It's always interesting getting behind the wheel of an Automobile of the Year award winner several months after we deliver the trophy. I did not vote for the Chevy Volt as our AOY last year. I found the Volt to be too gimmicky, but I do fully support the Technology of the Year award going to electric propulsion.
This Chevy fails a lot of simple human-machine interface tasks because the center stack's controls are capacitive-touch and poorly organized. Eric Tingwall has already written a great blog post about the Volt's awkward controls, so I'll just offer a link to that rant instead of repeating it here. If Chevy offered a Volt with an interior that worked as well as the one in the Cruze, I'd be very happy with that. Save all the technological wizardry for the powertrain, and go with conventional HVAC and stereo controls; it's less distracting for the driver to have physical buttons and dials.
What I do really like about the Volt is that it makes it easy for Americans to start the slow process of cutting back on our national petroleum addiction. Although I think the range anxiety issue is overstated, Chevy does address it by allowing the car to burn gasoline as a means of generating electricity between plug-in charges. This isn't the most efficient way to produce electricity, so the mpg figure that's kicked around for the car seems not so great when compared to a Toyota Prius or other "traditional" hybrids. But if you plug in often, it's very possible to achieve 100+ mpg in the Volt.
The real issue that stands in the way of Americans reducing petroleum usage is that we're too concerned with having more capability than we actually need. This is why so many half-ton trucks are rated at 10,000-plus pound towing capacities and empty-nest couples live in five-bedroom homes. We're used to having more than we need. Perhaps when real owners start driving their Volts they'll find that the car's just-in-case internal combustion engine isn't really needed very often.
An electric vehicle might not be ideal for everyone, but there are very few people who wouldn't be able to use a Volt and start realizing the benefits of an EV immediately.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor