer at all?"

K.C. has heard of the Chevy Volt but hadn't seen one yet. Almost no one has, actually; it just hit the streets last month in the Washington area and four other markets nationwide -- a tantalizing trickle of a rollout. For a vehicle aimed at the eco-friendly, it is surprisingly sleek and growly-looking. It has clean lines, a youthful, video-game feel to its dashboard display, and a few mildly decadent luxury-car amenities, such as butt-warmer seats. After a big federal tax rebate, it costs about 35 grand, bottom line.

K.C. keeps looking from it to me dubiously, as if to reconcile the one with the other.

"Okay," she says.

She takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly.


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