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Land of Confusion: Chevy Volt Gets 60 MPG Rating

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The EPA has finally released the fuel-efficiency rating for General Motors' (NYSE: GM  ) Chevy Volt. Actually, there are three ratings that may be more confusing than helpful and are a reminder of just how difficult it is will be to rate the fuel economy of a hybrid/electric vehicle.

How do you measure the fuel efficiency of a hybrid vehicle -- those cars that can run on electric for a certain distance? The truth of the matter is that this will not only depend on your driving style and the climate you live in, but also on the distances you travel each day. You and your neighbor could be driving the same high-tech hybrid, but you could end up with a gas mileage not much better than that of a current Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) Prius, while your neighbor gets triple digits.

In the case of the Volt, the EPA released three different ratings. The all-electric rating is a 93 MPG equivalent (there is a 149-horsepower electric motor), while the gasoline-assisted mode (there is an 80-horsepower combustion engine that charges the battery) is rated at 37 MPG and the combined rating is 60 MPG. The EPA also determined that the Volt will get about 35 miles per charge and another 344 miles with the support of a filled 9.5-gallon gasoline tank.

These numbers are highly theoretical, and the most valuable statement may be that the Volt can travel for a range of somewhere around 400 miles, which is what GM has stated. But the EPA rating is far off the 230 MPG rating that GM had hoped for. The EPA's MPG numbers come down to plain math and reflect a reasonable assumption of how power consumption can be compared with gasoline consumption. According to the EPA, the Volt will consume about 36 kilowatt hours per 100 miles, which compares with the 39 kilowatt hours observed by Edmunds. GM states that a full charge of the battery pack should cost about $1.50 on average and take about seven hours on a 120-volt line. The EPA stated only that the charge will take about four hours on a 240-volt line.

Based on that number, the EPA estimates the Volt's electric driving range to be about 35 miles on average, which seems to be realistic, given that GM currently says the car will get about 25 miles in sport mode and up to 50 miles in regular mode. We also heard that especially careful driving can get you into the 60-mile range, which would put the overall range of the Volt into the 400-mile neighborhood. An interesting side note is that the Volt is configured not to drain its entire battery while driving. The combustion engine will be activated when the battery reaches a charge state of about 35% and will ensure a maintenance level of charge to optimize the battery life and allow consumers to take advantage of cheap electricity costs, rather than waste gasoline. In theory, the Volt's battery could deliver a much higher mileage.

The Volt EPA label is somewhat unique and is different not only from regular ratings but also from that of the electric-only Nissan (OTC BB: NSANY.PK) Leaf, as Volt has the gasoline rating and does not show a differentiation between city and highway driving.

We had a chance to drive the Volt recently and noticed that the car itself stated a lifetime fuel efficiency of 126 MPG, which is based on GM's electricity-to-gasoline conversion and not on the EPA formula. The MPG rating indicated by the car is infinite, if the Volt drives on electric power only. There is an obvious transparency gap and there is no way for the consumer to understand how efficient the car really is and whether it is as efficient as the EPA states. Consumers will also have to learn what electric efficiency means. How much is 36 kilowatt hours? What does it compare to? What does it cost, especially in markets that have huge fluctuations in electricity prices that depend on the time and volume of consumption and have dramatic regional variations? Charging the Volt may cost you only $1.50 during the night in Detroit, but it could cost you $5 in California if you aren't aware of your power cost at any given time.

At least the EPA's estimation that the Volt will cost you $601 in power every year is a rather useless and potentially misleading number.

If you're considering a Chevy Volt with an interest in range and related cost, this car is much more a math exercise than any car we're aware of. If you look at the Nissan Leaf EV, you know you have only 73 miles per charge. Here you have about 35 miles, and you can get another 350 miles or so if you need it, but your mileage and cost will change dramatically. 

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Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 28, 2010, at 11:27 PM, jameslv wrote:

    seems like it will run about 35 to 40 miles on the electric, I wonder if you turn on the A/C or Heat if that goes down to 25 ?

    So a $41,000 US pricetag for 25 - 40 miles of electric running per electric charge ?

    add in cost of repairs and environmental concerns of battery disposal

    is this even worth doing at this stage, is it far too early and will this be an absolute failure ?

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2010, at 12:37 AM, jesterisdead wrote:

    The EV1 made sense. The Volt is just taxpayer funded nonsense.

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2010, at 4:42 AM, jaketen2001 wrote:

    Ditto jester. Lutz could never get it out of his head that Americans wanted big guzzlers, environment be damned. If he had his way, he would strap a jet engine on to a car, and then slap a red fender, a chrome grill, and a ragtop on it. He is thoroughly soaked in 50s car culture and never could get his head out of it. The Volt is the car equivalent of the space shuttle. Good execution, but its conception is a mess.

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2010, at 9:43 AM, pauld1976 wrote:

    One slight confusing thing in this article. Saying the Volt has a 400 mile range on one tank of gas is like saying ANY gas power car has roughly the same range. All you have to do to get more than 400 miles is stop at a gas station,

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2010, at 10:31 AM, Bungoman wrote:


    No, AC/Heat use does NOT reduce it to 25. Simply peruse the multiple real world reviews and blogs from current public owners to figure that out.

