Rocky Mountain High

31 May 2012

(Odometer: 27, 423 miles)

PIKES PEAK, Colo.–Since this road trip began in Illinois, July 10, 2011, I've wanted to push the Volt as high and as far as it would go. It is, after all, bleeding-edge electronics technology, and we had a year-long road test in effect.

Pikes Peak would be the place to find out. But as we get closer and confronted the mountainous western geography, my doubts grew. Heading up the Grapevine outside of Los Angeles, the "reduced propulsion" warning light came on. On steep grades, the Volt's electronics govern how fast the car can drive given the stress being put on the generator-charge system by the highway speeds and grade. It seemed to govern us at about 60 mph, tops.

Once you level out, the warning light goes on and you're back to 65 and above. The same situation occurred as we headed east toward Colorado and ascended the western side of the Sierra in California. Same again as we rolled east from Salt Lake City into the Wasatch range.

Pikes Peak would be another matter altogether. People die driving that road, and it's very steep. Plus, the Volt had never been above 8,000 feet (passing the Lincoln's Head Monument in Wyoming).

How would the Volt perform at altitude almost twice as high?

Here's our attempt at the ascent, followed (below) by our descent, where we guessed how much regenerative power the car would develop:


Going down:

Robert LaJeunesse June 5, 2012 at 8:58 am

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OK, so the Volt made it up Pike’s peak. Not great, but decent. The bigger question, how were the donuts up there?

    Brian June 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm

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    Bob, I think there were donuts, but I was so dizzy by the time I got into the gift shop, I was too woozy to seek ‘em out.

    :  )

Eric Davis June 5, 2012 at 9:56 am

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Thanks for the warning.  I was actually thinking of testing out a Volt, but I go to Tahoe on a regular basis and would prefer a vehicle that can actually get up a grade without needing the warning flashers.

    Not a clueless Volt Owner June 5, 2012 at 10:13 am

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    Umm…The Volt has something called Mountain Mode. Just press the button 10 mins before hitting a long grade (like Pikes Peak, the Grapevine would be no problem), and it will spool up enough battery charge to go up them at 70 mph (assuming you don’t fly off the curves).

    How can these guys have the car for a year and not know about that? Have they even tried Sport mode?

      AySz88 June 5, 2012 at 11:47 am

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      Agreed – I wish they did say whether or not Mountain Mode was on.  Unfortunately, every time they display the dash, the place where it would show it is covered by the wheel or a hand! :(

    AySz88 June 5, 2012 at 11:46 am

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    This sort or reduced propulsion doesn’t happen unless you run it completely out of battery (such that the electric motor can’t do much to power the car).  Mountain Mode will keep a reserve for this sort of situation.  You should still take out a demo Volt and try it out with Mountain Mode on.

Brian June 13, 2012 at 4:28 pm

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At @AySz88 and @Eric Davis and @Not a Clueless….: we did have mountain mode on, but AySz88 is correct that we were running on the gas generator. We ran out of all-electric on the drive down to Colorado Springs. And honestly, we should have, after descending the mountain and picking up energy, turned right around and headed back up to see how the Volt would have fared on all-electric. 

The realities of this trip are that we don’t always have the optimal charge in the optimal situation. The drive is a little bit about the Volt experience but more about the innovation stories we discover.

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