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Toyota Prius Plug-In Vs Chevy Volt: Which Is Cheaper Per Mile?

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Toyota Prius Vs. Chevrolet Volt

Toyota Prius Vs. Chevrolet Volt

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Bridging the gap between battery electric vehicles and gasoline-electric hybrids we find cars like the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In and the 2012 Chevrolet Volt.

Both are essentially hybrid vehicles, but use the technology in different ways to achieve different aims.

Ultimately though, which vehicle costs less to run? Ray Iannuzzelli at GM-Volt.com has saved us all the leg-work by calculating the cost per mile of each vehicle--and the sort of journeys over which each car would be preferable.

Ray used EPA data wherever available to work out the cost per mile of each vehicle. This meant considering the electric range of each vehicle--an average range of 42 miles on electric power in the Volt, and 13 miles in the plug-in Prius. It also considered the mileage figures, giving the Volt combined mileage of 37mpg and the Prius, 50mpg, both on gasoline alone.

Dollars per mile

The first graph is perhaps most interesting, illustrating the range over which each car benefits.

The Volt has a clear advantage up to 65 miles, but this doesn't tell the whole story. The Prius actually shows an advantage below 16 miles, which Ray suspects is down to its brief electric range, but also being more efficient on electricity alone thanks to its lower weight--the plug-in Prius uses only 0.29 kw-hr/mile compared to the Volt's 0.36 kw-hr/mile.

Between 16 and 65 miles, the Volt would cost less to run, owing to the greater EV range, the Prius unavoidably having to use gasoline here.

That's an important consideration if you have a regular commute of that sort of distance. As many Volt owners have found in the real world, they can go months without adding a drop of gasoline, only needing to pay for the car's electricity usage instead.

Beyond 65 miles, the Prius' excellent fuel consumption figures draw it back into contention, past which point it becomes the cheaper--and cleaner--car to run.

All figures have been based on gas prices of $3.79 per gallon, premium gas (for the Volt) at $4 per gallon, and an average electricity rate of $0.12 per kilowatt-hour.

Ray also points out that as gas prices rise, the $/mile figure would approach 75 miles, as trips in the Prius become more expensive sooner. Of course, past this point the Prius's advantage would stretch further, as it uses less gas over longer distances.

The results aren't unexpected, but knowing the figures could certainly help buyers choose the right vehicle for their needs, a situation that isn't always clear from the bare EPA figures.

You can find the full figures and graphs in Ray's post on GM-Volt.com.

Looking at the figures, which vehicle would suit your own needs best? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Comments (16)
  1. After looking at the graphs and other graphs, I've concluded that both vehicles are not worth their price tags and the added price tags for the electricity. So, I'll go with the Nissan Leaf and eliminate the gas bill all together and even lower my loan payment.
     
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  2. I think James has hit the nail on the head for what the real question is. I wonder it the data supports his conclusion.
     
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  3. James is correct if you have other means to travel beyond the 100 mile Leaf range (have another car etc..) Pure EV's make sense in the states as a second car while the charging infrastructure gets built everywhere....
     
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  4. Although it is nice attempt, the comparison leaves some of the most critical items out of the discussion.

    The Volt is great because it has 35 miles of all electric range. But what is not so great is that customer (or Uncle Sam) has to pay for a really expensive 16 KWH battery.

    The PiP has a much smaller battery pack (4.4 KWH) which saves money but reduces electric range.

    So what is the right answer? 4.4 KWH; 16 KWH; something in between, something much larger? Where is the optimum point? What are we optimizing? Cost? CO2? Balance of trade? Is the Volt at $42,000 just too expensive to make any meaningful impact in any of these areas? Should we just stick to high efficiency ICE or go the EV route?
     
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  5. As the mock BBC news announcer used to intone on one of my favorite British radio comedies: "These are all ... questions."
     
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  6. As my MIT thesis adviser once told me, if you don't know the answers, at least lay out what the questions are. That is... a start.
     
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  7. @John. I feel right now until Li/ion battery prices drop significantly the Prius plug in will save you the most when you factor in the cost of the vehicle vrs the cost of gasoline over the life of the vehicle. If Li/ion battery packs decrease in price as expected by 6% per year in 5 to 10 years the EV's will really shine. Like it or not we are in the transition stage where a small li/ion plus a range extending gasoline engine wins the price war. But once battery prices fall the full EV's will win this battle especially if gasoline prices exceed $4 per gallon.
     
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  8. "Between 16 and 65 miles, the Volt would cost less to run, owing to the greater EV range, the Prius unavoidably having to use gasoline here.
    That's an important consideration if you have a regular commute of that sort of distance. As many Volt owners have found in the real world, they can go months without adding a drop of gasoline, only needing to pay for the car's electricity usage instead.
    Beyond 65 miles, the Prius' excellent fuel consumption figures draw it back into contention, past which point it becomes the cheaper--and cleaner--car to run."
    Either car will save a family lots of money in gasoline over the year. If you typically drive less than 35 miles per day the Volt wins since it can run in EV mode trips over 75 miles the Prius
     
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  9. For me I drive about 85 miles per day round trip since I drive 40 miles one way to work. The Tesla Model S would save even more than either car in gasoline over the long run however the lower price of the Prius plug in $32,700 vrs the Chevy Volt $39,000 would save me the most money since I drive over the 35 miles per day of pure EV mode range in the Volt. The Plug in Prius is priced under $30,000 averaging $27,500 while the Volt is at $32,000 after the $7,000. $5000 dollars buys you lots of gasoline so it a wash. If gasoline cost rise the Volt wins since it will use less gas at less than 75 miles or less per day.
     
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  10. Buying a new car never makes economical sense.

    If you want to get silly about it, you can buy a Hemi Magnum for 11 grand and save way more in dollars even though the fuel cost is 5x as much.

    /Plus, the Hemi is much more fun to drive!
     
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  11. And yet that 11 grand Hemi Magnum wouldn't exist had someone not decided it made sense for them and bought it new...
     
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  12. The psychic value of not using any gasoline--priceless.
     
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  13. I get about 100 miles per dollar in my Volt. I've spent $70 on gas the first 6,900 miles. Electric is free as it's a surplus from solar home which most people can't do. The regular Prius gets 13 miles per dollar (MPD). Average car 7. Average Volt 25 mpd.
     
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  14. my plug in prius gets 12 miles. Average car 7?
     
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  15. For larger vehicles ,and/or more miles, CNG would be preferable.
     
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  16. Once you include the performance and driving dynamic, then Volt wins hands down.

    Also that 13 EV mile range of Prius Plug In is a scam. You would have to drive like a Grandma to stay in that EV range.
     
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