lyle-voltThere are bandwagon jumpers and then there are the people who start the bandwagon long before it’s a bandwagon.

Lyle Dennis, founder of the popular web site GM-Volt.com, which is devoted to Chevy’s new plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), or as GM prefers to call it, an “extended range electric vehicle” (EREV), is very definitely one of the latter.

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Long before the Volt was snapping up Car of the Year awards, indeed, well before most of the tens of thousands of visitors GM-Volt.Com now pulls in each month had even heard of the Volt, much less an EREV, Dennis was there, pushing GM to make the Volt become a reality.

Now, a little less than three years after starting GM-Volt.Com and playing the role of arguably the single most important catalyst for what has now turned into a mushrooming Chevy Volt movement, Dennis is driving the dream, or, really, the dream car, that he set out to help make a reality so many months ago.

‘I completely love this car’
“It’s awesome, completely awesome,” Dennis told SolarChargedDriving.Com recently as he was zipping between his New Jersey office and his New York home in one of 15 Volts GM has loaned a group of citizens prior to the car’s official North American launch set for late this month or early next month. “I couldn’t be happier. I completely love the car. It’s spacious, it’s bright, it’s high tech, and when you look and see the big green battery light, you know you’re running on electricity.”

A strong advocate of electric cars, Dennis has been looking forward to running on electricity in a Volt for a long, long time. In fact, he’s driven electric before, having zoomed around in a MINI E for a year as part of BMW’s pilot consumer leasing project, whose long-term aim is to help BMW build the best electric cars it can.

What motivated Dennis to become a plug-in vehicle advocate and to devote a substantial portion of his time to telling, and selling, the story of plug-ins, and, in particular, the Chevy Volt?

Helping the U.S. to kick its oil addiction is the number one reason the New Jersey neurologist plugged himself into plug-ins and the Volt about three years ago.

I think that once people start getting electric cars, they’ll be more motivated to look into solar to refill them.
–GM-Volt.Com Founder Lyle Dennis

‘“I wanted petroleum displacement,” says Dennis. “I wanted to get the country off of oil.”

Volt has broad appeal
The long-time Volt advocate knows plug-ins like the Volt are about more than reducing America’s, and the world’s, oil consumption. They also help people achieve increased fueling independence, are cheaper to fuel, and are better for the environment than traditional internal combustion engine automobiles.

In fact, one of the things Dennis finds so attractive about plug-ins such as the Volt is their broad appeal.

“Over time, I’ve found that what’s most important about this car, and other cars like it, is that it can attract people for totally different reasons. It can attract right-wing, get-away-from-foreign-oil folks and left-wing let’s-protect-our-earth people,” explains Dennis, whose GM-Volt.com entries typically run right down the middle politically.

“I span all of those groups, but not everyone does,” Dennis continues. “I try to keep an even keel. I try to keep it very open so that a wide variety of people can be comfortable with the content.”

Dennis clearly isn’t keen on politicizing plug-ins in any way, and he’s up front about the fact that reducing America’s dependence on oil – not the environment – was his primary motivation to get behind the Volt, and plug-ins in general.

However, he does say that he believes global warming is real and that “spilling CO2 into the atmosphere is not a good idea.”

Dennis on EV+PV
More solar, and more plug-ins plugging into solar, could help reduce the amount of CO2 being produced by the transportation sector. And Dennis believes that solar and plug-ins definitely create a new synergy, one that will help both solar and electric vehicles.

“I think that once people start getting electric cars, they’ll be more motivated to look into solar to refill them,” notes Dennis.

For now, though, the New Jersey neurologist says he’s not planning on plugging his very-soon-to-arrive Volt into home solar.

“I haven’t really decided to pursue it,” he says. “I have thought about it. But no one in our neighborhood has solar and I think, cosmetically, it might not fit in. I can see that one day when they get the nano solar materials that we might do it.”

If home solar is not in the Dennis household’s future, for now, at least, neither is a pure electric car. While he enjoyed driving the MINI E for a year, due to range limitations and specific family needs — a pure electric vehicle would force his family of five to become a three-car, rather than a two-car household — Dennis says a plug-in hybrid makes a lot more sense for him.

Volt is ‘a stepping stone’
“Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to burn any gas. And it’s an issue that the Volt burns gas,” he explains. “But it’s really stepping stone. One day, we’ll have EVs that travel hundreds of miles and that can be charged very quickly.”

