Consumer Reports Pans 2011 Chevy Volt, But Misses the Point

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2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

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If Consumer Reports didn't exist, someone would have to invent it.

It may be the most trusted brand in evaluating cars, and it offered reliability ratings well before J.D. Power became a household name. A bad rating can send auto execs crawling to its doors to learn what they need to change to get a better assessment.

The magazine is remorselessly, relentlessly rational about assessing vehicles. Which is how GM's range-extended electric car, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, ended up with the short end of the Consumer Reports review stick.

Costly, short range, MPGs so-so

CR criticized the Volt's $41,000 price--more than twice the cost of a similarly sized 2011 Chevrolet Cruze with five seats to the Volt's four--its short range as an electric vehicle, and its fuel economy when running in gasoline mode.

The EPA gives the 2011 Toyota Prius a 50-mpg combined gas-mileage rating, which is higher than the Volt's 37-mpg rating when using its gasoline engine.

The magazine praised the Volt's acceleration, its build quality and equipment, its handling, and its ability to avoid using gasoline altogether.

But the Volt "is going to be a tough sell to the average consumer," said David Champion, who runs the auto testing center that Consumer Reports operates to assess the cars it buys. CR, by the way, paid a $5,000 dealer markup for the Volt it bought to test.

'Doesn't make a lot of sense'

The magazine says that from a "purely logical point of view," the 2011 Chevy Volt "doesn't really make a lot of sense." And it's right.

If, that is, you are the kind of sober, humorless, facts-and-figures car buyer who is interested in a car solely for its transportation value, the dollars and cents of owning it, and how many cupholders it has and where they're positioned.

Most car buyers aren't like that, though.

Facts + perceptions

The wonderful thing about covering the auto industry is that car purchases blend CR-style, just-the-facts-ma'am assessment of what a vehicle offers with poorly understood perceptions of what a particular model says about who you are as a person.

Many people are willing to trade some "payback," or the money they'll save on gasoline, for prestige or for the perception that they're the particular kind of person who would buy a specific make and model of car.

As we often point out (to the continuing annoyance of one faithful reader), many Toyota Prius drivers didn't buy their hybrids for the money they'll save on fuel.

Making a statement

Instead, they wanted the car to make a public statement about their values. That group of Prius owners don't care about the payback, because the car says something about who they are.

We'd wager that many early Volt buyers are just the same. They're more than willing to pay the extra money up front for their car. We know many work obsessively to drive only on grid power, never burning a drop of gasoline.

And they're well aware that it would be cheaper to drive a 2011 Toyota Prius. But they don't care: They want to drive green, in the car that they feel offers the best mix of capabilities for how they live.

Costs will come down

As annual production of plug-in cars rises, and advances in lithium-ion cells and other components roll out, the cost of future Volts will fall. Within 10 years, battery packs may cost only half of what they do today.

That will bring plug-in cars within spitting distance of their gasoline counterparts on purchase price. Then, it's game on, since running costs on grid power are already just one-fith to one-third of the cost-per-mile of fueling with gasoline.

Sometime within the next decade, Consumer Reports will no longer be able to say the Volt isn't practical.

Living with compromise

Champion did say he thinks General Motors "will sell the quantity [of Volts] that they want to sell to the people that really want it."

And he says Volt buyers "are going to live with the compromises the vehicle delivers."

Based on the feedback we see from many current Volt owners, we think they'll be very happy doing it, too.

[Detroit News]


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Comments (21)
  1. We'll have to rule out the Cruze as a comparable car for me, my house only has electricity so I wouldn't have any way to re-fuel it :-)
    Now re-run the Consumer Reports and compare it to similar vehicles.

  2. Michael, at this point there isn't a similar enough vehicle to the Volt to fairly compare it to.

  3. i couldn't agree more that a car purchase has a deeply analytical AND a deeply emotional component to it. similar to politics, views on government, etc.

