Plug-In Hybrid Battle Brewing: Chevy Volt vs. BMW vs. Jaguar vs. Fisker

The Chevy Volt may soon have some competition. This week, both BMW and Jaguar have announced intentions to produce and sell plug-in hybrid models. Each of these models will be based on an extended-range platform, as the Volt is. So, how will they compare?

First, in terms of all electric range, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt wins with 40 miles. BMW's Vision EfficientDynamics sports coupe is quoted at a 31-mile all electric range. Jaguar hasn't yet specified the all-electric range of its future  electric XJ luxury sedan.

BMW Vision EfficientDynamics Concept, 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show

BMW Vision EfficientDynamics Concept, 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show

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2011 Jaguar XJ

2011 Jaguar XJ

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BMW Vision EfficientDynamics Concept, 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show

BMW Vision EfficientDynamics Concept, 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show

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2010 Fisker Karma S Concept

2010 Fisker Karma S Concept

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Fuel efficiency

For fuel efficiency in charge-sustaining mode, BMW's Efficient Dynamics coupe may be the victor. Of course, we know that real-world driving of plug-in hybrids will produce varying mileage, depending on their duty cycles. And I've found EPA estimates of hybrid fuel efficiency to be lower than what I'm usually able to achieve.

That said, BMW's series hybrid is expected to achieve 60 mpg in charge-sustaining mode, the Chevy Volt will get 50 mpg, and Jaguar's Electric XJ is expted to get 47 mpg.


Full details on power haven't yet been released for the 2011 Chevy Volt or Jaguar Electric XJ, but the BMW series hybrid looks to be a serious electric muscle machine. It's said to travel from 0 to 62 mph in 4.8 seconds, with 356 horsepower and 590 pounds of torque.

This may be the real difference between BMW and at least one of the other two plug-in hybrid vehicles. The 2011 Chevy Volt is intended as a compact sedan, and the Jaguar Electric XJ will be a luxury sedan.  But the BMW Vision Sports Coupe is packaged as an electric hot-rod.

That may make it more of a competitor to the 2011 Fisker Karma, the sporty plug-in hybrid sedan that's expected to have a 50-mile all electric range, do 0-60 in less than 6 seconds, and achieve an overall 67 mpg.

No specifics on power for the 2011 Karma either, but the Karma has two modes: Stealth Drive ("quiet economy mode for optimal relaxed and efficient driving" and Sport Drive (for access to the full power of the vehicle).

Sex appeal

In terms of sex appeal and design, the Fisker Karma and the BMW Vision Sports Coupe are definitely close competitors. The Karma's curves and the butterfly doors of the BMW series hybrid are simply killer.

The Volt design is certainly a head-turner as well, but if it's an exact replica of the current 2011 Jaguar XJ, the Electric XJ may not stand out in the same way.

Details, more or less

The Chevy Volt wins in terms of near-term availability (Chevrolet has pledged to get it into the first dealers before the end of 2010) and perhaps price (rumored to be $40,000). The Fisker Karma is also expected at the end of the year, with a higher price (approx. $80,000).

BMW has said their Vision Efficient Dynamics Sports Coupe will not be available until 2013. Even then, we shouldn't expect more than 5,000 or 10,000 units per year (no price yet). Jaguar has not specified when the electric XJ will be available or the price.

Validating the plug-in hybrid concept

While we still have much to learn about these new vehicles, it is a very telling sign that we now have four automakers in the plug-in hybrid sector.

It's worth noting the Volt may not have much competition in its class: the mid-range sedan. But those in the market for a luxury plug-in hybrid vehicle will have options when shopping for clean, green machines.

Shannon Arvizu is a clean-tech educator and strategist at Columbia University. You can read more at:

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Comments (2)
  1. I only have three minor quibbles:
    Compact is not the opposite of luxury;
    According to the SAE definition and their descriptions, none of these vehicles is a hybrid, as the drive propulsion to wheels is 100% electric in each;
    the metrics used are weird for all electric drive vehicles:
    In a billion years, I would have never thought to use the mpg in only extended mode as a way to measure the average efficiency of an all electric drive vehicle used primarily in short commutes, with infrequent use of the range extender. How about kWh / 100 miles in EV mode, which is what the existing US EPA method is?
    Use kW and torque feet at wheels (torque foot pounds divided by vehicle weight for a comparable measure of power to weight) for 0 rpm and max electric engine output, not hp, as the vehicles are not horse drawn.
    Also report 0-30 (start from stop signs and red lights in commutes) and 40-70 (merge onto highway) times, which are more important to consumers than 0-60 in the real world.

  2. Excellent article, very useful for mainstream consumers.

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