Chevy Volt A Plug-In Hybrid? More Electric Than You Think, Owners Say

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2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

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If you have a car that both plugs in and runs on a conventional engine, what's the mix of miles done on grid power versus gasoline?

You might think it's something like 50-50.

In the case of the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, with an electric range of 6 to 15 miles, that's probably about right--especially in the kind of low-speed, stop-and-go urban driving where hybrids thrive.

But in the case of the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, with an EPA-rated electric range of 35 miles (rising to 38 miles for 2013), it turns out that at least the first 18 months' worth of buyers are logging far more miles on electricity than on gasoline.

In Volt owner groups and forums, numerous owners boast about their triple-digit gas-mileage numbers and complain that the Volt's dashboard display won't show any fuel efficiency figure higher than 250 miles per gallon. (The website maxes out at 1000 mpg.)

A recent Consumer Reports post highlights data from Volt owners on its own forums: One owner has covered 7,000 miles while using just 7.3 gallons of gas (less than a single tankful), while another logged 2,800 miles on electricity out of 3,200 miles total.

As noted ad nauseam during the Volt launch in 2010, fully 78 percent of U.S. cars cover less than 40 miles a day.

The Volt's battery pack was sized around that statistic, with the vision that many or most owners would recharge overnight and might go weeks without having to fill the tank--but with a gasoline range extender to relieve them of any range anxiety related to exceeding the pack's rated range.

The Chevy Volt website has a sort of "electric odometer" showing how many miles the accumulated pool of Volts has covered on electricity, as well as total miles covered (data is gathered from cars whose owners have given permission for them to upload operating data to GM via their built-in OnStar link).

Chevrolet Volt site ticker showing total miles covered and electric miles, July 11, 2012

Chevrolet Volt site ticker showing total miles covered and electric miles, July 11, 2012

Enlarge Photo

As of this morning, the tickers show a total of 95,500,000 miles covered by Volts--of which roughly 60,000,000 (or 63 percent) were driven on electricity from the grid.

Not bad for a car that some insist should be called merely a plug-in hybrid, rather than a range-extended electric car as GM would have it.

Whatever it's called, it appears that the first 15,000 or so Chevrolet Volts are being used primarily as electric cars.

Which is what Volt engineers expected and hoped for all along.


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Comments (50)
  1. So I think there is a hierarchy emerging.
    LEAF 100% electric miles (though might have to borrow a gas car)
    Volt 63% electric miles
    PiP ~30% electric miles.

    But the Volt has the highest purchase price (not accounting for incentives).

  2. ...and not accounting for the purchase price for that gas car that is required with a Leaf purchase....

  3. My LEAF is my only car. If I need to go long distance, I'll borrow or rent a gasser. Why in the world would anyone whose daily driving cycle is well within the range of a LEAF buy a second car for the rare occasions when they needed to go long distance? Paying for a car, insurance and upkeep for a few long drives per year would be a poor economic decision.

  4. Which is exactly why the Volt makes sense for a larger majority of drivers. Mostly electric use. No range anxiety. No “double costs” with a 2nd car as you mention.

  5. Except if you have a second car already (a majority of car owning households in the US last I looked).

  6. Volt outperform both the PiP and Leaf.

    Volt is the ONLY car that warranty battery capacity...

    Volt is out selling both the Pip and Leaf..

    Nuff said there.

  7. You also have to consider the impact of each these cars on the absolute number of miles driven. If you drive your LEAF 8,000 miles per year but you have a second car where you drive 4,000 miles, compared to a Volt where you have only one car and you drive 12,000 miles per year, then, well, I think you get the point.

  8. Excellent point.

  9. On a related theme, you might also want to read this article:

  10. There are more comments in this thread
  11. The Volt does make a good case for driving electric, but I'd still call it a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle). Electric car owners talk about range not MPGs, it's still using two different fuels so it's a hybrid. I've always thought of it this way, an ICE powered car works on it's own, a hybrid uses an electric motor as an assistant, a plug-in hybrid uses an ICE as an assistant, and an electric car works on it's own. Please understand that this is just my opinion I am not a Volt hater and I do agree that the Volt is more electric then anything else the only reason continue to call it a hybrid is the fact that it can use gas, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm only expressing my opinion as to what I think it is, Ok.

  12. CDspeed, I hope that nobody thinks you're a hater since you clearly are not. I drive a Volt and it's clearly a PHEV, technically speaking. I consider the EREV more of a marketing ploy, albeit one that makes sense for 1-3 years until more consumers are over exaggerated rane anxiety.