    Battery disposal??? Where are you coming from with this nonsense? The battery is 100% recyclable. Yes, 100%. In fact, in order to replace it you MUST return the old one to Chevy. Here's a pop quiz: currently, what is the most recycled item on the planet? Look it up.


    Lovely content-free comment. +1


    "conception is a mess". What does that mean exactly? Please do enlighten.

    @ the rest of you naysayer nitwits,

    Simple maths... the average US driver, on the average day, will not consume one single drop of gasoline while driving a Volt. Not one drop. How many drops of human blood are associated with each drop of gasoline we consume? How many buckets of human blood does even a Prius driver have on their hands? Well kiddies, the average Volt driver will, on average, HAVE NO BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS. Think it through, will ya?

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2010, at 11:21 AM, trf1 wrote:


    Your pompous attitude shows a little more than you might think.

    Where do you think the electricity will come from?

    Coal and natural gas are the most available sources.

    Blood on my hands for using gasoline? Nice try but I do not feel guilt driving my FORD F150.

    The simple math revolves around allocation of resources. A statistically insignificant number of real consumers will line up to buy the $40 thousand dollar volt without taxpayer subsidies.

    Just like ethanol, a real bad plan.

    I have thought it through.

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2010, at 12:21 PM, Bungoman wrote:


    "I have thought it through" Really now? And you failed to even read for comprehension enough to see what my name was and who I was referring to? Yea, well thought out person you must be. FAIL.

    Did I dispute where the domestic electricity comes from? Nope, reading for comprehension FAIL.

    Does coal or NG result in military action? Nope, reading for comprehension FAIL.

    Blood on your hands, yeppers, and in spades with that joke of a pickup. Compensation much? My neighbor's son died in Iraq for you and your pickup. Hide in shame you piece of garbage.

    "statistically...." Umn, yep. First year ever for a paradigm changing vehicle. Sounds like the way things work. So what's your point? Please, do tell, you said it with such conviction as if it carried some huge meaning and discovery.

    "Just like ethanol..." Umn, huh? Now you seem to have sunk to speaking in tongues. What does ethanol and the electrification of our light duty vehicle fleet have to do with the price of eggs?

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2010, at 12:42 PM, Melaschasm wrote:

    Lets take a look at the cost of a Volt compared to a Fusion.

    I, like many Americans, drive about 12,000 per year (thus the 3 year, 36,000 mile warranties).

    The Volt will burn 200 gallons of gas a year, while the Fusion burns 400 gallons of gas.

    At $3 per gallon, the Volt saves me $600 per year. At $5 per gallon, the Volt saves me $1k per year.

    The Volt costs about $15k more than a Fusion. This means it will take between 15 and 25 years to save enough gas to make up the difference.

    Even ignoring the interest paid on the additional up front cost, most people would be much better off buying a Fusion.

    If you chose a comparison car that is more fuel efficient, such as the Honda Fit, you would see an even bigger advantage to a traditional car.

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2010, at 5:16 PM, Bungoman wrote:


    Yes, you can run the ROI against a myriad of vehicles and come out with similar numbers. Same old business as usual approach, same old limited vision, same old dupes who look back in a few years and lament their not seeing the writing on the walls, or just deny they were ever stupid to begin with.

    Yes, the first year for a paradigm shifting vehicle, it will cost a whole load of dough. Care to speculate how much an equivalent vehicle will cost in 3 years? I will, and I'll come back here to either eat crow, or crow up a storm. PHEV with AER of 100 miles in a similar configuration to the current Volt will cost $25K (adjusted) nicely equipped. There you go, you read it here first.

    And when that day comes, and you happily buy one, thank all the forward thinkers who ignored your BS ROI naysayer infantile myopic nonsense and bought them today. Oh yea, I'll be one of those people you'll be thanking, I like it delivered with a bow.

  • Report this Comment On December 06, 2010, at 1:22 PM, EVsplease wrote:

    We need to get off the Oil Industry's business model: a highly inefficient internal combustion engine and liquid fuel business that dominates our transportation choices. Oil companies are pushing gas/oil, hydrogen, natural gas fuels b/c they own it...we will never be free to have choices for our transportation.

    With GOPs back, the oil agenda will be pushed and we will forever be chained to their high profit business model. I bet the Chevy Volt lasts a month.

    Let's ask the President to exercise Eminent Domain over NiMH battery patents.

    These are most powerful traction batteries invented in US that will provide reliable, affordable transportation and alleviate our economic and environmental issues; proven technology past 10 years....

    oops CHEVRON owns patents, guess that won't be happening any time soon!

  • Report this Comment On December 07, 2010, at 7:33 AM, Bungoman wrote:

    Volt will last a month? Forgive me, but you really need to take your meds. Regardless of which party oil lackeys are in power, the Volt and derivatives are not only here to stay, but adoption rate will be many times what most experts have been predicting. Horse is out of the barn on that one.

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