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>.)
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!
Indeed GM had to come up with a strategy. They made the gas tank steel and pressurized. That is also a reason they required premium gas plus they tuned the ICE/Gas_Generator to run optimally on it. It tracks your gases age. It will periodically run maint on the ICE/GG but ask you first 3 times. It needs to do self test on the ICE/GG and lub the engine, etc. I only put in $10 at a time and rarely add gas. I don't care about the price diff of the premium. 12.2 gal in 6,600 miles ... how much extra did I pay for premium just a few bucks (coffee or a small lunch).
Neglecting the cost of the replacement battery, since we don't have any idea what that will be:
If it takes 16kWh to recharge and you get 39 miles for that at 8 c/kWh, that looks like 3.2 c/mi (check my math, please)
In ICE mode, you get 50 mpg, at 3$/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.
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.
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?
This is the first Hybrid vehicle that GM developed, that is the reason it is more expensive and you get $7.500 to offset the high price, which tips the scale again in favor of the Volt.
Regarding your other comment about long term maintenance: you are apparently familiar with a DC electric vehicle, seeing you mention brushes and such. The Volt has an AC motor and never needs brushes. You mention a lot of other small parts that essentially never fail, for example contactors have a typical service life of 1,000,000 cycles. Of course the electronics and the motor can fail, but looking at the service data from another Hybrid, the Prius, those events are very rare. The major thing that is needed at some point is the battery. Again the experience from the Prius is that initially a very high price is charged for the first replacements, but as soon as more used Volt packs become available, some hackers (in positive sense) will figure out how to rebuild packs by combining good modules from those packs and reconditioning them - there is a lot of knowledge about batteries in general, so it is more a matter of making a good setup to crank out reconditioned batteries. That has also happened for the Prius and the pack price has dropped to an acceptable level due to that. It is still a major amount of money, but in your ICE you also have expenses in the same order when a drivetrain component is worn or fails, think about replacement of seals, gaskets, a clutch and so on...
So, if you start figuring in a battery pack in your mileage costs then you must also compare it with all the cost that you encounter on an ICE car...
Regarding charging efficiency: once the battery starts losing capacity, it will not become less efficient like the Lead-Acid batteries you are used to, it will just look like a smaller battery pack, so it will charge in less time and the range will be equally limited. Initial reports on Lithium-Ion batteries that I see is that after 8 years/100,000 miles they still have more than 80% of their capacity remaining. In the case of the Volt this means that the initial 39 mi electric range is still more than 31 miles after 8 years and 100,000 miles. The capacity will continue to decrease linearly is the expectation, but there is not much data yet to prove it. It will not be a hard stop once you reach 100k mi and it will not be the same for everyone because it also depends on how hard you have been on the battery during that time. Some Prius have gone 300,000 miles without battery replacement. Sure, the capacity was reduced by that time but it still works and still gives you some benefit. There were also Prius where the pack suddenly failed, which was typically a single module failure so that is a good candidate for a battery rebuild which was even quoted by some rebuilders by the number of modules they needed to replace - you only pay for what is needed. I like that.
Jack, thanks for the review and sharing your experiences with the Volt!
I enjoyed your reponse and look forward to the time when the true costs begin to become common knowledge. In the mean time, I stick by my assertion that the cost to go electric is still quite significant and while it is likely to diminish a bit, I think that the hidden forces will unite to prevent it from falling much.
Regarding the ICE costs, I specifically stayed away from that in my 100K Subaru example, but clearly that vehicle could easily go 2-3 times that far with out significant repair expense. Thus the cost per mile difference could actually rise over time if the 100 K benchmark for a battery change or rebuild is brought into the calculations. In that scenario, instead of 5 cents a mile, it could rise toward 10 - 15 cents.
I hope that it works out because in reality, by this point on our evolution, electricity should already be free (if we had any leaders that were not owned by the new world order crowd). Thus, following the election, the cost of gasoline will again rise well past the $4 per gallon mark so that helps to justify the added cost of electrical vehicles.
What you (and many people in USA) do not understand is that gas is way too cheap, because it does not figure in the cost it causes directly (such as health issues from pollution) and indirectly (wear and thus maintenance of roads, climate effects) which is why almost everywhere in the world the price of gas is twice what we pay here. The reason it does not change is that politicians understand that it is political suicide to do the right thing (increase gas prices) so we are still paying barely more than the cost of crude, refining and transport. Somebody else will pay the consequences in increased health costs or property taxes, even if they do not own a car. There are many effects that are not so obvious that make an EV *much* better in its "business case", not just the out of pocket money.
Look at it this way: even at $4/gal, gas is about as cheap as a bottle of water that you buy without thinking much about it, while you can get water for virtually free from any tap. So why complain about $4/gal gas price while it should be at least double that? Current gas price is mostly the cost of crude oil. That is easy to see, for example when oil costs $84 per barrel of 42 gal that means $2 of the gas price is the crude cost. Then there is the refining that adds almost a dollar when including transportation, so when oil is at $84 then gas at the pump cannot cost under $3/gal. Electricity is mostly made with fossil fuel (natural gas where I live) and so it follows the price of fuels quite closely. One of your options is to install an electricity generator, preferably a renewable one like solar. That way you can create your own "fuel" for your vehicle.
I am sorry to hear that you were so much bothered by range anxiety, even though there are recharging points (outlets) litterally every 100 feet in an urban area. I have driven my EV for 3 years with a lot of joy and even though I cut it close a few times, I knew the remedy and was not worried. but most driving was daily commute and that was never a problem, just a blast to know I did not use any gas!
I agree that we will see where the costs will land, time will tell!
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.
