2012 Chevy Volt

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Ok, I have changed my mind about the Chevy Volt.

Well, some of my mind… .

It is, no doubt about it, a brilliant piece of engineering. Where a Toyota Prius can be coaxed to roll along on electric power alone at up to about 25 MPH for a few brief moments before the batteries run low and the gas engine steps in, the Volt can run full-tilt on just its batteries/electric motor all the way up to its top speed of 101 MPH – and for several miles at speeds in the 60-70 MPH range before the gas engine kicks back on to feed the batteries. It’s also not tied to an electric outlet – as the Nissan Leaf is – because it carries its own recharging system around with it. You can plug it in – or fill it up. Either way, you keep on moving.

It looks nice, has a really neat interior – and it’s not even slow.

Too bad it doesn’t make much economic sense.

At least, not that I can figure out.

WHAT IT IS

The Volt sedan is a new type of hybrid in which the electric side of the powertain is dominant vs. the reverse in older hybrids like the Prius, which mostly rely on their gasoline-burning engines to move them. The Volt does have a gas engine, and it does directly assist in moving the vehicle under high-load conditions, but it is mostly there to extend the Volt’s range on battery power alone by keeping the battery charged up. You can also plug the Volt into a household outlet to recharge the batteries without using any gas at all – and when the batteries are topped off, it can run on stored electrical power for an honest 15-20-something miles in combined city-highway driving and perhaps twice that far under ideal (for an electric car) conditions; that is, just poking along at speeds of 50 MPH or less.

That’s pretty impressive.

Base price is $39,145.

The mid-sized, four-passenger Volt’s main – and only direct – competitor is the $35,200-$37,250 Nissan Leaf electric car.

WHAT’S NEW

Chevy has de-contented the Volt slightly for its second year in production, putting the formerly standard GPS navigation and premium Bose audio on the options list. This has allowed the MSRP to be reduced by about $2k relative to last year in a bid to make the car more affordable.

WHAT’S GOOD

Has the potential to use much less gas than a standard car, or even a standard hybrid car.

Gives you decent acceleration – and very good handling (much better than Prius).

Goes much farther on a tank/full charge than the all-electric Leaf, which has a maximum range of about 73 miles before its batteries exhaust themselves and have to be recharged.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

In real-word driving, you may be using the gas engine more than you’d like – and burning more gas than you’d expect.

Even with a $7,500 federal tax incentive, the Volt is still an expensive car – in the same range as a new BMW 1 Series. I don’t understand the concept of a $32k “economy” car. And if it’s a “technology” car  – or a technology luxury car – then who cares about its fuel economy?

Hard-to-define cost to feed it electricity.

UNDER THE HOOD

Unlike the Nissan Leaf – which is a pure electric car that runs only on battery power – the Volt is a semi-electric car. It still has a conventional 1.4 liter gasoline-burning engine under its hood, but its main job is to feed electricity to the electric motor which does most of the actual work of propelling the car – and also to keep the 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack topped-off. It only indirectly (and infrequently) works to turn the car’s wheels. Because it carries around what amounts to its own onboard generator, the Volt’s radius of action is as unlimited as any other car’s – provided, of course, you don’t let the gas tank (which holds about 8.2 gallons of fuel) run dry.

Total output of the combined system (gas engine, electric motor and batteries) is a claimed 149 hp – enough to propel the 3,781 lb. Volt to 60 MPH in just over 9 seconds flat. That’s about a second faster than a Toyota Prius, by the way.

Fuel economy is harder to define.

Chevy (and EPA) gives you two separate figures, one for MPGs – which covers the gas engine. And one for MPG”e” – which (ostensibly) measures how many miles you can travel per kilowatt-hour.

The first is easy – and kind of disappointing: 37 MPG for the 1.4 liter gas engine in combined city/highway driving. I only got 30.2 MPG.But even 37 MPG is not particularly impressive. (I’ll get into this more below).

The second measure of “fuel” efficiency – that MPG”e” thing –  is completely inscrutable. I tried to find out exactly (or even roughly) how much it costs in terms of a utility bill to plug the Volt in for the appx. 10 hours it takes (on 110V household current; if you have a 240 V outlet, that goes down to four hours) to replenish the batteries. But how do you separate out the draw from the Volt and all your other household stuff – everything from the washing machine to the night light? I have no idea.

All I can tell you for sure is this:

When they dropped the Volt off for my week-long evaluation, it had a full tank (about 8.2 gallons) and 4,100 miles on the odometer. The computer display said I had a range of 270 miles. As I type this, at the end of my week, the Volt now has has 4306 miles on it – with an indicated 42 miles to empty.

This is not good. In fact, it sucks.

My math says – confirming what the Volt’s computer display tells me – I have averaged about 32.2 MPGs overall. Not terrible. But for about $22k, you could buy a new VW Jetta TDI and get 42 on the highway, 30 in city driving (so about 35 MPG average) or within the margin of error – and have $10,000 left in your pocket (and not stiffed your fellow taxpayers for another $7,500).

Granted, the Volt can theoretically travel much farther on just its electric reserves (not requiring the gas engine to come on at all). But as Chevy tells you right there in the owner’s manual – and as my week long test drive revealed –  “electric range is maximized at 50 MPH and below.” So, if you drive faster – or accelerate harder – the batteries get depleted faster. And once they get depleted beyond a certain point, the gas engine kicks in to feed power to the electric motors – and you are now burning gas, just like a conventional car.

And a fair amount of it, too.