One pure EV and one PHEV . . . I think that’s a good goal, but I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get there. It’s certainly not going to happen right away.
–GM-Volt.Com Founder Lyle Dennis

Until that day, a pure EV is not practical for his situation, nor for many Americans’ driving needs, says Dennis.

“Today’s electric car is useful, but limited,” he explains. “The MINI, and the LEAF, and other EVs, they can get 100 or miles in some situations, but just 55 in others. It’s nerve-wracking, and it’s something many people don’t want to deal with. A lot of early adopters – we’ll put up with it. But if you want to reach big markets, you need something that goes farther – that’s what the Volt will do.”

volt-greeny-backOf course, the affable and easy-going Dennis, who notes that his family of five cannot fit into the Volt, light-heartedly adds that, “If they make an electric car with three rows of seats, I’m all over that!”

While he might eventually leap at a mini-van EV or at an affordable pure EV with, say, a 300-mile range and a 15-minute charging time – Dennis says his favorite EV moment is “punching the accelerator in a friend’s Tesla Roadster” — for now, Dennis appears to be more sold on the EREV concept than on a pure EV with limited range.

Volt has broader appeal than LEAF
And he thinks there are more people like him than those who might purchase a pure EV with a 100-mile range, for instance, a Nissan LEAF.

“I really think there are enough early adopters to buy the first-year allocation for both vehicles. After that, the early adopter market is not that big,” says Dennis of the potential for significant competition between the Volt and the LEAF for prospective buyers. “I think what will happen after that is that the Volt concept will outsell the LEAF concept.”

Having driven the car, I’d rather say something like, ‘It’s more than a car.’
–GM-Volt.Com Founder Lyle Dennis on GM’s ‘It’s more car than electric’ slogan for the Volt

While it’s clear that Dennis — quite understandably — is solidly in the Volt’s corner in the LEAF vs. Volt match-up, it’s also clear that he’s a fan of plug-ins of all shapes , sizes, and makes.

Thus, for example, he says he isn’t too excited by GM’s decision to plug the Volt with the slogan “It’s more car than electric,” which some feel is anti-EV.

“I’m not thrilled with it,” says Dennis. “Having driven the car, I’d rather say something like, ‘It’s more than a car.’ ”

One pure EV + one EREV/PHEV?
Putting aside the issue of where one comes down on GM’s “It’s more car than electric” pitch, some have suggested that creating a pure EV vs. EREV/PHEV comparison doesn’t capture a basic reality: Many current two-car households could end up with a LEAF (or another pure EV) and a Volt or a Prius PHEV, etc. parked in the driveway.

lyle-dennis-you-tubeDennis concedes it’s possible that current American two-car households could go to one pure EV plus one EREV/PHEV, but he doesn’t think many will do so – at least not until gasoline prices in the U.S. start going up.

“One pure EV and one PHEV, you would think that would be the eventual scenario,” he says. “I think that’s a good goal, but I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get there. It’s certainly not going to happen right away.”

More generally, Dennis says he’s optimistic plug-ins will succeed.

“I don’t look too much at all the projections,” the GM-Volt founder says. “I think they’re saying 10 percent or 20 percent by 2020 or 2030 will be plug-ins. I can imagine those numbers will happen. But the cars will have to be reliable and affordable, and gas prices will need to go up and battery prices go down.”

Will GM-Volt.Com be around then? Dennis can’t say for sure.

The future of GM-Volt.Com
However, after having invested thousands of hours of work into the site over the last few years and having grown the site’s traffic from a few visitors a day initially to 7,000 or more per day today, it’s clear GM-Volt.com will be around for awhile, albeit it in somewhat altered form.

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After having helped to create the Chevy Volt bandwagon by building a web site that draws more visitors than Chevy’s own Volt site and which has successfully inspired a consumer grassroots Volt movement, Dennis says he’s ready to stop driving mostly solo on GM-Volt.Com – in fact, with every blog entry generating hundreds of reader comments, he’s never truly been “solo” on GM-Volt.Com — and hand the wheel over to others in the Volt movement.

“We’re going to transition to a new format with more community involvement,” says Dennis. “Now that the car is basically out there, people are focused on the actual product, and my role in all of this is not looked at all that much.”

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