As the Chevrolet Volt Electric Car Turns Four, We Honor Four Special Examples

Last week, we celebrated the fourth birthday of the Nissan LEAF by celebrating four special and unusual LEAFs to have hit the headlines since the first car was delivered on December 11th, 2010.

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

Today, in keeping with that theme, we’re going to celebrate the fourth birthday of the Nissan LEAF’s arch nemesis — the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car — in the same way.

Four years ago today, retired airline pilot Jeffrey Kaffee from Parsippany, New Jersey, became the first official Chevrolet Volt owner in the world. Snapping at the heels of the Nissan LEAF — which by that point had amassed three deliveries in the four days’ head start it had over the range-extended Volt — the Volt quickly established itself as a popular plug-in for American buyers and remains one of the most popular plug-in cars today. Meanwhile in Europe, where GM offered both the Volt and the subtly redesigned Opel (Vauxhall) Ampera, neither car really caught on, prompting GM to announce both cars would cease European sales by 2016.

In a few weeks’ time at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, we’ll get to see the replacement for the current generation Volt — the all-new 2016 Volt — for the first time. But today, we’re going to examine four Chevrolet Volts (or Opel/Vauxhall Amperas for our European readers) which have been a little bit special.

High Mileage

In the early days of advertising the Chevrolet Volt, GM was keen to promote the Volt as a car which would use electricity on a daily basis, but have the abilities of a regular gasoline car when you needed it. That’s because the Chevrolet Volt has a on-board battery pack and powerful electric motor for everyday, all-electric use, but also features a 1.4-litre gasoline engine and smaller electric motor which can be used together to provide range-extending capabilities when the on-board battery pack is depleted.

Erick-Belmer (photo: Erick Belmer)

Erick-Belmer (photo: Erick Belmer)

According to General Motors, the majority of its Volt owners (63 percent) cover their daily driving on electricity alone, travelling an average of 970 miles between fill ups. Since the Volt’s fuel tank is 9.3 U.S. gallons, that’s more than 104 miles per gallon.

But Ohio resident Erick Belmer gets an average of around 60 miles per gallon out of his Chevrolet Volt, partly because he’s the first person we know of who has managed to drive 200,000 miles in a Chevrolet Volt.

Purchased in 2012, his Chevrolet Volt spends just 36 percent of its time in electric mode, yet he’s still managing to beat cars like the Toyota Prius hybrid on gas mileage.

“The Volt is holding up flawlessly!,” he wrote on a recent forum. “I am so pleased with this vehicle!”

Blues and Twos

While many plug-in cars aren’t suitable for emergency service duties due to their limited range, the Chevrolet Volt and Vauxhall Ampera have been used around the world as emergency response vehicles in a variety of guises.

And while the Nissan LEAF and other purely electric cars are used for administrative, educational and other non-emergency duties on police, fire, and ambulance fleets around the world, there are some Chevrolet Volts which are used for emergency ‘blues and twos’ duties.

This ambulance Ampera shows the Volt's versatility.

This ambulance Ampera shows the Volt’s versatility.

One such vehicle is this Vauxhall Ampera, which spent some time working for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service. Kitted out with full emergency lights, sirens and reflective decals, this vehicle was used by the Yorkshire Ambulance Service in England to help paramedics to get to the scene of an incident ahead of an ambulance, enabling triage to be carried out without a large ambulance being needed.

Plugged in Star

Erick Belmer’s Chevrolet Volt spends the majority its time driving in range-extended mode, but there are countless Chevorlet Volts around the world which rarely — if ever — turn their gasoline range-extending engines on.

Jay Leno is probably one of the better known Chevrolet Volt owners in the world.

Jay Leno is probably one of the better known Chevrolet Volt owners in the world, and manages to burn very little gasoline in his Volt, too.

One such car belongs to hardened gear jockey and A-list celebrity Jay Leno. Known for his love of all things automotive — not to mention his massive private car collection — Leno purchased his Chevrolet Volt in late 2010, and famously announced in 2011 that he had driven 11,000 miles without ever refuelling his car with gasoline. At the time, that worked out to a lifetime fuel economy of around 2,391 miles per gallon.

Of course, Leno isn’t the only person to rarely fill up their Chevy Volt. Look online, and you’ll find plenty of examples via GM’s ONSTAR service of Volts which spend the majority of their time in electric-only mode — but we think Leno is probably one of the better known owners who rarely needs to fill up.

As for how those gas tanks are drained, even if you don’t plug in? While the Volt’s fuel tank is pressurised, the Volt will eventually force you to burn gasoline for a few minutes if you don’t use the range-extending engine for a month or so.

Tunnel Champion

Seymour Skinner from The Simpsons may have been told by his mother not to drive down tunnels, but apparently motoring journalist Dan Read never got that advice, because in 2012 he became one of the few people in the world to have driven a car underneath the English Channel.

The car he chose for the stunt? A production Vauxhall Ampera. Mechanically identical to the Chevrolet Volt, it’s possible to run the Ampera in charge hold mode, reserving its battery pack charge for later in a trip, essential for the stunt since the only vehicles allowed to drive in the Channel Tunnel itself have to be zero emission.

How many plug-in cars have driven to France form the UK? Not many, we suspect.

How many plug-in cars have driven to France form the UK? Not many, we suspect.

Leaving London, the Ampera headed south for Kent and the the special service tunnels used by the Channel Tunnel maintenance crews. Using gasoline while above ground, it switched to electric-only mode before descending into the 31-mile tunnel.

In total, the car managed to drive to and from Calais under the English Channel, without needing a recharge, managing more than 60 miles in all-electric mode and beating its official range rating by a significant amount.

Of course, the Eurostar or Eurotunnel train services are faster — and other electric cars managed the tunnel crossing before this particular attempt back in 2012 — but we still think it deserves some significant kudos.

There are others

Of course, the new 2016 Volt will be unveiled in less than a week -- but we're celebrating the fourth birthday of the current one today.

Of course, the new 2016 Volt will be unveiled in less than a week — but we’re celebrating the fourth birthday of the current one today.

Like our coverage of the LEAF’s birthday, there are of course, plenty of other Volts and Amperas that are unusual or special. There’s the fleet of Volts who work for the city of New York; an Ampera which creates art; and even some pimped out low-riders.

But whatever your favourite Volt or Ampera, we think you’ll join us in wishing the Chevrolet Volt a very happy birthday. Here’s to many more.


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