Checking out LEAF & Volt at Denver Auto Show

editors-blog-entry3Saw the Nissan LEAF for the first time in person today – and took a Chevy Volt for a short spin around downtown Denver as well.

I got this opportunity thanks to the Denver Auto Show which is being held this week at the Colorado Convention Center – which has a giant solar system on its roof!

Normally, I wouldn’t go to an auto show. I’m just not that big a fan of cars, at least not pure gasoline ones.

However, thanks to the presence of plug-in vehicles, I was pretty excited about this auto show. And the trip was definitely worth it.

I got to sit in the Nissan LEAF – a silver LEAF complete with all the bells and whistles, including a tiny solar-panel on the roof. I also got to sit in a Toyota plug-in Prius.

Finally – and this was the best part of the whole trip – I got to drive a Chevy Volt, which was running in full-electric mode when I zipped around in it, for about one mile in downtown Denver.

I was smitten by the Volt and if we had the money (we don’t) I’d do what a number of other people out there have done: Make sure there’s a LEAF and a Volt in our driveway. That might happen someday, but that someday will be at least two or three years from now.

Here are a few reflections on our trip to the 2011 Denver Auto Show.

The Chevy Volt is the real deal. Ok, so I didn’t get to drive the Volt very far, and, unfortunately, due to a lack of child car seats, I didn’t get to take the family along for the ride, but it was a great ride nonetheless. The Volt was quiet, smooth, had excellent acceleration and good driver visibility — although not as good as our 1992 Acura Integra hatchback, which has better visibility than any car I’ve ever driven.

You can also tell the Volt is well made. As many others out there have noted, many of whom have had the pleasure of driving a Volt much farther than a mile, the Volt definitely doesn’t feel like a compact car, it feels luxurious (especially compared to our ’92 Integra ;-). While I didn’t get to drive the LEAF – Nissan wasn’t offering test drives – the Volt just feels like more of a higher end car than the LEAF. Of course, the Volt also costs about $9,000 more than the LEAF, which is one of the reasons the LEAF will almost certainly be the first plug-in car we park in our garage.

leaf-kids-and-meIn sum, I was smitten by the Volt and if we had the money (we don’t) I’d do what a number of other people out there, including George Parrott, whom we featured a few weeks ago on SolarChargedDriving.Com, have done: Make sure there’s a LEAF and a Volt in our driveway. That might happen someday, but that someday will be at least two or three years from now.

The LEAF isn’t as ugly in person. I’ve never been a big fan of the LEAF’s design. In fact, I’ve written about this a few times on SolarChargedDriving.Com. Each time I have, someone has contacted me to tell me that the LEAF looks better in person. After having seen a LEAF in person I have to agree. Of course, it’s still a bit too bulbous up front around the headlights for me.

GM is going all out to promote the Volt. GM had four Volts at the show while Nissan had just one LEAF. Two of the Volts were on the convention floor, including one that was on a circular, spinning stage with an attractive woman explaining what the Volt is all about. GM also had two Volts available for test drives. I asked one of the Nissan representatives at the show if a LEAF was available for test drives. No go – and he seemed a bit surprised when I told him that GM had two Volts available for people to drive.

The Volt was the most popular GM test-drive vehicle. There were no lines to test drive the Buick Regal, the Chevy Cruze, the Chevy Equinox, or about a half-dozen other GM cars. However, there were plenty of people queuing up to test drive the Volt. In fact – get this – one of the requirements to test drive a Volt was that you had to agree to drive another GM model first! For the record, I drove a Buick Regal so that I could get my chance behind the wheel of a Volt and, no, I have absolutely no intention of ever buying a Regal – or, for that matter, any other pure gasoline car made by any carmaker, whether GM, Toyota, Ford or Honda.

GM is still pitching the Volt primarily as an anti-EV. Remember that attractive woman on the revolving stage with the Volt? She was going out her way to play up range anxiety and the limitations of traditional EVs (read, the Nissan LEAF). I certainly understand that GM wants to sell the advantages of the Volt, but it’s still irritating to me that so much of selling the Volt seems to be about bashing full EVs. There are some of us – more than I think GM thinks there are – who want a pure EV and one plug-in hybrid EV such as a Volt. Why turn us off?

There’s a lot of ignorance about EVs out there. OK, so this is very anecdotal, but I couldn’t believe some of the ill-informed and ignorant (I’m not using this in a pejorative sense here) comments I heard when standing next to the LEAF and the Volt. More than a few people had no idea the LEAF is all-electric (maybe Nissan should have done a better job of drawing attention to this with a poster, etc.).

volt-denver-autoWhile I was standing next to the Volt on the convention floor, I heard one guy who clearly knew nothing about plug-ins ask another guy what the difference is between a plug-in hybrid and a hybrid. The guy actually gave a decent answer. But the man who posed the question ended up walking away clearly not grasping the difference — and, apparently, with the impression that the Volt is an all-electric vehicle.

Then, during my required test drive (penance?) in the Buick Regal, I struck up a conversation with the woman assigned to sit with test drivers (not a job I’d want), and it was clear that she had almost no knowledge of the Volt. Of course, her knowledge about the Regal – she had to look up the MSRP – wasn’t very high either.

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Most people are still focused on gasoline cars. There were hundreds of cars on the Colorado Convention Center floor and thousands of consumers buzzing around them and hopping into them – including my two young daughters, who wanted to leap into every car they could, whether a giant Ford F-150 pick-up, or a tiny Toyota Yaris. The vast majority were, I believe, oblivious to the electric and plug-in hybrid autos on the floor. In fact, although there were always plenty of people around the LEAF, the Volt, and a Toyota plug-in Prius (this had the fewest people, at least based on my anecdotal observations), I was surprised that there weren’t more.

I’d even expected I might not be able to get to sit in the LEAF or Volt, due to crowds (my daughters aren’t very patient ;-), or, at the very least, that we would have to wait in long lines. Nope. None of those – and we went on a Saturday at noon, surely the peak time for Denver Auto Show attendance during its five-day run.

Kids are easy to please – and kind of cute, too. You know what excited my daughters, 6, and 4 years old, the most about the cars they leapt into, one after another? The little mirrors on the inside of the sun visors. Every time they jumped into a new car, that was the first thing they did: Pulled down the sun visor and popped, or slid, open the mirror. Ah, if only kids were so easy to please all of the time 🙂

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