  4. @Rich
    Indeed, so why draw comparisons at all? They're dealing with a whole new thing here.
    ...I know, I know, people need something to anchor to hence comparing the iPhone to Blackberry's and Windows Mobile back in the day. But, why let reality ruin the dream :-)

  5. Sorry, not for me . . . and I expect not for many others.

  6. "If, that is, you are the kind of sober, humorless, facts-and-figures car buyer who is interested in a car solely for its transportation value, the dollars and cents of owning it, and how many cupholders it has and where they're positioned."
    That's me, except for the cupholders. Drinking and driving don't mix - you are liable to spill something.
    "Many people are willing to trade some "payback," or the money they'll save on gasoline, for prestige or for the perception that they're the particular kind of person who would buy a specific make and model of car."
    Excuse me, but isn't that why a few years ago people were buying Hummers to navigate the rugged urban landscape? Isn't the buying of Volt just another form conspicuous consumption and a little sanctimonious too?
    finally isn't one of selling points of the Volt the fact that one can avoid constant trips to the gas station ad thereby saving money ? I don't how many times I heard that argument from Volt fanatics who have warned me that $5-6 gas is coming. In that respect the CR review was entirely accurate and therefore makes the Cruze a better choice for people like me who are careful with our money. However, I will offer an alternative. Increase the subsidy for the Volt. Instead of a $7500, have the Federal government offer a $20K direct rebate to any Volt buyer and put price controls on Volt dealers so they don't over charge. that will get the attention of a lot of people , including me.

  7. We have BOTH the Volt and the LEAF. Each appears to have a place in our two car household as they replace a Prius and a Camry Hybrid. The LEAF we are using for most of our commuting and for longer shopping stop and go around town; the Volt gets used for our second commuting need and then for ALL the longer infrequent "road trips" of 100-300 miles (longer than that and we take a plane).
    Anyway, for 90% of our Volt driving we never use any fuel, so that produces pretty good overall mpg. We now have a bit over 2000 cumulative miles on our Volt and we are averaging right at 106mpg (TRY to do that in any available Prius !). Our nightime EV charging rates allow us to fully charge the Volt for less than $0.80 and the LEAF can be fully charged for less than $ 1.25. It is pretty "cost effective" to get than volume of cheap and clean miles for such a reasonable payout, and actually those charging "costs" get wiped out by the overproduction of our home solar panels during PEAK summer months.

  8. I agree with CR, this car was overly hyped (especially since Motor Trend named it car of the year), but the car is very underwhelming and disappointing and it does not deliver on the promises, not to mention all the money they wasted developing such a piece of grabage.

  9. GP, you spent $80,000 for two cars so you can charge them for only $2.05 a day?

  10. I now have 1800 miles on my Volt. It is an absolute blast to drive and is more quiet than expensive luxury cars. Since our last out of town trip, I have about 515 miles consuming 1.5 gallons of gas in around town commuting. I think too many people miss the point of the Volt: It's an electric vehicle without any range anxiety... NOT a simple hybrid. The objective is electric around-town commuting.. but combined with the flexibility/range of a highly efficient conventional/hybrid vehicle. I drove it home from the dealer, plugged it into the wall, and that was it. It's just that simple! If I forget to plug it in or have to drive a long big deal, the gas engine kicks in. The objective is replacing petroleum, but in a convenient fashion. Does anyone think that we don't have a serious problem in the US from our dependence on foreign oil?

  11. The Volt is overrated in many areas but I'd still buy it over the LEAF if it had 5 seats (or at least until Nissan's TN plant comes online.)
    As far as the following statement goes "The magazine is remorselessly, relentlessly rational about assessing vehicles..." Every rational person would agree (along with some court decisions) that CR DID screw up Suzuki and Isuzu royally in the US (for whatever unobjective reason that was driving the magazine bck then.) I read them and still trust them to a certain extent but they're no St. Mary.

  12. Speaking of missing the point, saying that people buy a Prius to "make a public statement" totally misses the point. That goes double for any car that can be run from electricity. Many of the people are "technology buffs" which is clear if you spend even a few minutes talking to them. They are not grand-standing.
    Also, people buying a Prius (or a Volt or a LEAF) are actually accomplishing something of value. The idea that they are just in to it to "make a public statement" is insulting (if on the rare occasion true).
    I don't assume everyone that buys a Lexus "to make a public statement." I assume that many of them "they feel offers the best mix of capabilities for how they live."
    Next article John Voelcker will accuse anyone of holding a door for his fellow man as "making a public statement" so that people will admire him. It is called "common curiosity" for which the same could be said of anyone reducing their pollution.
    As for Consumer Reports, I greatly value their reporting, but that doesn't mean that I always agree.

  13. So true - most of the people in my environment are very behind the times, hard-headed, and just plain uneducated (GA) and I couldn't care less to "show off" by switching to electric and/or putting my Obama sticker on the window. I just want to be on the forefront of this technology because it's the wave of the future, it will affect the whole world, and I can sort of afford it now :-) (it may even pay off sooner than expected though not counting on it too much.)