EPA and Chevy’s quoted 37 MPG when the gas engine is running is not much of an improvement over what you’d get in any of several 2012 model year non-hybrid cars, not just the VW Jetta diesel. For example, a 2012 Hyundai Accent sedan rates 40 MPG on the highway and 30 in city driving – so about 35 MPG combined.

And the Hyundai only costs $12k – that’s $20k less than the Volt.

And it burns regular unleaded.

The Volt wants premium only.

ON THE ROAD

There’s no faulting how the Volt drives.

It  accelerates smartly and there is no noticeable segue between electric drive and electric-drive assisted by the gas engine. It just … goes.

And it corners, too.

To date, every hybrid I have driven feels too heavy because it is too heavy. There is the sensation of carrying a pallet of bricks in the trunk – which is pretty much exactly it, except the bricks are batteries. Several hundred pounds of them. The Volt has them too, but the battery pack is distributed more evenly, front to back – and the car’s center of gravity is lower. The result is a car that doesn’t feel oafish when driven slightly – or even a lot – faster than recommended speeds through the curves.

Beyond that, Chevy has just done a brilliant job making it feel normal. There’s no weirdness, no whirring. No too-light steering or strange anything. The Future Boy dash layout takes a few moments to absorb and you’ll probably need to read the manual to understand some of the functions and displays – but other than peripheral stuff you’ll quickly figure out, you just get in the thing and drive.

There is a bit more noise from the gas engine, when it’s running, than I expected to hear. But other than this, I find no fault with the Volt’s operation.

It’s the economics of this car that bother me.

AT THE CURB

They did a good job on the skin, too.

This is no son-of-Aztek B sci-fi movie prop. It looks sleek and expensive – which of course, it is.

Inside, it’s nice also. As nice as any current $30k-ish luxury car, in fact – which is what the Volt is, in my opinion, at least.  You have before you  all the bells and whistles, except digitized and LCD-displayed. My tester had the optional premium audio rig ($495) with DVD player and 30 GB music storage hard drive plus GPS ($1,995) as well as the Premium Trim Package ($1,395) which includes heated leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Total tab: $43,030 (plus $850 destination charge.

About $44k – which would also buy you a well-padded 2012 Cadillac CTS or any one of several other really nice luxury sedans. The Volt is very nice, too. But is that what we’re after here? Nice? I thought the whole point of the exercise was to, you know, save people some money. How does a $44k Volt (or even a $32k Volt) do that, exactly?

Now, the Nissan Leaf is not a cheap date, either but at $35k to start and around $28k after-subsidy, it’s at least somewhat snicker proof. Plus it doesn’t use any gas, ever. I have no idea how much it costs to feed the thing electricity – for the same reason that figuring out how much it costs to charge up the Volt is as impenetrable an enigma as the success of Carrot Top. But at least you don’t burn gas. In the Volt, you do – premium, don’t forget. And you pay about as much for the privilege as you would to slide behind the wheel of many a new luxury sedan.

Does it make any sense to you?

THE REST

Volt does have a few things over the Leaf. You can take it farther than the other end of your subdivision without having to keep a tow truck driver on speed dial. That’s one. It has some balls – well, one ball, at least.

That’s two.

It’s also a plausible all-season car because even if it’s 15 degrees outside, the gas IC engine will work just as it would in any other car – while the Leaf’s all-electric systems will probably suffer badly in  extremes of temperature, cold and hot.  The Leaf may work fine as an in-city commuter or fleet vehicle. But the Volt is the real car of the two.

It also has more user-friendly rear seats (bucket style) that have a full four inches more legroom (34.1 inches vs. 31.1 for the Leaf), though the Nissan has more headroom – as well as much more total cargo space (24 cubic feet vs. 10.6 cubic feet).

Still, all that extra room’s not much good if the car can’t be used for more than short hops (best case, 30 miles or so out and 30 or so back, before the batteries croak).

THE BOTTOM LINE

The only hitch is The Math.

I can come up with several reasons to buy the Volt. But “to save money” isn’t one of them. Thirty-two-thousand bucks is a lot of money to spend on a car. If this thing cost say $20k – then, ok. I can see it. A $5,000 or so price premium over a current-year economy sedan for something that can (maybe) burn significantly less fuel could work. The break-even point might even arrive before you send in the last payment. But when you can buy something like a Nissan Versa – brand new – for about $10k…  and many other cars that are really appealing for not much more than that – and drive home with $15 or $20k more in your pocket… well, who gives a damn about the Volt’s potential? It would literally have to cost you nothing to operate for probably five or six years before it reached economic break-even with a car like the Versa.

I wish Chevy had skipped some of the nice but not necessary (in an ostensibly economy-minded car) features and figured out a way to bring this car to the showroom for $10k less. Then I’d cheer. As it is, I am clapping with one hand in appreciation of the formidable technology it boast, but shaking my head at the  economic illiteracy it represents.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  47 comments for “2012 Chevy Volt

  1. JvG
    November 22, 2011 at 5:59 am

    Eric,
    mental

    You just do not “get it”.

    Eco-yuppies in the left coast are environmentally responsible tree-huggers. They have money to burn, and environmentally responsible mates to attract. The Volt is a sexy conversation starter. Logic is not part of the picture. Buying a 40k volt is also Patriotic, because it “Keeps the Jobs Right Here in America.

    I am being totally facetious, of course. I would laugh in the face of anyone who would try to impress me with one.

    • November 22, 2011 at 11:05 am

      That’s it – and, me too!

