Unplugging with the Volt

Volt Unplugged at Best Buy, El Segundo

Last Sunday, my family and I spent much of the day hanging out at one of the LA stops of the Volt Unplugged tour. Both Bob and I have already driven the Volt, but this ride and drive event was taking place at my local Best Buy store- so local, in fact, that we might have walked there had it not been drizzling all day. Not that we need much of an excuse to spend some time in the place from which all great man caves are stocked, but we figured an EV event gave good cover for gadget fondling, so off we went.

It made sense to conduct an Unplugged tour stop at that Best Buy- it has been selling EV bikes and scooters for over a year, in addition to being geographically and demographically attractive, situated amongst a collection of beach towns. And indeed, plug-in vehicles of various sizes had taken over the parking lot. The Volt sign-up table was situated on one side, along with the designated line-up area, a static display car and a Whole Foods taco bar. On the other was Best Buy’s set-up, featuring the Brammo Enertia and some of their scooters (more e-bikes were inside), while a handful of Volts threaded their way down the middle to start and end test drives. The affair was staffed by a combination of folks from GM’s marketing agency as well as their own PR and engineering staff. Southern CA Edison was also on hand to provide info about rates and making one’s home “plug-in ready”.

The whole thing had something of a homegrown feel to it, about which I have mixed feelings. On one hand, that resonates with my Saturn roots- I’ve done my share of flipping burgers at those BBQs, and I’ll take authentic over overdone and artificially commercial any day. At the same time, it’s hard to look at something that casual and believe that Chevrolet understands that this is one of its most important product launches in at least 20 years…but it is. I know there’s sensitivity toward being government owned and spending a ton on marketing, and this effort is meant to preach to the mostly converted, but the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Even the EV1 program had a self-contained roadshow inside a semi trailer that held 7 cars and enough displays and materials to make an instant event wherever it went- and that’s a car that GM now claims it wasn’t all that serious about. And in a more current reference, there’s no shortage of people who’ve been comparing the Unplugged tour with Nissan’s much fancier endeavor for the Leaf and assessing cracks in Chevrolet’s commitment, accurately or not. There’s a decided underdog element to the Volt, but it seems the Unplugged tour has been deemed a little too scrappy.

On a smaller note, it’s also unfortunate that kids under 18 aren’t able to even ride along; by comparison, the Leaf tour even reminds you to bring car seats if needed so kids of any age enjoy the ride too. Bringing mine to see a next generation car only to have to tell him he couldn’t ride in it was something of a let down…though it made the event’s co-location with Best Buy and its attendant video game section all the more fortuitous. Hey, little men like man caves too.

15 thoughts on “Unplugging with the Volt

  1. So, the Chevy Volt is Rated R? (Under 17 not admitted). First, the PR gaffe with the 70+mph omission, and now no kids allowed. And I can’t wait to hear about the charging station issue at your place. Come on, GM. I really want to like you and I’m not that tough to please.
    One minor note about your story, though. You said that Best Buy’s tent had “some of their scooters” and the picture clearly shows a Brammo Enertia front and center. Need I remind you, dear lady, that the Enertia is not a scooter? It’s a true, blue motorcycle. 😀

      1. You’re too kind. Looking forward to hearing more about your charger installation.
        Also, when are you and Bob going to take that Volt apart and see what makes it tick?

  2. Jed was very disappointed that he couldn’t drive the Volt. Sad because he is looking at the Volt as the default EV muscle car. Teen consumers need a macho car. This all points a bad or incomplete marketing.


  3. So once again GM’s lips are saying go VOLT, but their actions are saying no VOLT. Maybe they should call it the NOVA VOLT marketing campaign. GM should put Chelsea and Plug in America in charge of their marketing campaign, if they really want to promote the VOLT. Picking on GM is just getting too easy now days.

