Reviewing a Chevy Volt is a lot like assessing a low-end BMW, Mercedes, or Lexus. Although the Volt has a Chevy nameplate, it's still a luxury car -- albeit a car for those with an untraditional sense of luxury.
I wrote about my initial impressions of the car in July. This article is to add deeper perspective on its features and energy usage.
The reason I put the Volt in the luxury category is simple: The model I drove from September 28 to October 5 has a sticker price of $44,680. Most buyers will also need to add a 240V charging station to their homes or garages at about $1,500 to $2,000 a pop, installed. So the bottom line is that it's going to be a tough sell for a young engineer with a family and an $80,000-a-year salary.
Watch Chuck's video showing the Volt's center-console power management and charging display:
That said, the Volt is a triumph of energy-efficient engineering. The 16kW battery and the 149HP electric drive unit provide a lot of oomph, making it accelerate in a way that few production vehicles can today. Moreover, the Volt's launch is smooth and quiet -- so quiet, in fact, that riders in our car universally felt that they were experiencing a new automotive phenomenon. The Volt, they said, really is different.
Thanks for the informative look at what it might be like to drive a Chevy Volt. Just so I understand it correctly, if you have a 30 mile commute, but end up having to run a couple of unexpected errands and you put an extra 10 miles or so on the car, you don't have to worry about being stranded on the road somewhere without an electric charge, right? At that point, the gas engine would automatically kick in?
To busy commuters/family folk who's lives often present the unexpected, it would be a concern and a nuisance to always have to do the math before hopping into the car for the daily routine.
Beth...This is a point I should have made more strongly in the article: When you reach the end of your battery charge, the changeover to gasoline is almost seamless. The wheels are still driven by the electric motors, so there's really no difference in the way it feels. When you switch from battery charge to gasoline, the gasoline engine runs a motor-generator that turns the wheels. The only small difference is the sound. It's not quite as quiet when the engine is running. The bottom line is, if you go beyond your remaining battery charge, you don't need to worry about being stranded. The gas engine kicks in.
Thanks for your nice review. I own a Volt with 8000 miles on it. Last 6600 miles using 12.1 gal of gas.
Other electric only vehicles (BEVs) on the market do/will require a 220v L2 charger before you can buy the car (ie. LEAF). Not so for the Volt!
I take some exception to your assumptions above about charging. As an example, I have a neighbor with a Volt as well. She is charging on 110v out of their *existing* standard garage outlet. NO extra cost. Zero. She tells the car that she leaves at 6am and just keeps the car plugged in. The car figures out when it needs to start charging to let her leave by 6am. Very simple and perfect for the masses!! More often than not she does not use the full battery ... so key point here is that the car may wake up at 11pm one night or 1am the next "night" to charge by 6am.
I originally was going to charge only on 110v and that would work for probably 90% of my usage. One night a week I come home from work and go somewhere 15 miles away so I charge up when I get home from work on a 220v charger. I bought this for $490 from SPX and installed it for less than $300.
I am on an hourly rate plan so my charging is cheaper at night when I normally charge. The car wakes up on schedule at midnight and charges from 1-4 hours depending on my previous days drive. Key point again is that typically I do not need a full charge.
Both my neighbor and I have virtually no impact to the grid since we charge "off peak". (Except for that day I charge up after work. Then we just don't use the oven <grin>.)
Neglecting the cost of the replacement battery, since we don't have any idea what that will be:
If it takes 16kWh to recharge and you get 39 miles for that at 8 c/kWh, that looks like 3.2 c/mi (check my math, please)
In ICE mode, you get 50 mpg, at 3$/gal, that looks like 6 c/mi. A 10Kmi annual budget gives me 32 mi/day (for 6 days/week). That looks like mostly battery mode so I'll use the 3.2 c/mi figure only. 100,000 miles costs me 3,200$. If I drove my Subaru which gets 25 m/g for the same distance, it would cost me 12,000$ in gas. That gives me a gross difference of 8,800$. I can haul a lot more stuff in my Subaru but the Volt is more environmentally friendly. My guess is that the 8,800$ might almost pay for a replacement battery.
My problem just begins with the fact that no one will admit what the battery will cost. And what about battery life? What happens when you don't have 100% capacity anymore, and then 80% and then 60%, etc.? Is it still fun to drive when the capacity is gone in 15 miles and the new battery is going to cost $3000 ?
That is only the beginning...How many $50 fuses and $300 motor brush replacement jobs will there be? What is the cost of replacement for 149 HP motor? How many contactors are involved with pure silver tipped contacts at $75 a piece? And what about the semiconductor control elements that switch the power? The are not going to want to change one when it gets blown...Will they be talking about a $1500 module replacement?
Then there are charging issues, what happens when a storm kills your charger? This thing will be the size of welding machine and who do you know who will repair on of those full of electronics? And when yoiu find one, at what cost and in what time frame? At 14000 Watt Hours and being charged at 220 Volts, that is 14000/220=64 Amp Hours.
At 10 cents a Kilowatt times 14 KW = $1.40 a day for a full charge...initially. But as the battery wanes, the charging efficiency will likely fall off and it will be $1.75 a day or $2.00 a day, ending up where ?
I drove a much less sophisticated electric car for three years and in those days, you never really could be certain that you would get home without walking. It was fun at times, but when it was cold and damp and foggy and dark...It was necessary to pick and chose your poison because all auxiliary devices ran off the same battery and I always wished that I had a gasoline backup like the Volt.
It would be nice for them to work out, but the fact that no one will discuss the maintenance costs is very telling. I just don't see them ever being cost effective over the long haul.
Make sure you factor in the $20+ initial, additional, cost to purchase the car compared to a comparable ICE car. And if you borrow the money don't forget to add the additional interest! I think this car will be a real collector's item in a few years since so few will be manufactured before the model goes belly up! The technology may be great but you also need to market it to real people with real weekly incomes, not just people fascinated with the technology. GM is not always so good at that.
Again, ironically, if you use the car as little as these people seem to then your savings from using electric only is not significant enough to justify the additional cost and maintenance of the car when compared to an ICE or hybrid only car. Looks like your having fun though!
Carrying your math a bit further, look at the Volt at $40000 + $3200 = $43200 and for 100K miles, this is 43.2 cents per mile. Your Subaru at $26000 + $12000 = $38000 and at 100K miles, that cost you 38 cents per mile.
So how bad do you want to spent 5 cents a mile to run on electricity?
Researchers have been working on a number of alternative chemistries to lithium-ion for next-gen batteries, silicon-air among them. However, while the technology has been viewed as promising and cost-effective, to date researchers haven’t managed to develop a battery of this chemistry with a viable running time -- until now.
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