Baby, I Can Drive Your Car

By Dana Rudolph


"Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet" goes the old ad jingle. I therefore felt rather all-American on a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest to test drive the Chevy Volt as part of the iconic brand's outreach to the LGBT community.
Chevy's parent company, General Motors, has been marketing to the LGBT community for nearly 20 years. GM's Saturn brand ran its first ad in a national LGBT magazine in 1995, and since then, most of its brands have sponsored events or advertised in LGBT media, said Joe LaMuraglia, GM's LGBT communications manager, in an e-mail to me.
Many large corporations have mostly targeted young gay men in their LGBT marketing efforts, but LaMuraglia said, "We want to reach all facets of the LGBT community. Lesbians and parents (and lesbian parents!) are very important to our outreach and we are striving to find new and unique ways to communicate to these segments of the community."
Chevy therefore invited myself, my spouse, and our son to be among the gay and lesbian journalists and their guests to join them on a media drive from Seattle, Washington to Vancouver, British Columbia. They flew us to Seattle, fed us, housed us and gave each a day to drive at our leisure to Vancouver in a 2013 Volt. Driving straight through (or rather, "gaily through") from city to city would have taken about two-and-a-half hours, but my family and I chose to take a scenic route and see the sites along the coastal Chuckanut Drive.
We wound our way past misty islands, stopping for freshly caught oysters that our 10-year-old son gamely tried and decided, "Never again." We explored tide pools and discovered purple starfish, tiny crabs, and green bottle glass worn smooth by the sea.
After all that natural beauty, it felt strange to get back into the high-tech Volt, until I reminded myself that the key selling point of electric cars is that they just might help preserve our environment (although I see them as but one component in what must be a much larger program of action).
The Volt is a compact car, but felt sufficiently roomy for two women, a tall-ish boy, and our luggage, even on a long trip. It handled nimbly, especially in Sport mode, merging briskly onto the highway portions of our trip and taking the Chuckanut Drive's many tight twists and turns with ease. It did not have that tinny, carnival-ride feel that some small cars do — and it has a 5-Star Overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Our son's appraisal from the back seat was that he had plenty of room, lots of light from the glass hatch behind him, and sufficient entertainment from the audiobook I'd downloaded onto my phone and played via Bluetooth over the car's speakers. He was a little bummed the fancy infotainment display couldn't run Minecraft, his favorite computer game, but we told him life is full of disappointments.
The Volt has an all-electric engine, but uses a gasoline-powered generator to recharge the batteries if they run out while the car is on the road. Because of this, Chevy differentiates it from a hybrid, since other cars labeled "hybrids" have two engines, an electric and a conventional-fuel one. One of the benefits of an electric engine, as opposed to a conventional one, is that it has full torque at start-up, making it quick to accelerate from a full stop. That means the Volt combines the zippiness of an always-electric engine with the security of a gasoline backup if the battery drains. It has an initial electric range of 38 miles, at which point the gas generator seamlessly kicks in to provide electricity for up to 380 total miles without plugging in or refueling.
At the push of the start button, the engine comes to life with a startling silence. The most noticeable signs that it is on are the two full-color displays on the dash, which provide a wealth of information, including details on battery charge, energy recapture from braking, and how energy efficient one's driving is. It felt a little like being thrust into a video game, but after a bit of driving, and (while my spouse drove) reading through the manual to learn what the various icons meant, I got more used to it.
Parents hoping to convey an environmental sensitivity to their children may even welcome the fact that kids in the back seat can view the car's energy stats from the display in the middle of the front dash. (And they can probably learn a great deal of science and math if you hand them the manual and have them figure it all out for you — then ask them to give you a monthly breakdown of your savings and how many pizzas that translates into.)
Right-wing organizations sometimes imply that supporting LGBT equality is un-American. If an all-American brand like Chevy is marketing to the LGBT community, however, that's one more piece of evidence that those groups have lost the argument.
The market for electric cars and hybrids is still young, but the Volt is a strong contender for anyone considering one. And there's plenty of room — and reason — for a rainbow sticker on its bumper. Just don't get crumbs from your apple pie on the seats.