Unless you raking in over $100k a year, the volt is far to expensive to buy and long term ownership cost is unknown. While I applaud GM for the development of the car, costs were apparently not part of the equation. This car is not priced for the average middle class income (where the majority of new car sales are made). Another drawback to the volt is that only dealerships will service it, now and after the warranty expires. The specialized training, tools and service equipment required is to costly for most independent repair shops. That leaves you at the mercy of the dealer and whatever they feel like charging. Batteries do not last forever, and again replacement costs are unknown. I have seen numbers ranging from $3k to $10 thrown around, but no one seems to know the actual numbers. My opinion is to say, thanks, but no thanks.
There are many cars which are out of your (and my) league. Are you also going to Mercedes, BMW and Maserati articles to complain about the price? I do not understand where you are coming from but I see that you are spreading FUD.
Again, look at history. The same thing was said about Prius, but many independent workshops and individuals have worked on their Hybrids. I bought my 02 Prius in 2004 as salvage, so I have never bothered about warranty or dealer service, I have visited them once for a preventive service recall and once to buy parts.
The body shop had no problem working on the frame rails around the engine, then rebuild and repaint it, as long as I disconnected the battery (orange tab in the trunk, described in the user manual), so reality does not confirm your words.
As is have stated, I would love to see this become practical, and as the owner of an automation company who's speciality is environmental automation and governmental reporting, I am keenly aware of that aspect of life. Having spent 10 years directly responsible for the monitoring and reporting of NOx emissions that go up the stack at a power generation facility, I am well familar with what happens there.
I will just say that it is not a win-win to move the pollution from the tail pipe to the smoke stack! As for the solar option, that is a complete fairy tail.
When I was in high school, I was handed a kit about the size of half a shoe box by my physics instructor, from which someone could fabricate a silicon solar cell. It took two months, but I handed back a working solar cell with great anticipation. It was my dream to someday be able to effectively and efficiently use solar power for home use. That was in 1965, and to this day it is still not realistic.
After all this time, electricity generated by solar still cost 4 times more than utility generated power. Now this could be difficult to believe, unless you take in to account that the hidden hand of the people who really rule the world is on the till. Clearly they don't want us to prosper and the middle class in the US is the only thing that they have not found a way to completely subdue, although they are doing a fairly good job on us right now.
It is critically important for all of us to begin to analyze the meaning behind the seemingly inrelated things going on in the world and to be aware of the "adgenda 21" type initiatives that flow like a river from these "people".
For example, both of my vehicles are equiped with OnStar and now we are informed that the government owned company from which they were purchased is now tracking our location and speed, etc.
Ironic is it not, that we are now considering the fact that the government will now be controlling the cost and the extent to which the Volt will be operated and maintained.
The environmental movement at it's core, has zero to do the environment and everything to do with converting the "free" citizens of the US into subjects.
While you are resting, you might want to research the term "Agentur". In the unlikely event that this is foreign to you, it may prove very interesting. I on the other hand am considered a "Goyim", which I am told means "useless eater".
I have enjoyed this discussion but I consider it to be at an end.
Why would you need a spare on a vehicle that can only travel 39 miles? You can only reasonably go less than 19 miles from your house. Triple A can be there in a jiffy or you can just put a bike rack on it.
To absalom: I apologize for not making this more clear -- the Volt can indeed go more than 39 miles. It uses only battery power for the first 39 miles or so. After that, thanks to the internal combustion engine, the Volt can go another 300 miles before it needs to refuel. With or without that range, I think a spare tire would come in handy.
Quick question: Am I understanding correctly that the ~55MPG you got on your longer trip included the time in which it was running on battery? If so, then any idea what kind of MPG you got for the gasoline-only portion?
All in all, I'm very positive about what we're seeing with the Volt, Leaf, and plug-in Prius. The fact that these vehicles are optimized for very different driving profiles is very positive. For now, it means more choice, and as time goes by, car companies and consumers will gradually understand better how best to optimize all of these range factors.
However, I strongly suspect that in 5 years, one of two things will occur: Either the market for these vehicles just won't materialize and we'll go back to our current brain-dead mode of energy consumption, or, there will be several 300-mile-per-charge pure-EVs competing healthily on the market, and hybrids like my 2nd-generation Prius will look like kludgy solutions to the range problem. Here's hoping it's the latter rather than the former!
To mr88cet: You are correct. Our 55 mpg figure was based on the fact that we didn't use a drop of gasoline for the first 33 miles. During the remainder of the trip (when we were running the motor-generator off gasoline) we got about 40 mpg on the highway.
I am certain that Brian is correct in that it is a luxury car, and those do sell to a lot of folks, and make the producers a lot of money, and in America that is fine because it is (sort of) one of our freedoms to be able to spend some of our money whgere we feel like. I applaude the excellent engineering that went into creating this car, and I hope that it is able to do some good in reducing urban unpleasantness. The EV or hybrid EV is perfect for the slow stop-start driving that is so common in most cities, since when it is not moving it can be off, and not wasteing power idling an engine. The plushness makes the trip much more comfortable, I am sure.
Mostly, I don't drive in that kind of traffic, and so such a vehicle would benefit me much less. My choice, based on preference, NOT ECONOMICS, has been simpler vehicles that are by no means luxury class. As an American I am allowed to make that choice. Unfortunately some poorly informed individuals believe that I should be forced to pay a much higher tax on my fuel so that their favorite modes of transport can be supported. Consider that in Sunny England the very high price of fuel subsidizes both bus and train service, besides keeping the roadways in first class shape. IF I thought that was a much wiser choice, I would move to England and live there, but I don't, and so I will not be moving there. I do know people who have moved from the UK and become US citizens, so perhaps others may agree with me.
The purpose of this extended explanation is to say that while the auto companies should certainly be allowed to sell vehicles that people want, it will be found quite challenging for them to sell vehicles that people do not want to own or drive. At least, in America.