    It's a great transitional technology, IMO, until companies like Tesla & traditional OEMs & others have more offerings/volume for EVs and consumers learn and range and technology improve.

    I'm at 160 MPG, one tank only, thus far, but as you noted, ICE + EV capability=plug-in hybrid/PHEV. Nothing wrong with that, we need different options for a while until the battery costs come down (great article on Automotive News site today) and technology improves.

  13. @robok2, Thanks, and I agree the Volt is transitional car it gives people the ability to drive electric and get used to electric driving while providing peace of mind with it's generator. There are people who are ready for pure electric cars and there are people who are not, and it's cars like the Volt that can bring these two groups together.

  14. For some it is more practicality than peace of mind. I would think for most single car households a pure EV just isn't practical with the current range/technology/infrastructure issues.

  15. Technology and infastructure are both fine but yes range can be an issue for some people. I know I could make my trips to visit family in a Model S but there is no way I could do it in a Leaf.

  16. I still say EREV is a better name, because all of the components are more like an EV than a hybrid. Here's a few examples:

    -The Volt has no transmission. A direct drive electric motor powers the wheels. Hybrids typically sandwich the electric motor between the transmission and the ICE. Even when running on gas, the electric motor still powers the wheels.
    Even at 100 mph, only the electric motor powers the wheels.
    -The gas engine is not directly connected to the gas pedal.
    -The heater/AC is all electric, designed to run without assistance from a motor or alternator.

    These components are more like EV's than what you would find in hybrids, even the Prius PHEV.

  17. @Dave Baragona..I suggest you study the drive train of the Prius before coming to this conclusion. They both have a planetary system with the larger of two electric motors driving the wheels.Both cars can mix the ICE to stop,add power to the wheels or just act as a generator.Toyota does this by controlling the planetary set electronically while Volt uses three clutches.If the Prius had Volts large battery and a software change it would "act" the same as the Volt,in fact its drive train is more elegant since it does'nt have the three maintenance prone clutche in the Volt.Check this link.

  18. Now we just need to have some charging stations that are convenient at businesses and apts. I know of only 1 in some condo's near me in Tampa.

  19. I like the Volt's combination the best out of all currently available cars. I am hoping they make a wagon version available in the future.

  20. Bob Lutz already made the wagon version of the volt. The VIA trucks & wagon and the good thing aside from using the generator as range extender, it can also be used as power supply for other chores like when someone is doing technical job. It's a nice concept for a utility vehicle.

  21. really goes to show America that their need for a long distance car is very small. i am guessing that a good 50-80% of all 2 car households could EASILY get a LEAF, but there was a guy who sold his 80 mile range LEAF to get a 40 mile range Volt, then bragged that he hasnt bought gas in months?? WTF??? 80 miles is not good enough but 40 miles is??

  22. David - I think your 50-80% number is actually a bit low, I'm guessing its likely over 90%. I wrote about it a few weeks back.

  23. 80 miles Leaf is a dead brick after 80 miles (sometimes 70 miles, sometimes 72 miles, sometimes 76 miles...)

    Volt has 40 miles range Electric, then another 300 miles+ in hybrid mode.

    That is the difference.

  24. I've got over 17K miles on my LEAF and have average over 100 mile per charge range the whole time. Sure, some people will only get 70 miles on a charge, but that's clearly operator error. The car is capable of over 100 miles range if driven efficiently. Hypermiling is easy, safe and actually increases over all driving speeds on heavily driven freeways. Counterintuitive, maybe, but it's the truth.

  25. I agree. There are Volt owners that can get 50 miles per charge and there are those who only get 35 miles. The point is that LEAF can be limited if NOT properly handled with the range. Sure, people can run out of gas. But a gas refill is only 5-10 minutes and recharging an empty Leaf can take hours.

    With that said, don't get wrong. I love the Leaf. I would buy one if few things get addressed in the upcoming revision of the car. I bought a Volt b/c Volt allows me more flexibilities. I will add a Leaf to the list if few small things get improved.

  26. That is all well and good, but you probably have to drive like a 100yr old man with loose eggs on the floor, and what is that doing to traffic flow?

  27. Well, I haven't bought any gas in months. I still got the tank that came with the car (only 4.3 gallon used). But I have driven 1358 miles. The few times that I used gas (about 3 times), Leaf wouldn't be enough for me. And even if I did swap with my wife's Honda Accord, I would still get worse mileage with the Accord in comparing with my Volt. At the end, the Volt still used less gas than if I had bought a Leaf and swapped with my wife's Accord on those three gas trips...