  4. Hi Chelsea,

    I’m in charge of putting the tour together. We view this a very grassroots PR initiative that gets the cars in front of the people. We’ve opted to not provide the full dog and pony show so as to let the car be the star. Keep in mind too that we actually drove the four Volts from Seattle to L.A. Starting later this week, the tour will start in San Antonio and drive from there to Miami, Orlando, Raleigh, D.C., NY, Detroit and Chicago. That’s all driving.

    1. Hi Adam,

      Thanks for the response- flattered that you noticed my little post!

      Yes, I understand the grassroots approach, and tried to acknowledge that in what I said. There has always been something “little car that could” about the Volt among the core GM folks- and that humility works for many, me included. At the same time, there’s a definite element of the program being inextricably symbolic of GM’s future. It’s a new kind of product, and the most visible launch of the “new GM”. And Chevy is not a grassroots brand (though a little of that wouldn’t hurt) Joel and Tony D have made clear that they are aiming at mainstream. It seems sometimes that the Volt is caught between these two philosophies, and I’m merely making the observation that based on the feedback I’m hearing, this could be one of those times.

      1. Good point, Chelsea. We could’ve gone the route that others have gone, and but chose to keep this to what a road trip is supposed to be: driving for long stretches, but stopping long enough to do some fun and interesting things. We’re also doing this road trip to show you really could drive across the country in a Volt if you wanted to do so. If you were to do this in any other electric vehicle it would take months because of the need to recharge. We’re doing it in a matter of weeks. We plug in at night at a Marriott, start the day with a full charge, and then go into extended range if needed.

      2. Paul, “months” really? I hope you don’t actually believe that. You can do 340 miles in a day (10 hours total elapsed time, driving plus charging) in a Tesla Roadster if you have 30A charging along the route, 365 if 40A, or 400 miles with 70A charging. A Nissan Leaf with access to Level 3 charging can go even further per day, maybe 485 miles in the same time. That’s 4,000 miles in ten days, give or take a bit depending on charging. Even a Leaf with 30A charging can make 235 miles per 10-hour day, which will still get you across the country in less than a month.

        Sure, you can do 800+ miles per day in a gas burner, but that’s going to take 13 hours or more of virtually non-stop driving and you’re going to be exhausted, and it’s reckless to do that day after day.

      3. Tom, you bring up some good points here. Maybe my estimate of “months” was a little high, but you have to admit that most Americans won’t be looking to find the nearest charging station. The Volt gives them the freedom to take a road trip like they’ve always done.

    2. Hi Adam! I saw the Volt on display in Austin, earlier this year, and have signed up to test drive one this coming Saturday in San Antonio- I look forward to it very much! But I have been following the Volt story since its inception, and have been yearning for viable EVs for a much longer time. But I have to agree with some of what has been brought up here- I think your advertising of the Volt is way too understated- and this from a guy my wife thinks is the World’s greatest understater!

      When the Volt came to Austin for the SXSW last Spring, there was very little in the news about it, and very little info or fanfare surrounding the car- I was quite surprised! At the time, I thought maybe y’all were just waiting to get closer to launch- but there still seems to be a lack of creative, widespread advertising for the Volt, even at this late stage before deployment. I haven’t even looked at a GM product seriously for many, many years- but this is the one car that could and should be in the vanguard of the new GM. And while such advertising doesn’t have to be over the top (think Volt dancers), it isn’t even in the same zip code as the Leaf’s advertising, which hasn’t been all that pervasive to begin with either.

      I certainly hope the Volt is a success- technologically, it seems like a winner, a very desireable automobile, and hopefully a harbinger of a cleaner transportation future. I understand this- but the vast majority of your potential customers do not.

      I look forward to seeing y’all on Saturday;-)

      1. Thanks for your comments, Paul. Keep in mind that advertising for the Volt has not yet started, but will very soon. Activities like SXSW and the Volt Unplugged tour are very much intended to be grassroots-focused. We can do all the flashy, showy stuff we want, but what really counts is getting people behind the wheel of the car.

        Have fun on Saturday!

  5. Ungh! Me like man-cave too! till oldest daugher move back in- lost my mancave:-( Must gather hunting party for journey to the great Frys electronic wilderness!

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