Behind the wheel: Electric shock |

Behind the wheel: Electric shock

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – My test ride in a Chevy Volt at last week’s Aspen Environment Forum was extremely brief – from the Aspen Meadows to Main Street, circling the roundabout, and back. The route did not, contrary to the cynical suggestion from a colleague, press the limits of the car’s range.The promo pitch from my well-informed guide, Ron, lasted far longer than the road test, and was sufficiently detailed that I can tell you just how far the Volt can go on a single charge of its battery: 40 miles.I know, that’s not far, and never mind Ron’s facts-and-figures spiel that half of all car trips cover less than 3 miles. (Ron was very talkative, which made it hard to squeeze in what I thought was a very pertinent question: What about the other half?) But Ron was also quite likable, so I felt bad about my reflexive wince when he offered up that grave, dismal statistic. Forty miles? That gets you to Glenwood Springs – but only if you start at the east end of Aspen, and go as far as Factory & Army Surplus. (On the cheerier side, it gets you from the Meadows to the roundabout approximately a dozen times. And back!)Ron had clearly anticipated the expression of shock and lack of awe on my face. No doubt, he had seen it before – at a guess, as many times as he had quoted the 40-mile number. True, the Volt goes just 40 miles on a charge. But the Volt (whose tag line is “More car than electric”) has an additional energy source – our old favorite, gasoline. Here’s the catch: The Volt doesn’t have a regular gas engine. Rather, its nine-gallon gas tank acts as a generator for the battery-powered engine. Giving you a range of nearly 400 miles (Aspen to Denver and back!) all emission-free and blissfully smooth and quiet.Ron then cranked up his smile and told me to step on the gas. (Yes, I believe that was the phrase he used, and had he stopped talking for a second I would have suggested he come up with a more appropriate alternative in the future.) But we were in a single lane, heading toward the narrow Castle Creek Bridge, in traffic, and I hadn’t read the waiver I had signed a few minutes earlier, and didn’t know if I was responsible in the event of a crash.Instead of speeding up, we coasted back to the Meadows, and I wondered whether we had made our seamless transition to gas-generator