    The Volt also drives better than the Leaf.

  28. The idea of a range extender came from the EV1 which had a generator mounted on a trailer to charge the EV1's battery to allow the EV1 to continue to be tested 24X7 without having to stop and recharge. GM called this generator on a tralier a "range extender".

    The only difference with the Volt is that they took that range extender off the trailer and put it under the hood....

  29. @Dave: GM's EV1 team was far from first with the idea of a range extender--which is known as a series hybrid design, in which the engine only serves to generate power sent to the electric motor to turn the drive wheels.

    Here's one example from 1993:
    and another from, ummmm, 1900:

  30. Volt is the most practical and realistic technology before we have electric infrasture to support massive number of EVs. Also, Volt removes the anxiety that comes with the EV in general. Sure, you can buy a Prius and a Leaf that will probably replace the purpose of the Volt. But that would require two cars, two insurances, two registrations and more maintaince...

    The problem is that Volt is getting hate from both sides. The conservative nutjobs hate it b/c it is "green". The green and extreme EV nutjobs think it is a "fake" attempt at green washing by GM.

    Despite all that hate, Volt is doing great b/c it is realistic and practical.

    As far as price goes, I am tired doing simple math for most fools out there...

  31. i am conservative and green. one does not have to be an ev nutjob to know that the volt is indeed a fake by gm.

    let me see - gm has

    1)destroyed evs that their owners were begging them to keep.

    2)they sold their battery technology and patents to a big oil company.

    3)advertised to the public how a real ev would leave them stranded in the desert, so they should get a volt.

    4)is producing a real ev as a compliance car.

    3 strikes and gm is out. they have 4 strikes and counting.

    the evidence is as clear as the nose on the proverbial face.

  32. @EV Enthusiast,

    Well, you are just a hater.

    1. Their EVs weren't making any money. It cost GM Billions to keep that program going. Owners were begging them to keep it. Yet, nobody was ready to pay $100k for it. Sure, GM could sell it, but there is liability and support need for it.
    2. That battery technology was useless and outdated. NiMH battery is already being surpassed by Li-ion. Selling it to big oil is really no big deal.
    3. There were plenty of public story where the EV1 was stranding people on the side of the hwy. Even the Leaf is doing some of that today. That is why Volt will get rid of that fear. Sure, you can run out of gas too. But AAA can come with a can of gas and you are ready to go in 5 mins.

  33. selling that battery technology delayed things for a good 10 years.

    i look at the evidence. you see what you want to see - that is the difference. and then call us haters when we dont put our heads in the sand, like you do.

    it is one thing not to produce more. it is quite another not to allow the current owners the ability to keep their own cars that they had leased.

  34. Delayed? Most people only keep their cars for 7-8 years. Having the Volt is better than wait 10 years for the battery technology to mature.

    Did you NOT read the other article on Public Charging Rate? That is why Volt would make sense... Not to be Gouged by charging station owners.

    The Evidence is that Prius are selling great and Leaf is NOT. The Volt is selling better than Any and ALL EVs out there. If you look at the numbers, Volt sold MORE THAN THE REST OF PLUG IN EVS combined YTD. Nuff said there.

    As far as EV1 went. Those things were expensive. Let you keeping it means GM had to "support" it.

  35. EV Enthusiast, as a lawyer (and Volt driver), I understand why GM destroyed the EV1s even if it was a pr fiasco. GM had a lot of intellectual property (ip) in the EV1 technology. Once a person owns the car, it could be sold to a competitor and reverse engineered. GM probably felt the bes thing was to destroy them to prevent that from happening. Also, selling the car at the end of the leases would require GM to support it, which would cost them more money. I don't think you are correct that they sold their EV ip to an oil company. If that were so, they would not have the rights to use a lot of the EV tech that is in the Volt. I have not read anything about them licensing back that technology.

  36. 4. So does everyone else except for Nissan and you can see how bad the sales is right now. Ever since the bailout, GM has been under the spotlight to make money. It can't afford programs that doesn't make profit. Nissan was on the edge of bankruptcy until the merger and it is currently funded by the DOE's Green Loan in the amount of $2.1 Billion. If Nissan is truly serious about it, then Nissan would have warranty its battery like GM does.

