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Behind the wheel of the Chevy Volt (photos)

Eager to court fans of cutting-edge tech at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, General Motors sends the e-car. And CNET's Caroline McCarthy gets a chance to drive it.

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Caroline McCarthy

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1 of 13 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

Meet the Chevy Volt

Some have called it the car that will save General Motors: the Chevy Volt, a plug-in electric sedan set to launch in three test markets (in California, Michigan, and the Washington, D.C., area) by the end of 2010.

GM's Chevy brand was one of the charter sponsors of this week's South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, and it brought a Volt along for the ride. Why, exactly? The 12,000 SXSWi attendees, most of whom are all about the latest high-tech craze, are exactly the people Chevy thinks will want a Volt.

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CNET in the driver's seat

Chevy set up a closed course in a shopping mall parking lot outside Austin for the Volt, and it invited about 75 people to give it a test-drive, from members of the press to "social influencers" with big Twitter followings to local members of the Austin Electric Vehicle Association.

This individual Volt, here driven by CNET's Caroline McCarthy, is one of about 80 Volts that have been hand-built as part of the car's development process. Factory production of test vehicles will begin this spring.

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3 of 13 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

The rear view

Chevy says the Volt is designed to be "very aerodynamic," from the closed grill in the front to the shape of the side mirrors. GM representatives have not disclosed the car's mileage, because, in part, that the miles-per-gallon model does not easily translate to an electric car.

The Volt features a less fuel-efficient but speedier "sport" mode, making it quite a bit zippier than the average hybrid or electric car. It does, however, max out at about 100 mph.

Because it's an electric car, the Volt is extremely quiet and raises subsequent safety concerns: pedestrians, particularly the visually impaired, might not be able to hear it coming. As a result, the Volt has a "pedestrian alert" that can be set off by tugging on a control next to the steering wheel.

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Driver's side door art

When asked about the nifty patterns printed on the inside of the Volt's doors, a Chevy representative responded that it's just supposed to be nifty and kind of different from what you'd usually see on the door of a car.
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Stashed in the trunk

In the trunk of the Chevy Volt is the car's charger cord, which plugs into a socket on the car on one side and an outlet on the other.

You can plug it into any three-pronged household outlet, and it'll take about 8 or 9 hours to charge, or about 3 hours at a specially built 240-volt charging station. GM is working with some third-party charging-station companies as well.

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Where the power flows in

Here's where the Volt's charger cord plugs into the car for a reboot.
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The Volt's console

The Chevy Volt has two 7-inch screens on the dashboard. This one controls the air conditioning and heat, radio, and efficiency information, as well as additional software still under development.
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Learning about efficiency

A lesson about efficient driving displayed on the Volt's dashboard LCD screen, displaying how optimal the driver's behind-the-wheel style and climate control settings are.

What could be cool down the road, at least for certain drivers: if it posts your scores to Twitter or ranks you against your fellow Volt-owning friends.

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Radio controls

The dashboard monitor also controls the radio. Here's an XM Satellite station, for example.
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An eye in the back of your head

When the Volt is in reverse, the LCD screen on the dashboard turns into a camera view of what's behind the car.
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Going zero miles per hour

Here's the Volt's other screen, positioned behind the steering wheel. On the far right is an animated green ball that charts fuel efficiency: when it's in the middle, the driver is at top efficiency.
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The Volt on your iPhone

A GM representative showed off Chevrolet Connect, a test iPhone app developed by OnStar specifically for the Volt. It's still in development, but it can currently be used to lock and unlock the car, receive a notification when it's been charged, and access some remote controls, like turning on the car's heating system before you leave your house on a cold morning.

Chevrolet Connect will likely be debuting on iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry Storm platforms, along with the Volt's launch, and then eventually for other GM cars.

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13 of 13 Caroline McCarthy/CNET

Chevy wants to reach the plugged-in set

There are 12,000 SXSWi attendees, so they can't all get behind the wheel of the Volt. But since Chevy wants to reach this target market, it has set up branded "recharge" stations around the Austin Convention Center for a different kind of electric product: cell phones and laptops.

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