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When Can A 2011 Chevy Volt Save You Money? Consumer Reports Has An Answer


2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

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When Consumer Reports (CR) initially chimed in on the 2011 Chevy Volt last March, the organization was critical of the extended-range electric car. Their biggest objection was the Volt’s sticker price, followed closely by its actual cost to operate. To no one’s surprise, CR steered buyers away from the Volt, which it called, “a tough sell to the average consumer” and “not really much of a money saver in many places.” Their recommendation was, of course, the 2011 Toyota Prius

CR has since had a bit more time behind the wheel of their 2011 Chevy Volt, and the organization will release a full report on the series hybrid in its October magazine. The good news is that CR is nowhere near as critical of the Volt as they were back in March; the bad news is that the Volt’s purchase price is still $3,000 more than a fully loaded Prius, and that’s assuming that you qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit.

CR found that the Volt’s battery-only range varied from 21 miles in the middle of winter (with the heater on, of course) to a high of 51 miles under ideal driving conditions (secondary roads, A/C off, speed under 45 miles per hour). In real-world driving, CR managed to average 35 miles per charge, which is exactly what the EPA tells us to expect.

In testing, CR has averaged 2.9 miles per kilowatt hour, and they’ve discovered that a full charge uses 12.7 kw/h worth of electricity. Whether that’s more or less cost-effective than a Toyota Prius depends on the cost of electricity where you live: if you pay 22 cents per kwh, the Volt will cost the same to operate as a Toyota Prius. Pay less than that, as most of us do, and the Volt becomes a viable alternative.

At least under some operating conditions, that is. If your daily commute is 30 miles and you pay 11 cents per kw/h for electricity, commuting in the Volt will cost you $1.13, while driving the Prius will run you $2.59. Under these circumstances, it’s advantage: Volt, as long as you negate the difference in purchase price between the two vehicles.

If your commute is 70 miles per day, the numbers don’t quite work out in the Volt’s favor. You’ll get 35 miles on battery power, but then you’ll have to travel 35 miles using the gasoline-powered generator, which returns 29 mpg overall and 36 mpg on the highway. The Volt’s engine requires premium unleaded, and CR estimates the cost at $4.00 per gallon versus $3.80 per gallon for regular unleaded in the Prius. Your 70 mile commute will cost $6.14 in the Volt, but only $6.05 in the Prius.

The bottom line? The Volt isn’t for everyone, but neither is the Prius. If you drive less than 40 miles per day, or have access to charging at work, the Volt could save you money. At the very least it gives you the environmental benefits of an electric car for short trips, while returning the functionality of a gasoline-engine car for longer ones.  Until someone builds a better mousetrap, the Volt is the most economical way to get the best of both worlds.

[Consumer Reports]

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Comments (14)
  1. You don't have to build a better mousetrap - just a cheaper one. Until then, it doesn't make sense economically. You can get a better and much cheaper car for longer commutes (not just a Prius) and for shorter commutes there's the LEAF. As much as anyone would like to justify the Volt, it just doesn't make much sense compared to alternatives and in typical 2+ car households.
     
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  2. @cracovian, you point out the danger associated with any new technology. I agree that the Volt has a narrow range of ideal customers, but if you have a short commute and family out of state, it's the only car (aside from the Fisker Karma) that gives you the benefits of a both an electric car and a gasoline one.

    I hope that GM (and other manufacturers) continue to pursue serial hybrid technology. I think it's got promise, and I'd hate to see it die with the Volt and Karma.
     
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  3. I like the Volt and I like the Corvette even more. I don't want those cars to die and there will still be a lot of unjustified and a bit of justified demand to keep them flowing and selling at close to MSRP for a few years. All I'm saying is that it doesn't make economical sense (the point of this and CR articles) to 95% of the population, just like the Corvette. You will never "save" money in either one.

    I'm getting my LEAF in November and I'm trying to justify the purchase too - unless our gas prices shoot up through the roof, I doubt I will ever break even...
     
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  4. The trend continues for C/R - put down American cars at all cost all the time. I have learned not to depend on the once dependable C/R. I wonder how much $ they recieve for thier efforts?
     
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  5. Did you just wake up from a decade-long sleep, buddy? CR had never recommended more American cars as they do today since some of them rightfully finally deserve it now. Volt is a good car, just not a cheap car for the purpose that it was built. Can it save you money? No, unless you get it for free.
     
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  6. C/R fails to mention the 70 mile or 35 mile commuting cost for a 40 mpg gasoline only car (becoming prevalent now) is considerably less than either Volt or Prius. And when you factor in the lower purchase price of the 40 mpg vehicle you realize that Prius/Volt owners don't buy them for economic reasons but to enhance their image as being "green". Neither can be economically justified. C?r's own numbers prove it.
     
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  7. The Volt is considerably more luxury inside that many of the other options that get 40 mpg on gas, IMHO after 6500+ miles in ours. It has more of an Audi/BMW road feel (we have owned both in the past), so for driving comparisons, perhaps a BMW 3-series or Audi A4 might be a more reasonable comparison. The BMW and Audi would cost upwards towards $40k, so the Volt in that context does not seem all that super-expensive, particularly with the Federal $7500 credit.

    We get more like 40-44 miles EV range here in Sacramento, so that extends the operating economy a bit from the CR experience and for MANY areas of the country, and here in West Sacramento, we have charging costs of $ .06/kw, so that is much less too.
     
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  8. Further, many Leaf and Volt owners already have solar photovoltaic power system on their homes; we do. Even with charging BOTH our Leaf and our Volt, we will have a ZERO annual electric use charge this year. For our Volt, we will use about $450 for total fuel costs, from our longer "road trips," but 19/20 times we take the car out, it will always run as an EV.
     
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  9. George - You and a few others seem to be missing a point... Yes, it's cheap to drive, it may be even free to run but how much did you pay for your electrics and how much for the panels? Did you do it all to save money? Really? Is this a route you'd recommend to a person who 'really' needs to save cash? Not everyone has $70K to drop on toys just to claim how green and wonderful they are and how BMW and Audi is similar in terms of quality, so the cost is justified... Step off the clouds, man.
     
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  10. Well, I love to DRIVE automobiles, and none of the electric/hybrids today (other than Tesla) offers much "fun". I will stick to my BMW 128i until something better comes along that fits my criteria. I thought the Honda CR-Z or the newest Lexus hybrid might have addressed this, but nope. Slow and poor dynamics = no sale. A average about 23mpg in town and a little over 31mpg on the highway, so it's not like I'm burning up the worlds hydrocarbon deposits single-handedly. Guess I will sit tight for a while longer while this market matures. A CR-Z or the 200h with a high-torque diesel and 8-speed DSG type trans would be the ticket for me.
     
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  11. @Drew, have you had a chance to drive a Volt yet? It's not a sport sedan by any stretch of the imagination, but it is surprisingly entertaining to drive. It's much more entertaining than the Lexus CT200h or the Honda CR-Z, at least in my opinion.
     
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  12. The difference is, the Volt looks good and the Prius looks like something out of a bad dream. Moreover, the people that drive them are, to say the least, ODD!
     
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  13. It's all thanks to Consumer Reports for making a neutral Chevrolet Volt report
     
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  14. The Volt looks like a 1990s Olds. The Prius is embarrassingly flaccid. Good steps in the right direction, just odd. I'll stick with the Fusion Hybrid, myself.
     
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