Driving Directions: Getting There Green

Jay Leno Loves His New Chevrolet Volt

The star comedian is all smiles about his new plug-in hybrid electric car. Also see more new electric cars.

jay leno and chevrolet volt

Jay Leno admired the Volt long before he actually owned one. (Jay Leno's Garage photo)

When I visited Jay Leno's set in Los Angeles, the famous 1955 Buick Roadmaster (the car he courted his wife with) was parked in his private parking spot. But now it's back at the Big Dog Garage, because Jay has a new love: the Chevy Volt. 

The $41,000 Volt, whose gas engine is mostly there to act as a generator for the electric motor, is a bold departure for General Motors, and it's finally gone beyond the talking stage to deliveries around the country. Jeff Kaffee, a retired airline pilot and the first customer to take delivery, was overwhelmed by TV camera crews, some from as far away as Japan. "I never thought I'd be participating in the rollout," he told me. "It was a thrill." Kaffee trained on 757s, and he says the Volt's cockpit reminds him of the driver's seat in big-league planes.

Obviously, Leno took delivery in a blaze of cameras, too. Since picking up his Volt at Rydell Chevrolet in Northridge, California late last week, he told me he's been spending as much time as he can behind the wheel, covering 248 miles in commutes to the studio as of Tuesday afternoon. And he's wildly enthusiastic.

"I'm impressed from a quality point of view," Leno said in a telephone interview. "I had a club date that was 60 miles away the other night, and the car just switched to gas when the electric was depleted, with no range anxiety, no problems -- the Volt just becomes a regular car, without any compromises. I really like the regenerative braking, too."

Leno also offers thumbs up for the Volt's interior, which he described as "like the German stuff in quality, without any of that 1980s creakiness you used to get from GM." The Volt's overall quality makes him proud to have bought an American car. "There's a certain amount of patriotism involved," he said. "People will buy American all things being equal -- when Harley-Davidson improved quality in the 1990s, it became a leader in the field. I think the Volt is an American product that the rest of the world can embrace, like the Model T."

jay leno's '55 roadmaster

Jay Leno's '55 Roadmaster is pressed into commuter service. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Leno's 1925 Model T is, in fact, his frequent commuter car, along with the 1955 Buick Roadmaster he bought in 1972 for $350 (and which now sports a 620-horsepower GM ZZ572 crate engine).

One car Leno probably won't be seen commuting in all that often is a battery electric, or at least a modern one (he has a very upright 1909 Detroit Electric, which he describes as "like a giant phone booth"). Leno says, "I don't get the Nissan Leaf with its 73 miles of range. To me, for a new technology to succeed, it can't just be equal to something else, it has to be better. With a lot of electrics, they take out the rear seats, then make them heavier and more expensive."

By contrast, he said, "The Volt is electric when you want it to be, and gas when you need it to be. I've had it for less than a week, and I'm driving it every day."

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli is a senior writer at E/The Environmental Magazine, a regular contributor to the New York Times and author most recently of Naked in the Woods: Joseph Knowles and the Legacy of Frontier Fakery.
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