Thanks to his new Chevrolet Volt, Mitch Katz is all electric, all the time.

A solar panel array has powered his Thousand Oaks home for four years. And now Katz can plug an electric cord into General Motors' newly released hybrid vehicle and bypass gas stations for miles on end.

"I don't believe in using gasoline anymore, and since I live five miles from work I won't have to," said Katz, who owns a Solar Universe franchise in Westlake Village. Katz gave up his leased BMW 750 when he bought the white Volt for $38,500 (minus a $7,500 federal tax credit) from Selman Chevrolet in Irvine.

"It performs incredibly well ... like a Lexus," said Katz, who plans to buy three more for his business. "You forget you are driving an electric car. It corners well and rides extremely smooth. And the interior has all the bells and whistles."

That includes two-tone leather seats, satellite navigation and radio systems, a Bose stereo system, 30-megabyte hard drive for recording music and OnStar service.

The Volt will also e-mail Katz's iPhone when the lithium-ion battery pack needs to be recharged. Katz just plugs the car into an electrical outlet at home or at his business.

It takes about eight hours to fully charge, giving the Volt a range GM estimates at 375 miles.
Late last week, Katz had a 220-volt charging station installed at his home, which will cut the charging time in half.
Chevrolet made 10,000 Volts in the first production run, and 35,000 will roll off the assembly line in the next one, according to GM.

Automotive analysts are also enthusiastic about the Volt, with Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine naming it their Car of the Year for 2011.

John O'Dell, senior editor for Santa Monica-based Edmunds' Green Car Adviser, said the Volt gets high marks for technology but not price. "It's just an incredibly expensive vehicle and that really takes it off the realm of becoming a mainstream vehicle," O'Dell said. And while the Volt is a plug-in, it's not all electric. It has a nine-gallon gas tank that powers a generator, which recharges the batteries.

"It's an absolutely wonderful car. I will not call it an electric vehicle, I call it an electric-driven vehicle," O'Dell said. "It's a hybrid, an extended range plug-in vehicle, and it's the best thing out there."

Gabriel Shenhar, senior auto test engineer and special publications program manager at Consumer Reports, evaluated the Volt last fall. His analysis found that many owners won't reap the economic bang enjoyed by Katz because he generates his own power and has a short commute.

His review ran "against the current" of all the hype the car received.

"What we found is that the car works but if you are expecting miraculous (cost) savings or astronomical mpg then you are not going to see it," he said.

The Volt runs on battery power for about the first 30 to 40 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in - recharging the battery pack but not propelling the wheels.

On a 200-mile trip, the Volt managed 48mpg versus 47 for the magazine's Toyota Prius, he noted in his review.
The benefit comes from keeping the Volt's battery charged as much as possible and that could result in up to 120 mpg.

"But such a fantastic number is misleading since it ignores the cost of the 12 kilowatts of electricity we were `pumping' into the car every 33 miles or so," Shenhar wrote in his review. That works out to an average of $2.38 a kilowatt hour in California, a buck more than the national average.It's higher in areas like Los Angeles.

"In some California metro areas where you pay 19 cents a kilowatt hour it amounts to about $2.40," he said of the all electric range. "It's quite similar to what we used to pay for a gallon of regular."