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Friday, December 23, 2011

Chevy Volt Does Not Play Well With Others

2011 Chevy Volt
I work at a major high tech company in the Silicon Forrest area of Oregon. As you might imagine, my coworkers are early adopters of nearly any new technology. Plug-in vehicles are no exception to this future-focused mentality.

In the decade that I have worked there, there have always been a few plug-in vehicles buzzing around the campus. These were either the odd 3-wheeler vehicle like the Gizmo or they were home conversions done by the too rare electrical engineer that can also turn a wrench.

Now that plug-in cars are for sale, there are many more than just the one or two EVs that had been around. To my employer's credit, they have installed charging stations to support their tech loving employees. They installed two charging stations that can charge two cars each, so four cars can be plugged in at once. However, there are about 14 plug-in cars on our campus.

As coworkers and as part of the EV community, we are willing to work together and share these precious charging spots. To facilitate this we have an email list and many of us have charging protocol cards on our dash. It has a paperclip that you can slide to indicate the time that your car can be unplugged and it has contact information so we can call each other to move cars when needed.

Usually, we don't need to move the cars. The EVSE cables are long enough to allow access to eight parking spots. Considering that on most days, most of us don't need to charge at work, this ratio of charging spots to EVs works well with the system of sharing that we have employed.

There is, however, one snag to our sharing scheme: The Chevy Volt. If you unplug a Volt without unlocking the car, the alarm will sound. This is true even if the charge is complete. To unplug it, this means that we have to call the Volt owner and have her unlock the car either by walking out to the parking lot or via her OnStar smartphone app.

Maybe it would be better to just disable the alarm temporarily, but according to her, unlocking the car is the only way to disable the unplug alarm.

Only one of the three Volt owners on campus charges at work. Ironically, since the Volt has a short EV range, relative to pure EVs, the Volt will need to be plugged in more often in order to avoid fuel use. This driver has a 30 mile one way commute. With a 60 miles daily commute, she is in the minority of people that drive more than 40 miles each day, so plugging in or not directly impacts her fuel use.

Unlocking your car when you are not there is an act of trust. It is one thing to extend this to a coworker while your car is in a parking lot with cameras. It would be another altogether to even consider this in a public parking area. This makes it nearly impossible to share a charging station.

I hope GM see the flaw in this design and creates a firmware upgrade that at least allows this to be user configurable.