I tweet a lot. I don’t know why, but apparently I have quite a bit to say in 140 character snippets. With the advent of the Klout score this excessive babbling has garnered some “perks.” Mainly, I get to be a marketing guinea pig to companies wrapping their strategies around that new-fangled “social media.” As a marketer myself (but rarely of tangible products), I enjoy being on the receiving end, so I can learn professionally.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had the weekend of June 15 to test drive a Chevy Volt. Although an in-depth marketing profile of me would reveal that I’m not giving up my urban bicycling advocacy or my carshare promotion any time soon, it would probably also reveal that I know a lot of folks in the ‘burbs and maybe I can convert them with some of my crazy progressive transportation opinions.
When I found out I was getting a car for the weekend, I knew immediately where in the great state of California (or the 150-mile radius I was limited to) I wanted to explore: BIG SUR. Like, Croatia, I had never heard a bad thing about Big Sur. I really needed to take some time for a “me retreat” or Metreat, so I felt this would be the perfect spot to go.
Alas, I had commitments in the city on Saturday morning, so I couldn’t zip off the second the keys were in my hands. I worked from home on Friday in anticipation of the drop off and received a great tutorial from the very helpful Jeannique from Page One Automotive, which handled the leasing. I’m not a gearhead, so the very intuitive system of the Volt seemed straightforward enough to figure out. I had fun taking it for a spin around the city, driving on battery down to the closing party for San Francisco Design Week and then heading out to Lands End to catch the sunset. The battery was a bit low from the drive up from the dealership, but I figured I’d just charge it in the morning.
First I had to park for the evening. Living in a city, I need to squeeze into tiny spots near the park to safely leave a vehicle overnight. Here was my first sign that this car was not build with city drivers in mind. While it maneuvered quite well, the backup system beeped when you were within about 3 feet of another car. I gave up on parallel parking in a couple spaces due to the incessant beeping. If you could put the darn thing in “city mode” it would be a lot better.
The car did come in super handy in the morning. I was organizing a fun run for Team Challenge Northern California and had to load up with breakfast. There was plenty of storage in the Volt, so no problems there. The electric charge eventually ran out, but the flip over to gas was seamless. I figured I’d charge before I went to Big Sur. After the run, I drove my friend Amber back from the Presidio to South Beach (traffic nightmare reminding me of why I bicycle). We decided to try and find a charging station en route. We tried to go to two, using the ChargePoint app, but found they were in gated garages. Not helpful! We eventually ended up at a city-owned garage by the Moscone Center. That’s when I discovered it takes FOUR HOURS to charge the car on high-voltage, TEN to do it from an outlet.
So unless you live (or drive to work) near a charging station or have a garage…for the neighborhood dweller, this really doesn’t help. I was SO bummed out. I really wanted to love this part of the experience. I don’t know how, from a technical standpoint, they can fix this, but man, not convenient at all.
Frustrated, I headed down the coast after quickly grabbing my things. I loved being out on the open road. Even hitting gnarly traffic near Santa Cruz, I found the gas mileage was great. No need to fill up and the battery kicked back on briefly too. The car was easy to drive and didn’t putz around on the highway.This lease model had XM radio and I flipped between that and Podcasts on my iPod using the really simple interface on the center console (it felt a little Sci-fi like — the future is now). I couldn’t wait to get to my destination. Trying out AirBnB for the first time, I’d reserved a Yurt for the night, adjacent to a Spirit Garden. The Yurt did NOT disappoint, and the property managers were super friendly. I’d definitely go back (it sleeps up to six!) for a nicer-than-camping economical trip to Big Sur.
I took a nap, explored the area for sunset and hike plotting, then parked the car and headed to the Big Sur Taphouse for dinner and a beer.
Though I went to bed early, an unexpected sunrise rainstorm allowed me the opportunity to sleep in and then lay in bed and read. I finally crawled out to the car around 10 a.m. to jumpstart my day. Unfortunately this is when my day wasn’t the primary thing that needed jumpstarting.
The Chevy Volt died.
Apparently using the iPod/Phone can cause this, but it didn’t beep at me to warn me about making sure everything was disconnected. Instead I powered off and the car powered off permanently. Whoops.
So much for marketing. And so much for my hiking plans for the day. I grabbed a coffee and pastry from the Big Sur Bakery and began my recovery mission.
I can say that the response was phenomenal. The dealership took care of me immediately. They dispatched OnStar Roadside Assistance to send a tow and they arranged for a cab to retrieve me and get me to Monterey. A rental car awaited me there to drive back to SF. They even came and got it on Monday morning.
Although my Big Sur plans were thwarted, I did enjoy a nice lunch in Santa Cruz, stumble upon a nude beach by accident, and pick up some incredibly delicious organic strawberries at Swanton Berry Farm. I also enjoyed a foggy stroll/beach hike at Pigeon Point. Again, if I hadn’t had the opportunity in the first place, I’d not have seen a lot of the Pacific Highway.
Looking at the bright side!
No, seriously, I *want* there to be electric cars for people who need them. I’m okay for now with my two wheels (provided they don’t get stolen – future post to come), but I want suburbanites to start thinking differently. But I also want Chevy to try harder to make sure their cars warn drivers if they’re going to die. Don’t give up. Keep trying. I’ll gladly try a Volt again – when the kinks are worked out.