This is not about Miatas, but most of us also own and drive OTM’s and this is about a new technology OTM and is being offered on the premise that readers might be interested in a real world experience with a car that is different from what most people are used to.  The Chevy Volt, weighing in at about 3,800 pounds, is four passenger “extended range” electric car that runs off of a battery for 40 to 50 miles and then uses a gas powered on board generator to keep going.  The generator, coupled with a 9.3 gallon fuel tank, generates electricity for about 350 more miles (about 400 miles total range) and eliminates the “range anxiety” associated with battery only electric cars.  Our Volt was purchased on June 26TH  and as of the end of the Labor Day weekend 3515 miles have been driven.  We have put gas into the tank once (August 14, 7.714 gallons @ 4.28/gal and 2369 miles on the odometer) and it is that price I am using for my numbers.    This is about how the  Volt works, how economical it is to operate, and what it really costs.

       The Volt has a 149 hp electric motor producing up to 273 foot pounds of torque.  The electricity needed  to  operate the car comes from a rechargeable 16 kwh lithium ion battery (plug it into a 110 household outlet) and once about 70% of the battery is discharged a 53hp gas generator creates more electricity.  Unlike hybrid cars like the Prius, the Volt is never directly propelled by gas.    Of the 3515 miles driven, 3095 miles (88% of the total) were battery only miles and 420 miles used the generator and a total of 11.2 gallons of gas.  The Volt requires premium fuel, and @4.28/gal the 11.2 gallons used cost $47.94.  For the 420 “gas miles” our MPG came to 37.5, or if you want to put a bit of a disingenuous spin on it, you could also say that we got 313.8 miles per gallon (3515/11.2 gallons of gas).

       But electricity was used, and while it is not free, it is cheap when compared to gas.  The 3095 miles on  battery power used 801 kwh of electricity to charge the battery.   At the 9.11 cents a kwh charged by our  supplier Commonwealth Edison using “fixed pricing” the 801 kwh in electricity cost $72.97.   Our electricity costs are about to drop as we switch from fixed pricing to residential real time pricing (“RRTP”).  Under real time pricing each kwh consumed (or at least the supply and transmission component of the kwh charge) is charged at a fluctuating actual cost rate.   Power used overnight costs very little – an average of 5.59 cents/kwh for overnight usage this July as compared to 9.11 cents/kwh on fixed pricing - while power used during peak demand hours is more expensive (potentially three and four times the fixed rate – so do your own calculations before considering RRTP).  But peak demand is typically during daylight hours on hot days.  As many of you may know, we have a solar PV system on our roof, and it produces a good part of the  electricity consumed during the day (and it at times produces even more and puts power back into the grid, which Com Ed has to buy back).  We charge the Volt overnight anyway, and the overall combination results in RRTP making more sense for us than it might for most others, especially since it also works with net metering  –  the process that tracks the power produced by the PV system back into the grid.  With RTTP (using actual July numbers) that $72.97 spent for 801 kwh under fixed pricing would cost about $44.78.  That works out to 3095 miles for $44.78 in electricity as compared to 420 miles using $47.94 worth of gas.  (Are you reading this OPEC?)

       Using fixed pricing costs, our energy costs to drive those 3515 miles driven came to $120.91 ($47.94  for gas, 72.97 for electricity), which breaks down about 3.4 cents per mile.   Under RRTP, we estimate the cost per mile will come down to about 2.7 cents a mile.  In comparison the energy cost for the same miles in a 2012 Prius Hybrid (EPA rated @ 50 mpg) are 8.1 cents a mile (70.3 gallons of regular@$4.06/gal = $285.42/3515). A 2012 Miata (EPA rated @ 24 mpg combined) would cost about 17.8 cents a mile in energy costs (premium fuel @ $4.28/gal and 146.5 gallons of gas = $627.02/3515). 