  14. Good the see the Kool-aid drinkers are out in force on this one, oh and JKD, just because people do not agree with your weird beliefs, does not make them uneducated.

  15. The Kool-aid drinkers are actually guys like Voelcker that repeatedly defend lots and lots and lots of people "needing" to buy large vehicles, when many of these people clearly don't. In fact, is it possible, just possible, that many of those people are just showing off? And, by the say, those large vehicles are actually as expensive or more expensive than a Prius.
    Just frustrating that Voelcker's excellent writing is marred by such an anti-green attitude. But then again, Voelcker is just "making a public statement" that green cars suck, but he is still willing to report on them. After all, someone has to do it.

  16. BTW Voelcker, where is the "data" that says the lots and lots and lots of people "need" large vehicles and couldn't be served well by a Prius. I think such data (if it exists) will show that a lot of these people "want" large vehicles (farmers and contractors are obvious exceptions).

  17. @John Briggs: I suspect you and I would agree that many people buy vehicles larger than what they need. This is often due to erroneous perceptions of "safety" and the desire to make a public statement of some kind or another through vehicle choice.
    On the other hand, have you talked to anyone in the Midwest who has a 5,000-pound boat and trailer that they tow back and forth to a weekend house? Or routinely cart around 3 to 6 kids? Or buy and sell furniture on weekends? Each of those duty cycles requires a certain kind of vehicle, and physics says they will consume more fuel to do more work. There is no Prius on earth that will meet those kinds of needs.
    Let's be clear: A Toyota Prius is an admirable choice and perfectly suitable for many or most uses vehicles are put to. But not all. Hence I stand by the statement that lots and lots of people need large vehicles. Data isn't needed in this case. Just talk to them, and understand the way they live, and notice the utter lack of practical, convenient alternatives, whether those would be public transportation, car sharing, or living in a denser, more urban area.

  18. @John Voelcker,
    These things are all in the percentages rather than absolutes. There are a great many people in the cities, suburbs, and midwest (I have lived there) that have way more vehicle than they need. I have family members in the mid west that use a dually pickup as their primary vehicle although they don't cart anything around, ever and already have another dually pickup. It is a mentality.
    As for my Mormon friends, they get a pass on this discussion, because their Suburban is the only vehicle suitable. So in these percentages I agree.
    As for percentages, do you think that 10% of large vehicles are purchased by people better served by something else, or is it more like 50%. I suspect it is the latter and this is why I complain.
    And no need for data? Are you serious? This attitude of purchasing more vehicle than one needs is the one the psychologists should be investigating. But instead they are investigating the altruistic social signaling of Prius drivers. Their conclusion, raise the price of green vehicle so people can show off even more. Silly.
    Even if you do feel the inexplicable need to defend large vehicle drivers (and I have some sympathy there), your choice to put this defense on GreenCarReport seems clearly calculated for shock value.

  19. In Feburary, GM sold 281 Volts.
    Nissan Sold 67 Leafs.
    69,456,897 of people voted for Obama. Let’s assume that all these people aren’t the “Most car buyers aren’t like that, though” people that the author describes. Out of almost 70 million people, only 348 of them bought these two cars?
    But really, the Author sort of explained his stands with the “Facts and perceptions..”
    He said, “or prestige or for the perception that they're the particular kind of person who would buy a specific make and model of car.” This is really what these cars are about, a green fundamentalists making statements that they are better people than other people, 348 of them in February. And, the author follows this up.. with the “Making a statement..” wow.. I am writing this response as I am reading this article.. how right my assumptions are about green fundamentalists. Lol.
    Another thing that these Hybrid/Battery car people don’t mention is that these lithium, nickel, and others have to be mined. Don’t they hate mining companies? So, why are they so into car that’s powered by the rare earth materials? Very kinky.
    The author says, “As annual production of plug-in cars rises, and advances in lithium-ion cells and other components roll out, the cost of future Volts will fall. Within 10 years, battery packs may cost only half of what they do today.” Really? Does Prius cost less today than how much it cost 5 years ago? Answer, ‘How about No, Alex.’

  20. Who is Alex?

  21. George Alexander "Alex" Trebek is a game show host. Since 1984 he has been the host of the game show Jeopardy!
    If this was the only car available in the USA, its sales would sky rocket!!!! Obama, Pelosi & Reid would just love to do that in their dreams. They sure are working hard to ensure no drilling of US oil is taking place. What an energy plan.
    I do love electric cars, but for the average person, this car just is not cost effective. Cost effective is not as much of a factor for some "rich" people. All 348 of them.

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