Ears Wide Open, Chevy Volt Marketing Manager Collects Driver Feedback
John Hughes has strong feelings about the Chevy Volt that he’s been using as a daily commute vehicle for the past three months. But his own personal predilections are less important to him than the experiences of his fellow Volt drivers. That’s because he’s the Volt marketing manager in charge of coordinating owner opinions via the customer advisory board, and multiple other channels.
In an interview with PluginCars.com, Hughes rattled off a list of the many ways that G.M. is keeping track of what’s happening with real-life Volt drivers in the real world: multiple company websites, toll-free call centers, an OnStar team dedicated to the Volt, and even direct lines of communication. “I’ve gotten to know Volt customers personally,” said Hughes. “I feel comfortable with calling them up and asking them what they think.” He said that G.M. has “a lot of tentacles out there to understand what’s happening practically minute by minute in the initial launch markets.”
So, what are a few examples of what Hughes has learned?
- Customers would like to have dashboard gauge to show percentage of the battery pack’s state-of-charge, not just an estimate of how many EV miles remain.
- Customers like the redundant driver controls—on both the touch screen and dashboard—allowing for multiple ways to control climate, audio and other functions.
- Customers don’t like that the alarm goes off if the car is unplugged while the doors are locked. “The EV community said that won’t work, because the protocol is that if there’s an EV plugged in and it’s fully charged, it’s common and acceptable for another EV driver to unplug that car and plug in their car that needs a charged,” said Hughes. “I think that’s insightful and we have to take a look at that.”
First-Hand Experience As Well
To better understand the feedback from owners, Hughes started driving a pre-production engineering Volt in early October. Over the course of his first 4,500 miles of, he’s averaged 89 miles per gallon. It took two months before his first visit to the gas station, and that's only because he went on a 200-mile Boy Scout outing. His normal commute is 20 miles, and he charges on Level 2 at work and Level 1 at home. He has managed about 38 to 42 miles of all-EV range, when the weather was moderate—and in the winter, about 28 to 32 miles of electric range. And that’s while driving fast.
“I have to be conscious of how fast I drive to make sure I stay within the speed limit,” said Hughes. “It’s quiet to the point that you’re going quicker than you think, because you don’t have the noise as a cue to how quick you’re going.”
It’s the quickness and quietness of the Volt that has most impressed Hughes. At that same time, he’s developed a real passion for driving on electricity—the first 35 miles or so when the gas engine is completely dormant. “I love the EV mode more than I thought I would,” said Hughes. “I feel very proud and excited and feel like I’m doing my part.”
Closing the Feedback Loop
Despite this love for the pure EV experience, Hughes doesn’t feel an urgent need for more electric range than the Volt is currently providing. He believes that 35 miles is “an awesome place to start.”
But are other Volt customers asking for more EV range? “That really hasn’t come up,” said Hughes. Yet, the marketing team is constantly asking customers what’s important to them relative to trade-offs. “If you ask somebody, if I make the Volt with better fuel economy and more EV range, would that be good? They say sure.” He added, “If you ask somebody should I lower the price of this car, they say, ‘yeah, that would be great.’”
I asked if he would ever consider owning a pure electric car—with no engine on board? “Probably not. I like the idea of driving in EV mode, but I also like not having a constraint,” he said. Hughes believes that pure electric cars are better suited to fleets, or as a third car for families. “There are times when I’m fully charged, but I’m sure glad that I have some energy in the tank,” Hughes said. “You know, like when I hear, ‘Honey, I need you to pick this up or pick that up.’ I don’t have to go home and swap cars.”
Hughes said that they are constantly collecting feedback, processing it, and figuring out where to go from here to make customers even happier with the Volt. Even though he can load up the Volt with three kids, and two bags of hockey gear, without a problem, he would like to see a larger Volt-style vehicle, maybe a small SUV with five seats. “Are different configurations possible with this drivetrain? Absolutely. You need to stay tuned for when we give information about where things are going.”
The good news is that whichever direction G.M. moves next with its electric program, it will be informed by feedback from real customers. So PluginCars.com readers, what do you want G.M. to know? Mr. Hughes is listening.
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