  2. Boothe
    November 22, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    C’mon guys, this thing’s powered by electricity; that’s what makes it green. That is as long as you ignore the petroleum, coal and OMG!….nuclear….inputs to build and operate it. Well….we could run it off solar, wind and hydro-power….as long as we ignore the petroleum, coal and nuclear inputs that went into the bird choppers, solar panels and Army Corps of Engineers dam projects all subisdized with taxpayer largesse….

    I would think it makes more sense to use a portable, energy dense fuel source and convert it directly into heat to operate an overland conveyance. That way you don’t have to deal with line loss and other inefficiencies of electrical energy transport, storage and conversion. Oh wait we already do that! That’s one of the things what made us so prosperous. Can’t have that, now can we. I wonder where Al Gore falls on the bell curve.

    • November 22, 2011 at 1:03 pm

      “C’mon guys, this thing’s powered by electricity; that’s what makes it green”

      And it isn’t even that! To get anything like real-world/everyday range out of it, they had to install a gas-burning engine, which serves as a generator. Gee. That makes a lot of sense. Let’s add an element to the process. Instead of: Pour gas in tank, burn gas in engine which drives wheels… add an electric motor! And battery pack! Now, have the engine feed the motor before the motor turns the wheels. Excellent! More complexity, expense and inefficiency (remember, the gas engine only ekes out 37 MPG… less than many standard cars deliver).

      Brilliant.

      • methylamine
        November 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm

        I don’t understand HOW they managed to get such crap mileage out of the gas operation!

        They have everything in their favor to make the gas engine hyper-efficient. It’s essentially a diesel-electric train.

        The setup is perfect for maximizing the heat engine’s efficiency. Because you’re running a generator, not the wheels directly, you can run at constant RPM. Set it up to run at a fairly low speed at WOT (wide open throttle); low frictional losses, low pumping losses. Optimize the cams, intake, and exhaust tract for efficiency and resonance at that optimal RPM.

        Perhaps they DID all that–and the conversion losses are so prohibitive in a small system like this (unlike a diesel electric) that it still can’t exceed a simple direct-drive like the Jetta TDI.

        Either way–the whole thing’s economically illiterate.

        • Boothe
          November 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm

          Don’t forget that in a diesel-electric train, not only do you have economy of scale, you also have steel wheels on steel rails. There is considerably less rolling resistance than with rubber on asphalt. But I do agree with your assessment on efficiency; what with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men available to GM, they ought to be able to do better than this. This is what happens when you change your name to Government Motors.

      • dom
        November 22, 2011 at 8:12 pm

        You know what the problem is. They need to add a fan and a sail to catch the wind. Have the gas power the generator to charge the batteries, the batteries power the electric motor to spin the fan, and the sail to catch the wind the fan creates. Now that would work!

        • methylamine
          November 22, 2011 at 8:49 pm

          HA!

          I’ve got you beat, with all respect.

          My plan: make the car of steel, then extend a beam from the front bumper about 2 or 3 feet.

          On the end of the beam, attach a really whopping, like 50 pound–neodymium magnet.

          The magnet will pull the car forward; in fact, there will be no accelerator pedal, just a brake because its natural tendency is to constantly move toward the magnet!

          Of course such a thing would never be permitted; the oil companies would bury it.

          • Boothe
            November 23, 2011 at 5:33 am

            I’ve got both of you beat. I’m putting 18 inch front wheels and 22 inch rear wheels on my old Dodge truck so it’s always going down hill, see? Now with Methyl’s steel I-beam mounted to the roof, hanging out past the front bumper, with a honkin’ big boulder on a chain out front I won’t even need a magnet. I’ll get at least 500 HP off gravity alone. Of course I’ll need a back up fuel source in case I hit any low gravity areas. I figure between Dom’s, Methyl’s and my contributions to this branch of the thread, I should have enough b.s. to generate at least a month’s worth of methane. Is this green energy thing easy or what? ;)

          • November 23, 2011 at 10:12 am

            Yeah! I think you could cage some “stimulus” money out of Obama, too!

    • JRL
      November 23, 2011 at 12:46 am

      Al Gore is 5 std. deviations to the left of the bell curve.

      • November 23, 2011 at 10:29 am

        Actually, I don’t think Al’s stupid. Neither is Obama. Both are, however, possessed of a worldview that sees you and me and the rest of the Little People as annoying cattle to be reigned in and controlled. The Green thing is just the latest shtick. Gulagchev of ex-Soviet fame was one of the early adopters. Gore joined the bandwagon relatively recently.

        Oh, PS: If you watch his movie, there’s a great scene they forgot to edit out of Al holding forth about global warming as he toodles around in his Cadillac Escalade.

  3. damon
    November 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Funny..I’ve read the Consumer Reports of the Leaf and the Volt IIRC, and knowing their “editorial spin”, even they had a hard time justifying these things. Really, if i’m dropping 40+k on a car I’m paying for luxury and performance. The volt doesn’t even count as “green” in my book. And while the leaf is actually “green”, the absurdity of a car with a < 150 mile capacity is just hilarious. It sure isn't taking me on a 500 mile trip to visit the family…not unless I take 5 days to get there. Call me when you can get econo box efficiency and 300-400 mile range and a 15 min or less recharge time.

    • November 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm

      Agree.

      And: The Volt can go 300-400 miles at a time. Just not on battery power. You have to keep gassing it up just like a regular car. It will go as far as 50-ish miles, under ideal conditions, on just the batteries (before the gas engine has to kick in to keep the power flowing). In my experience, the real-word electric-only range is about 15 miles on a full charge…. but I live in the mountains (grades to climb) and drive at high speeds (least efficient for an electric car). I suppose if you creep along in city-type commuting, keeping your speed under 40 MPH, you could maybe go 50 miles on just the batteries. But even then, $40k to do it? Makes no sense to me. You may not be burning gas – but you sure as hell are burning money!

