Published December 14, 2012
Two years ago tomorrow, Jeff Kaffee took possession of his keys and became the very first person in the U.S. to buy a Chevrolet Volt.
Since then, the retired pilot from Parsippany, New Jersey, has put almost 12,000 miles on his range-extended electric car--using just 26.1 gallons of gasoline while doing so.
That works out to a lifetime average of about 460 mpg, since most of those miles were covered on grid electricity.
That's lower than the average distance covered by most cars, but Kaffee notes that he spends up to half the year in Florida and can fly free--so he does few long-distance road trips.
Generally speaking, Kaffee says most of his daily travels fall within the electric range of his 2011 Volt.
He pegs that at 38 to 40 miles in the summer, and 30 to 35 miles in colder months, but notes that owners of 2013 Volts have reported higher ranges due to the slightly larger battery pack.
No bugs at all
The most unexpected facet of his Volt, he admitted, was that it has had no bugs or service issues at all.
"For such a new kind of car," he said, "I expected that I'd be in the dealer every month or two for something or other."
But aside from a faulty tire-pressure sensor, replaced under warranty, he's had no need to ask the dealer to look at or fix anything.
If he could change one thing about his Chevy Volt, Kaffee said, it would be to add 2 or 3 inches of legroom to the rear seat.
He knew he was buying a four-seat car, so that wasn't an issue, but the rear seats are just a little tighter than he and his friends would prefer.
Few charging stations
Kaffee says he mostly plugs in his Volt at home, and doesn't make any effort to locate or seek out public charging stations.
He said that he's seen charging stations here and there on his travels--he mentioned six or eight at the PepsiCo headquarters in Purchase, New York--but isn't a member of ChargePoint or any other network of stations.
His only disappointment with the Volt, he said, was that public charging infrastructure on the East Coast is relatively less developed than in other regions, particularly the West Coast.
He recalled driving down the coast in Oregon, seeing multiple charging stations every 25 or 30 miles.
Environment and energy security
What led Jeff Kaffee, a 20-year military pilot before entering commercial aviation, to buy his first Chevrolet since the 1970s?
"Two things, really," he said. "First, using less gasoline is simply better for the environment--that's why I bought my first Prius."
"But second, I want to help reduce this country's oil consumption," he continued.
"I was thrilled with the 45 mpg that Prius gave me, but the Volt is everything that car was and a lot more--better driving, and with more overall range."
Soon, plug-in to replace hybrid
The other car in the Kaffee family is a 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid, which routinely gives his wife 37 mpg.
That's the same real-world fuel economy that the Volt delivers when running in range-extending mode.
Because the two cars are equally efficient in gasoline mode, he said, when they do take a rare road trip, the couple takes the Camry--because it's bigger.
When the family Camry's time is up, will Kaffee replace it with a second plug-in car?
"Oh, absolutely!" he laughed. "There's no question. I've been looking at the Ford [Fusion Energi] plug-in--and I'd love a Tesla Model S, but a $100,000 car isn't in my budget."
So, two years to the week after the first mass-produced plug-in cars went on public sale, chalk up Jeff Kaffee as one more convert in the expanding group of electric-car owners.