        While economical to operate, a Volt is not even close to a Miata in terms of the fun factor and performance capability.  But it isn’t exactly boring either.  The 0 to 60 time is 8.53 seconds (a 2012 MX5 five speed does that in 6.9 seconds, while earlier generation Miatas were at 8 seconds).  To use “spirited driving” in any description of a 3800 pound car is an oxymoron and I can’t imagine anyone buying the Volt because of sporty performance reasons.   But the Volt is not about that kind of performance – it is about energy efficiency in driving.  The best battery performance comes at under 50 mile an hour while the best gas powered performance  is at cruising speeds of over 50 mph.  As with all cars, the use of accessories (A/C, seat warmers) and driving  style impact on energy use, and extreme cold and hot temperatures effect battery range.  For 2012 the Volt is set up to use some of the power to keep the battery at an ideal temperature and condition, and after  obtaining  a full charge, keeping the battery plugged in (using minimal additional electricity) is advised for both extreme hot and cold temperatures. The car’s regenerative brakes charge the battery while braking and, on non-expressway commutes or in stop and go traffic, add essentially free miles of driving.  The “level 1” charger that comes with the car is a 110 volt plug into the wall outlet type and fully recharges the battery in about 10 hours.   A “level 2” charger is also available (for about $500 and you’ll need a 220 outlet) and it fully recharges the battery in 3 to 4 hours.  While faster charging times present the opportunity to maximize battery only miles, for us there have been rare trips where it would have made a difference.   About half of the gas use has been because Sandra uses 2 to 6 miles of generator provided electricity to get her all the way home on her 54 mile round trip commute. For now we have no plans to obtain the quicker charger.

       The car is a pricey acquisition, and that has been a big criticism and issue for the Volt.  Our Volt’s sticker  price was $45,665 (the least expensive MSRP for the car is $39,985) and it has pretty much everything  available.   After a $2,000 off invoice reduction available to Costo members and our own negotiations, the  price  was $41,879.40.   Sales tax ($3,049.77 for Will County residents), a $15 Cook County tax on dealers (that the consumer pays for) and Illinois license and title fees ($194.00), brought the “out the door” price to $45,324.56.  GM also offered 0% financing for 72 months, and we took it. Bank interests rate aren’t much these days, but they still aren’t at zero.

       If that was the end of the story regarding cost the Volt would not be in our garage.   The acquisition cost went to $33,824 once incentives are taken into account.  There is a federal government tax  credit  of  $7,500  (all  usable  provided  the  buyer  had  at  least  that  much  in  federal  income  tax obligations in the year of purchase there is no carry over into subsequent years), and a non-taxed $4000 rebate available under the  State of Illinois Alternative Fuels Rebate Program (capped at 10% of the MSRP for a qualifying car, less the price of options, tax and title, which for the Volt hits the maximum available under the program).   A word of  caution:   if you are thinking of purchasing a Volt and are looking  to  use  the  credits,  make  sure  the  vehicle  has  never  been  titled.    There  are  reports  of unscrupulous dealers titling the vehicle in their names (and getting the credit), and reselling the car as a demo with the unsuspecting buyer thinking that they are eligible for the incentives, when in fact they are not.

      While still pricey, the “out the door price” of a comparably equipped Toyota Prius is only about $1,300 less than the acquisition cost for our Volt.  But, because of how we use it the energy costs of the Volt are less than half of what it costs to run a Prius (a car which itself is already economical to operate). Sure, you’ll need to hold onto the Volt for years, but that is how we do it anyway, and our Volt is on track to be more economical than a Prius to own and operate within the first two years of ownership. And, lest anyone think I’m a pitchman for Chevy, this is our first GM product out of 20 vehicles we have owned, and there is nothing else in  the GM lineup of interest to me.   And even the Volt is not for everyone, and if your drives are 80 miles or more before you could charge up, the best bang for the buck in terms of energy cost to operate is probably be the Prius or some other car with MPG rating in the high 40 mpg range (not that there is a plethora to pick from).  But if you have a garage, use the Volt  as a commuter car, recharge when possible and use as many electric miles as possible, the Volt looks to be the most economical car to operate (note  operate, not acquire) that I could find.  And of course, you mileage may vary.

Happy motoring, Uve Jerzy