    • RebelKnightCSA
      November 29, 2011 at 8:49 am

      So THAT is all you will settle for? Try 500 mile range and three minutes to gas up (prepay with credit card). How about 30MPG on the interstate to go with that? Good deal? Then your next buggy is a Honda Accord. Granted, not ‘econo-box efficeincy’ but when you have Japanese quality in a big goddamned sedan that I like to call my 1972 Honda Fleetwood Brougham, it’s a good ride all around.

    • clover
      December 16, 2011 at 3:37 am

      It seems to me that you guys do a lot of complaining about the car because it does so poorly when the gas engine is on. I am not going to defend what the price of the car is today but I do know that there are millions of people that drive less than 30 miles a day on average. That says to me that the gas engine would seldom need to be used by those millions of people.

      A truck does not make sense for me to drive on a daily basis getting less than half the gas mileage but it may make perfect sense for someone that has to tow thousands of pounds daily.

  4. November 22, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Boy, this article really ought to shake up the thinking at the major motors…My understanding is that neither the Volt nor Leaf have sold more than 2500 or so units since their introduction, so must be desperate to find “market share.”

    I find it ironic that GM, which produced the sporty two passenger EV1, a true electric, back in the 90’s (and then crushed all the cars in the Arizona desert), has, in response to all the flak generated by the doc “Who Killed the Electric Car?” come up with an over-engineered, over-priced pseudo electric (really, hybrid)
    when the EV1 did just about everything any of its lessees ever wanted. Toyota’s RAV 4 electric did also. Their only drawbacks, as all electrics experience (except maybe Tesla), were range, and battery weight. (And not being able to actually buy one).

    We have two Hondas in our driveway, one a hybrid (Accord) which has proven roadworthy since 2005 and a good investment at $32,000–maximum mpg in 37 range at full tilt. Love to get my hands on the original Honda 2 seater Insight that gets 60 mpg, also, they’re as rare as hen’s teeth now and I don’t think anyone is ever willing to part with them…

    If we’re going to develop electrics, let’s make them small commuter cars with fewer bells and whistles, and of course reasonable prices. THEN I’ll consider buying one, and I’m sure thousands of others will too–as second cars. I’d even invest in solar panels to charge ‘em if the price was right–THEN we can really call ‘em green…

  5. November 22, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    No how, no way, will I ever by a GM, Ford or Chrysler product again. I don’t care if the Volt is $10,000 new. By purchasing a vehicle from one of these manufacturers, you are condoning a Socialist system. The bondholders of GM got screwed. The unions got rewarded for their loyalty to Obama. Ford took +/- $8 Billion in bailout loans by the way…

    The “bailout” of the “American” car companies will cost us taxpayers a MINIMUM of $50 Billion.

    When you run a business that can’t make money, you go out of business. Period. That is the American way.

    You don’t get bailed out.

    Toyota etc. did not need a bailout.

    There is probably nothing more UN-AMERICAN than buying an “American” car (GM, Ford, Chrysler etc).

    And please, don’t give me the crap line that a lot of “good people” work there. You could make the same argument about all the Nazis that followed Hitler.

    • November 22, 2011 at 11:58 pm

      Hey Steve,

      I (reluctantly) agree. Reluctantly, because I am a fan of what GM did in years past; it was once a helluva company that sold cars on the merits, without mulcting taxpayers. Unfortunately, it seems to be a case of “if you can’t beat ;em, join ‘em.” GM has decided that fascism – not socialism, incidentally – is the best way to proceed.

      Welcome to the site, by the way!

      • November 23, 2011 at 12:02 am

        I know, I just didn’t want to use the word fascism. Too many unintelligent folks equate it purely with what Hitler did in WWII.

        Thanks for the welcome!

        • November 23, 2011 at 12:15 am

          Yup!

          People (many people) equate fascism with Nazism and racism. In fact (as you know) it was Mussolini, not Hitler, who articulated the concept of Big Business and Big Government getting into bed together, with no racial angle whatsoever. The New Dealers of FDR-era America thought Il Duce was a great thinker and copied much of his program.

          But it is precisely the widespread ignorance of the true nature of fascism – which we can also call corporatism – that has helped it grow and prosper here.

          Jackboots and khaki-clad Fuhrers are just a cartoonish distraction.

    • LFord
      November 23, 2011 at 1:12 am

      Actually, Ford took only $5.9 billion in bailout “loans:”

      “Although Ford did not need money from the $80 billion bailout program, Ford did receive $5.9 billion in government loans in 2009 to retool its manufacturing plants to produce more fuel-efficient cars, and the company lobbied for and benefited from the cash-for-clunkers program — contrary to the ad’s testimonial that Ford is “standing on their own.” (Factcheck.org)

      LJF

    • BrentP
      November 23, 2011 at 1:44 am

      If you use that test you must build your own car from scratch, not using a single part from an existing car, entirely aftermarket parts or ones you cast, forge, mold, carve, etc.

      Every single automobile manufacturer now in existence plays the game through government. The ones that didn’t went out of business or were bought up by the ones that do decades ago.

      The Japanese makes we know today owe their existence to the government of Japan making laws that forced GM and Ford (and even chrysler’s smaller presence) out of Japan in the 1920s or 30s. Japan by law makes it increasingly difficult to keep older cars on the road with inspections. A permanent form of stimulus.

