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The Chevy Volt made one U.S. family living in Europe feel right at home this Thanksgiving

By Peter Behrens

We’re an American family of three, lucky to be spending this year in The Netherlands, a beautiful and hospitable country. But with Thanksgiving getting close, we found ourselves getting homesick.

Don’t get me wrong. Europe--art, cities, history, food--is wonderful.

What the place lacks, though, is U.S. Thanksgiving.

You know rituals mean something when you’re missing them. Turkey is just another bird around here, and eating one is about as ceremonial and significant as consuming a roast chicken. Turkey’s fine, from the European point of view, but no big deal. Just another poultry dish.

And cranberry sauce? Try asking for that in Dutch.

The absence-of-festivity issue resolved when we were invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the apartment of American friends. The problem was they live in Berlin, Germany, 400 miles from our home in Holland.

The transportation-to-turkey issue resolved when we got our hands on a rental European Chevrolet Volt for the trip. Driving the Chevy to the turkey just seemed exactly in the spirit of our favorite American holiday.

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European employers don’t cut a lot of slack for U.S. Thanksgiving. Our trip was not designed as a leisurely, scenic tour of ancient towns and pastoral landscapes. We had limited time and an impatient 6-year-old in the backseat.

The turkey run—Holland to Berlin and back—meant interstate-style roads, impressive cruising speeds and plenty of competitive traffic around major cities like Amsterdam, Essen, Hannover. A U.S.-style road trip, covering American-scale distance: 800 miles, roundtrip. Most of them on Germany’s famous, fearsome autobahns.

The Volt is Europe’s 2012 Car of the Year. It’s a full-performance, full-speed electric car that operates in two ways: EV mode (battery-powered) and extended-range mode (gasoline-powered). We started off with the lithium-ion battery fully charged, but on the turkey tour we mostly drove in extended-range mode, where the gas-powered engine imperceptibly took over, working with the electrical motors to keep the car going.

Our European Chevrolet Volt came with two charging cables, one good for a standard household plug-in and another for plugging into the higher voltages available from charging stations. We discovered that there are hundreds of public charging points throughout Europe, and plenty in Berlin. For us, plugging in a Volt was easier than filling a gas tank.

If we’d had extra days for exploring Berlin and environs we would have kept the Volt operating only on its lithium-ion battery and in total gas-denial. But it was as a trans-European gas-sipping family-transportation machine that the car really impressed us.

The Volt has received global accolades for advanced technologies and eco-sense. But it didn’t get to be Europe’s Car of the Year by being scared of autobahns. Operating all day in extended-range mode against ruthless German competition, the Volt was sheer driving pleasure. Out there on the autobahn, an ordinary European weekday was happening. Inside the Volt, heading for friends, rituals and cranberry sauce (preiselbeersosse, in German), anticipation and excitement made it feel like our own private holiday.

There was plenty to be thankful for Thanksgiving Day in our Chevrolet Volt.

Award-winning novelist Peter Behrens blogs about cars and trucks at Autoliterate.

  • 1 1 The Volt is available at participating dealers.
  • 2 2 On U.S. model Volts, using the portable 120V charging cord will take approximately 16 hours at the 8-amp default setting and 10 hours at the 12-amp setting.

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