    You are just a GM hater. Most of your hate are baseless and beyond any reasons...Volt is a transitional technlogy before we have a full charging network ready for the EVs. Before that, Volt is by far the best technology.

    Let us ask you this, what engineering backgound do you have to judge Volt?

  37. @Xialong: As I've noted before in comments, Nissan was granted a $1.6 billion low-interest loan by the DoE under its Advanced Technology Vehicle Program. The funds were to start lithium-ion cell fabrication in a new plant adjacent to its Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant, and to add Leaf and other EV production capability into the Smyrna factory as well.

    In the end, the company used only $1.4 billion of the funds--about one third less than the $2.1 billion you cite. For the record.

  38. I read somewhere Nissan got $2.1 Billion approved but has yet to use it. That is fine. $1.4 Billion is still Billions. The point was to counter the political statement that EV Enthusiast was using.

  39. I personally think the styling not he Volt is hideous. But… I think Gm has the right technology here. Battery-only for most in-town driving and a gas-powered electric generator to extend range. Fully eliminates any range anxiety. More cars should go this way.

  40. Volt is NOT the hottest car on the road but it sure beats the look of Prius.

  41. Xiaolong that's your opinion, There are a lot of Prius owners, more I believe than Volts that think otherwise.
    Why must you be so passionate over the Volt at the expense of other makes?

  42. 9000 miles and only 8.2 gallons of gas to date. Yes it's a PHEV, but the design goal was an accurate target, at least for me. :D

  43. Out of all this conversation, I have not heard anyone mention how much their electric bill has gone up. A study in china, concluded that with coal operated power plants, the electric car was no better than the gas vehicle for being Green. I believe the majority of power in the US is produced by coal.

  44. @James: You're right about China:
    but not about the U.S. Several studies (a 1007 landmark effort by EPRI and NRDC, and one this year by the Union of Concerned Scientists) that 1 mile driven on grid power has lower emissions than a 25-mpg car even if it's from the dirtiest grids in the nation (ND and WV, I believe).

    When you compare to a 50-mpg Prius, there are some edge cases in which the gasoline car is slightly better. Offsetting that are two points: First, the U.S. average mileage across the whole fleet is still in the low 20s, and second, the grid will gradually get greener over time.

  45. James, at about 1k miles monthly and almost 100% driven on electricity, I average about $14-$16 a month on charging costs. Now that I just sold my "extra" car, I'll drive more and probably be at $21-$24.

    Keep in mind that by charging at night, during off-peak periods, charging is about 70% cheaper than daytime, peak rates. I pay $.04/Kw at night so my 38 mile commute costs me about $.80/daily, as opposed to about $6.50/day for my old A4. Based on $4 gas for premium, that is.

  46. Has everyone forgotten about the "dealer anxiety"? Once you buy a EV or Hybrid you are stuck with dealing with the dealer when it comes to maintenance save for the oil chances. Talk about a "shot gun wedding" :-)
    I though most people dreaded dealing with their dealer because of the high labor and parts cost?

  47. Matt, I certainly can't speak for others but ther's absolutely zero dealer anxiety for me. I just sold my pre-Volt car this weekend and I avoided the Audi dealer like the plague for 90% of repairs with the rare exception being warranty repairs.

    With my Volt, like most Volt drivers, any problem I'm likely to have will be covered by the warranty, so it's not an issue. So, I think your point is valid for some, but perhaps not as many as one would think. But just a guess...

  48. It goes without saying that if I knew that my vehicle would be covered by the manufactures warranty then naturally the dealer anxiety would be non existent.
    European cars like the Audi, BMW, Benz are a marvel in engineering. But come time to insure them, fix them and maintain them is another story. Save for warranty repairs like you pointed out.
    All three are trying to change that perception as we speak with factory perks.

  49. How is this different from any new car purchase? They all have to be taken to the main dealer to maintain the warranty!
    The technology that worries everyone is usually warranted for eight years on the EVs and Hybrids. My eight year old Prius has never required anything other than ICE servicing ie oil and filters two tires and windscreen wiper blades thats it zilch.Eight years of cheap motoring at mid fifties to the gallon.

  50. We are at 107 mpg for the 17,500 miles on our 2011 Volt. That is our Volt in the picture at the lead of this article (thanks John for continued use from my original article).

    Many Volt owners, like us, have solar PV on their roofs. We have ZERO electric use costs for our house and charging both our Volt AND our Leaf. It is like having both an oil well and refinery right at one's house.

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