      Every automotive plant built in the last few decades in the USA comes with tax breaks, special deals, taxpayer money, etc and so forth. Foreign governments support automakers in their countries and also cut deals with the global players like Ford and GM.

      This is how a fascist(economic sense, corporatist) system works. You either play it or die. The automotive industry has been like this since at least the 1940s after the federal reserve’s (a corporatist institution of banking) great depression killed off most of the independents.

      We can only choose degree in this game. Even buying used is just a matter of degree because ultimately the used car market is what helps many buy new cars.

      All one can do is choose an arbitrary line not cross or start breaking laws by sand casting behind the garage.

      I really don’t know how argue that one person’s line is better than another person’s. We need/want/like cars. One person can argue their line and buy Ford, another can argue another and buy Toyota, then someone could argue a used car and lastly someone could try to claim a moral high ground and say a used 1930s Stutz.

      So unless we are going to fight over the remaining 1930s and prior daily drivers out there… what are we going to do except take the government’s taxpayer subsidized transit?

      I guess there’s always a bicycle.

  6. Joe h
    November 23, 2011 at 12:03 am

    We have a 2011 Hyundai GLS that has gotten 42 MPG highway driving at 70 MPH set on cruise.

    • November 23, 2011 at 12:16 am

      And you didn’t take a cent of taxpayer money, either.

      Great car, incidentally!

      • BrentP
        November 23, 2011 at 1:50 am

        Just the Korean taxpayers who’s funds were used to give Hyundai it’s start. Not to mention american taxpayers for that war fought over there… And let’s not forget the “contribution” by the tax payers of Alabama.

  7. Jesse Spriggs
    November 23, 2011 at 2:32 am

    I am the proud owner of a 2007 Toyota Prius. I have driven my car 162,000 miles and have averaged 44+ miles per gallon driving both in town and on the highway at 80 mph. I am not going to win any drag races, but, I have not had any problem being left behind either. 5 adults can easliy fit comfortably and I have a lot of cargo space with the rear seats folded down. The only expenses I have had are for oil changes, tires, and windshield wipers. This has been the most economical car I have ever owned. The Chevy Volt is no comparison. Too expensive and poor gas mileage for those that drive any distance.

    • November 23, 2011 at 10:16 am

      Hey Jesse,

      You know what? I agree! I’m not a huge fan of the Prius, but I will concede, having driven several, that you can indeed routinely average the mileage you mention in real-world driving. The Volt is quicker; it’s “sexier.” It is more enjoyable to drive. But I never got better than 32 MPG – and several times, was averaging 26 MPG. And for this they want nearly $40k?

      As I wrote in the review, the Volt is certainly an interesting car. So is the Tesla. But interesting is not the desired attribute here, right?

  8. BOB.
    November 23, 2011 at 7:09 am

    I have gotten 31mpg on a straight,level road in my 1999 Cadillac STS-300hp,32valve V-8 @ 55mph. Factory guaranteed to top out @ 150mph. Now showing 150,000 on the odometer,with no problems. I paid $14,000 out the door 7 years ago. let them keep up the “green” crap coming-will make my next great,used Caddy that much cheaper. Bob.

    • November 23, 2011 at 10:08 am

      Amen!

      Even my ’98 (140k) Nissan Frontier manages to average about 22 MPG – only 10 MPG less than the Volt. And my truck cost me $7,000. It’s been paid-for since 2004. It’s still worth probably $3,500. So my net cost of acquisition is about $3,500. Even if I spend $200 a month on gas (62 gallons at $3.20 per gallon) after 10 years of driving, I am still well below the Volt’s buy-in costs after the subsidy. I’d have to drive close to 15 years to reach break even if you don’t include the subsidy.

  9. Hugh
    November 23, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    What I don’t understand is if Tesla (a small company) can develop an electric car that will go 200 miles, why can’t the major manufacturers with their highly paid brain trusts do the same? Yes, I know the Tesla is expensive, but if production were to start at a major manufacturer, the cost would go down as more units are produced (just as LCD tv’s or computers) and at some point the price would be more reasonable. Note: changing from gas to electric just moves the pollution from the city to the power station. How about CNG or hydrogen?

    • November 23, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      I’m dubious about Tesla’s claims in re that 200-plus mile range. My bet is that’s under “optimum” conditions – speed under 40 MPH, light throttle inputs, level road, moderate temperature outside – etc.

      CNG (or propane) actually works pretty well; I don’t the economics are especially bad, either.

      • Random
        January 24, 2012 at 6:47 pm

        For one thing, the Tesla (Model S) has a larger battery. There are three battery packs: 42 kWh (160 mile), 65 kWh (230 mile) and 85 kWh (300 mile). The Volt only has a 16 kWh battery pack.

        I am sure that actual milage will vary with speed and road conditions, however if the Roadster is any guide, that does not mean creaping around at 40 mph, although you could probably get better range by doing that and other things as well. There is a lot of competition among Roadster owners to see who can get the best range off a single charge.

        While the Model S is still expensive ($57K for the low-end model) it is much less expensive and much more practical than the Roadster ($109K). Even the high end Model S lists for $77K, which is $40K cheaper than the Roadster and seats 5 (7 with rear rumble seats) vice 2 with the Roadster.

  10. LeoK
    November 23, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Eric – am I missing something? You do realize that the Volt is an Extended Range EV, that, if recharged nightly, will allow you to drive 35-40 miles PER DAY without using ANY gas. In your post, you wrote “When they dropped the Volt off for my week-long evaluation, it had a full tank (about 8.2 gallons) and 4,100 miles on the odometer. The computer display said I had a range of 270 miles. As I type this, at the end of my week, the Volt now has has 4306 miles on it – with an indicated 42 miles to empty.”

    If I understand this, you drove 206 miles over the course of the week you had the car… yet it seems that you never plugged it in to recharge! I own a Volt and have driven it 4,848 miles as of today and used 15.4 gallons of gas.

    For sure, the math for the Volt does not work if you do not have the ability or desire to plug in nightly. But if you do, for about $1.55 in electricity, you get 40 miles of range (I have gotten as little as 32 miles in sub-freezing winter temps and as much as 51 miles in 60 degree driving). If you drive more than 35-40 miles per day, then the gas generator turns on to produce electricity to keep you going. In generator mode, I have always averaged 40-43 mpg.

    The Volt is not for everyone; but every Volt owner I’ve met – and i’ve met many – are thrilled with their car. There are many drivers seeking alternatives to paying big $ to foriegn oil companies and the Volt is a good start.

    • November 23, 2011 at 11:11 pm

      Hi Leo,

      Yes, I understand all that. But even with a fully charged battery, the real-world range on just the electric side (no gas engine help) was about 15 miles. At this point, the gas engine kicked in and for the duration, I was getting between 26 and 32 MPGs, according to the car’s computer. Granted (and as I tried to explain in the review), range on the batteries varies depending on where you drive and how you drive. If I lived in DC, let’s say – and the majority of my driving was at lower speeds in stop and go traffic – then I can see how you’d burn much less gas than I did driving at higher speeds continuously, up 8 percent grades – and so on.

      I don’t doubt that some people’s driving needs (and habits) can enable them to drive the Volt almost entirely on its batteries – plugging in at night to recharge.

      But they’re still paying almost $40k for the privilege ($32k assuming the subsidy) and that is a pile of money that will take years to work off. I mentioned, for example, in an earlier post that I have a ’98 Nissan Frontier pickup that I bought for about $7,000 back in 2004. It averages about 22 MPG. But since it is long-ago paid for, my only expense (other than maintenance) is gas. Let’s say I fill up once a week. That’s appx. 15 gallons at let’s say $3.20 per gallon, so about $190 a month. I calculate it would take at least 15 years to amortize the price differential between a paid-for used truck such as mine and buying a new Volt. The math tilts even farther away from the Volt if you bought, say, a used economy car along the lines of a Corolla that is capable of averaging 30 MPG.

      So, while you’re not paying big $ to foreign oil companies, you are nonetheless paying big $….. to GM! (And also making your neighbors subsidize the purchase.)

      The Volt is certainly an intriguing car and a neat piece of engineering. But it’s hardly a money saver – and so, makes little economic sense to me.

      • LeoK
        November 25, 2011 at 2:02 pm

        Eric – obviously its a free country and you are entitled to drive any car you wish.

        But objectively, comparing a new 2012 Chevy Volt to a 14 year old Nissan Pickup is a real stretch. And to boot, your math says it will take about 15 years to break even… well, since my car is 14 years newer than yours, I suspect I’ll have a great chance at doing that; while I suspect you’ll be looking to buy another car before those 15 years are up.

        As for battery range on the Volt, your statement of just 15 miles on a charge in a Volt is hard to understand. I have never heard of anyone getting less than high 20’s on a charge, even under extreme conditions. Even if you turned on EVERY electric feature – heated seats, rear defogger, climate control to comfort mode – and put the Volt into ‘sport’ drive mode (which uses more stored energy to accellerate quicker), and drove under track conditions (accellerating hard or braking hard) – I don’t see how you could only get 15 miles of range. I can only suggest that the battery was not fully charged.

        No matter what, the key to the Volt is to plug it in at every opportunity; but at least nightly. Its a simple habit to get into – and unlike some other pure EV’s, the Volt can charge using ANY conventional 110V wall outlet. In the real world, this car just works.

        • November 25, 2011 at 3:07 pm

          “But objectively, comparing a new 2012 Chevy Volt to a 14 year old Nissan Pickup is a real stretch”

          Is it? How so?

          I was trying to demonstrate that driving a paid-for used car can be a lot less expensive than driving a new Volt. The standard being – to reduce one’s cost of transportation. I just can’t get my head around the idea of paying $40k ($32K, after the taxpayer subsidy) as way to (cough) “save money.” If you want to save money, you don’t buy a new car – any new car. It is almost always cheaper to drive a paid-for older car, even a gas hog, than it is to buy a new car. Granted, the paid-for used car won’t have that new car smell – and it may not be nearly as “nice.” My Nissan pick-up doesn’t have heated seats, or leather. Or an LCD display.

          But again, what is the object of the exercise here? If it is something other than to save money, then – ok. Different standards apply. Certainly, the Volt stacks up favorably (on features and amenities) to other $30k-ish cars.

          But if your goal is to cut your driving costs, which is ostensibly the whole point when it comes to alternative fuel vehicles, then you don’t buy a $40k ($32k after subsidy) Volt… or a $40k (or $32k) anything.

          It’s a contradiction in terms.

          You’d be much better off – financially – buying the $7k used Versa. Or even something like my old truck, which I paid for in cash eight years ago and which therefore costs me nothing each month except gas and maintenance. Even if the Volt only eats $50 of electricity a month (and no gas) I’m still way ahead of you – and probably will be, for many years to come.

          Again, I’m not trying to provoke you or be gratuitously mean to the Volt. I just don’t see it – as a way to save money….

    • November 25, 2011 at 10:57 am

      Hey Leo,

      Here’s another cost-benefit comparison for you:

      The Nissan Versa sedan is a larger/roomier car than the Volt (seats five, the Volt seats four) and so more practical/useful. It is rated 26 city, 31 highway so averages about 28 MPG overall. One can pick up a two or three-year-old example for about $7,000.

      Your Volt (assuming you were able to claim the s$7,500 subsidy and paid “sticker” – so no options) cost you about $32k.

      So, your car cost you $25,000 more, up front, than my hypothetical 2-3 year-old Versa.

      Ok. Let’s assume I need to buy one tank of gas a week. Let’s assume gas is $4 per gallon (considerably higher than the current price). The Versa has an appx. 12 gallon tank. so each fill-up costs $48. Tines four equals $192 month and so $2,304 annually. About 11 years from now, you would finally begin to “save” money relative to my Versa. If we use $3.20 a gallon – the current price – it’d be closer to 14 years before “break even.”

      That is a long time to wait, my friend. Does it make economic sense to you? I understand you like the Volt; I admit it is an attractive and interesting car. But does it make economic sense? I’d really like to get your thoughts.

      PS: I haven’t factored in peripheral costs such as insurance (and, where applicable) property taxes – which make the Volt even more expensive to own. Consider just insurance. Imagine the annual premium on a full-coverage policy (which you’d have to pay unless you bought the car in cash) on a Volt with a replacement cost of $40k vs. buying a liability-only basic policy on a used economy car like the Versa. My bet is the premium for the Volt would be at least twice the cost of a liability-only policy, probably $1,000 or more a year vs. maybe $250 for the Volt. And if you have to deal with personal property taxes, look out. The Volt will incur an annual tax of several hundred bucks in some areas (including mine) while the Versa – having a much lower retail value – would cost you a fraction of that.

      Etc. Etc.

      • LeoK
        November 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm

        Eric – thanks for another alternative comparison. You can certainly compare the Volt to any vehicle you’d like; but I believe that most consumers looking at the Volt are comparing it to other new vehicles. And based on current Volt owners I’ve met, most have compared the Volt to mid-priced luxury vehicles costing about the same. All agree that the volt offered similar features along with superior technology to cars they replaced like a BMW 3-series, Lexus ES330, Toyota Prius, Jeep Grand Cherokee (these are models others I know have traded for a Volt).

        The Volt will not work for someone looking to spend $10,000 or even $20,000 for a new or used car. But is is an excellent choice for anyone looking at other $30,000 plus cars – and there are many out there.

        One more thought: over the next 5 to 10 years, if we can all agree on anything I have to believe it is the fact that the cost of petroleum will rise. Assuming you agree with this fact, thinking about cars like the Volt today will make those early purchasers look very smart a few years from now. And the Volt is not the only EV choice in the market today – there is the Nissan Leaf, the Plug-In Toyota Prius, Ford Transit Connect, Mittsubishi i-MEV, and many more coming. The Volt just happens to be the only one offering true unlimited range making it a truly practical everyday vehicle for many drivers.

        • November 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm

          Agreed – you’re absolutely right.

          But, I think Chevy made a strategic mistake marketing this as a luxury vehicle given that the whole point of an electric drivetrain is to save fuel, which is really just another way of saying, save money. After all, if you care about gas mileage, then you also care about the total ownership/operation cost of the vehicle. If you don’t care about the ownership/operation cost of the vehicle, then you really don’t care about saving money – right? In which case, the car is just a different form of indulgence – no different than buying a performance car.

          I don’t necessarily agree, by the way, that fuel costs will necessarily rise. It is entirely possible that new discoveries – or perhaps new technologies – or just economic factors – will push gas back to less than $3 gallon and keep the price there for many years.

          I appreciate your input on this, by the way – thanks for taking the time to post!

          • LeoK
            November 25, 2011 at 11:15 pm

            Eric – this is a good dialogue… thanks for responding.

            New technology and cost go hand in hand. I believe Chevrolet did the right thing to bring the 1st generation Volt out as a luxury car – or at least near-luxury car. This technology was going to cost more than a simple 4 cylinder economy car and with the range-extending generator, it costs more than a pure EV. So to add the luxury features, as a percentage of total cost, adds value to those who can afford it. This same principle applied to the first iPhones, iPods, etc.

            However, over time, the cost of technology will drop. Chevy will come out with less expensive EV’s and EREV’s. They already have a Spark EV on the horizon that will likely sell for around $20,000.

            The entire discussion comparing a new $30k car to an ‘owned outright’ used car is more philisophical and applies to ANY new car – not just the Volt. Some drivers are perfectly comfortable driving an older paid for car while others want the latest model. Besides technology and creature comforts like heated seats, newer models have vastly superior safety features including more air bags, better brakes and handling, accident avoidance software and much more.

            You can certainly debate the merits of new vs old; but please keep it open ended – its ANY new vs ANY old.

            As for fuel prices; in reality, our fuel prices here in the US are already subsidized significantly lower than the rest of the world. Travel to other countries and realize what a gallon of gas costs – globally our prices should be closer to $8/gallon. If average international fuel prices applied here, the Volt would start looking like a no-brainer!

            Thanks for allowing me to express my perspective.

          • November 26, 2011 at 12:36 am

            Hi Leo,

            It is – and, you bet!

            On the luxury issue: Ok, why not sell it as a Cadillac – or at least a Buick? Chevrolet is not a luxury brand (no offense meant; just stating a fact about market position). If GM intended to sell the Volt as an economy (or even just bread and butter model), fine. But then it shouldn’t be $40k because that’s a contradiction in terms. On the other hand, if the intent is to sell luxury and cutting edge technology, then the natural fit is Cadillac or Buick.

            But then, GM would be admitting openly that the Volt is not about economy. That it’s about technology and luxury and being the newest/neatest thing on the block – an indulgence for people who can afford it and who by definition don’t need to sweat fuel prices much.

            All of which is fine – but, beside the point, ultimately. At least, if the point is to bring to market an economically sound alternative to a gas-burning car – which is how the Volt is marketed.

            PS On fuel prices: Ours are not subsidized; we’re simply taxed less than people in Europe. Note – not “the rest of the world.” In some countries, gas costs $1 a gallon or less.

            I don’t think it would be a good thing to jack up people’s fuel costs by three times in order to make a $40,000 electric car seem like a smart buy!

            The actual result (since most people do not have unlimited means) would be that individual transportation would increasingly be restricted to the very affluent – the elites. Is that what we want? A Soviet-style America where only the apparatchiks get to own motor vehicles?

          • BrentP
            November 26, 2011 at 12:00 am

            Cost is a fundamental marketing problem for these new technology electrics and hybrids. Being new technology they are expensive but at the same time its an end product more suited to towards the lower end of the market.

            In a world without subsidy these cars would have to be marketed it towards the higher end. At the low end there isn’t any profit.

            Subsidies distort this somewhat, allowing automakers to lose less in the lower cost market. So now it’s about brand, perception, etc. Meeting regulations and so forth so they can sell more profitable vehicles.

            In the end the subsidies and regulation requiring these cars before their time could have the effect of leaving them a mediocre automotive curiosity. In a natural marketplace they would have appeared first on luxury cars. Where people could afford the technology and have the luxury of purchasing an image.

            Also in luxury cars they could be better practical performers because the luxury market can allow for the car to be big enough and expensive enough to have more batteries, better motors, etc and so on.

          • mithrandir
            November 26, 2011 at 2:11 am

            Sign on Sandiego has a report of 2nd electric car battery fire involving Chevy Volt.

            This should be interesting if batteries are a potential fire hazard or if the batteries are to to blame.

            The Volt is an interesting concept, but too expensive for me.

          • November 26, 2011 at 11:28 am

            Ditto.

            The Tesla’s also a neat car – if cost is no object. There are many such cars like that. But am I mean-spirited or narrow-minded for saying that the major relevant factor for an alternative-fuel vehicle is cost?

            Ultimately, does it matter whether a given alternative fuel car is good-looking, or fast, or “advanced” or “luxurious” if it costs more to buy/own/operate than a similar but gas-burning car?

            I gave Leo the example of the Nissan Versa, which is about the same size as the Volt but has a roomier interior (seats five, the Volt is a four seater) and much larger trunk/cargo area. It also costs under $10k, sticker, brand-new. Granted, that’s without AC and with a manual transmission. But with AC – the one option most people have to have – you can buy a new Versa for about $11k. Now you have a perfectly nice, reliable car that cost a third what a new Volt costs – after the $7k subsidy. Sure, the Volt has heated leather seats, a great stereo and lots of bells and whistles. Well, so what? Do people fretting $3.40 a gallon gas buy heated leather seats and Bose premium audio systems – etc? Of course not. Or if they do, they are being disingenuous – or stupid – about “saving money.” A car like the Versa gets you where you need to go just as well as anything else – certainly as well as the Volt. But because it costs literally a third as much, it begins with an enormous advantage in terms of driving costs. As I mentioned to Leo, even if the Volt only used say $50 of electricity each month (and no gas) it’d still take many years to work off the nearly $20,000 difference in up front costs – and that’s not factoring in the surely higher peripheral costs that will come along for the ride when you buy a $32k ($40k pre-subsidy) car, including insurance and (as in my area) property taxes. The cost of insurance alone (a full coverage policy, which you’d have to buy unless you can afford to buy a $40k car in cash) would probably be at least twice the cost of a basic, liability-only policy on a paid-for Versa. Over six or seven years, that probably works out to a couple thousand dollars in additional costs for the Volt owner. And if you live in a state/county that has property taxes on motor vehicles, you most definitely will want to run the numbahs before you buy into the Volt. Subsidy or not, the county (here) assesses the tax – which is annual – on the average retail market value. So, imagine what the tax would be on a car with a value over $30k vs. one with a value around $10k…. I can tell you that in my area, the personal property tax on a $40k car (any $40k car) would be in the range of $500 a year. For years.

            Now, the last two items are certainly not Chevy’s fault per se. But they are realities that nonetheless affect the economics of the car. My opinion on this deal is that until they can produce an electric or hybrid car that is globally cost competitive with a similar non-hybrid/standard car, the whole thing is just an engineering exercise with little, if any, real-world point to it.

  11. dom
    November 26, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Bend over, here comes the probe!

    Feds open ‘formal safety defect’ probe into Chevy Volt

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/25/business/chevy-volt-investigation/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

  12. dom
    December 1, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    APNewsBreak: GM willing to buy back Volts

    “NEW YORK (AP) — General Motors will buy Chevrolet Volts back from any owner who is afraid the electric cars will catch fire, the company’s CEO said Thursday.”

    http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_VOLT_BATTERY_FIRE?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-12-01-14-56-43

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