Last week at SXSW Interactive Conference my husband, Drew, had the opportunity to test drive the new 2011 Chevy Volt. Being a good husband and knowing that I am always looking for new blog material, he snapped a few photos of the car, its interior and a great Chevy sponsored “Recharge Lounge” that was set up inside the convention for those need electric outlets to charge all of their devices. Drew also had this to say about his test drive:
“When pressing on the pedal it was a amazing how quick the acceleration engaged, instant! The sporty interior and handling makes this a good fit for a 20-30 something, the only issue is at 40k can they afford it and does it pay out?”
To give you a little background, Drew’s daily driver is a BMW 5 series, so if he was impressed by the sporty design and quick acceleration, that certainly alleviates my concerns that an electric car might not have the style or performance that today’s driver is looking for. His critique of the cost of the car, though, is a very real concern for me. The MSRP on the car currently sits at $40,280, which in my opinion, is pretty steep. General Mot0rs is very quick to point out that most early buyers will qualify for a $7,500 tax credit which brings the car down to a slightly more realistic $32,780.
There could be a very real payback, though, for people who commute under 25-50 miles per day (the range for a fully charged volt depending on climate, driving conditions and “driving style”). According to the Chevrolet site for the Volt, a full charge takes about 10 hours on a standard household 120 volt outlet and costs about $1.50 in electricity charges. Assuming you get an average of 40 miles per charge, that’s about 3.75 cents per mile. Today’s fuel efficient cars typically get an average of around 30 miles per gallon (I’m not including hybrids here) so with gas around $3.50 per gallon, that is 11.7 cents per mile- over 3x more per mile.If a person drives 10,000 miles a year, this difference could result in a savings of $795 annually (assuming that you do all of your driving off of electric charges). Once you run out of electric charge, the Volt’s gasoline powered electric generator will kick in giving you about 37 miles per gallon, so still not too awful, but certainly not the savings you could see from running off electricity. I don’t think you’ll ever recoup the difference in original cost between the Volt and a similarly sized/loaded fuel-efficient car, but I don’t really think that the actual payback is why the early adopters of the Volt are buying them.
So, why buy a volt? The website GM-Volt lists the top three reasons to buy a Chevy Volt as:
- To achieve freedom from oil use
- To achieve cost savings
- To protect the environment
I already explained above that while the Chevy Volt will likely save owners money annually, I do not feel that it will be enough to compensate for the initial cost of the car. So, let’s spend a minute on reasons one and three. I absolutely agree with reason one; oil prices are very volatile and we often enter into agreements with countries with questionable practices to attain it, so if oil prices and procurement are a concern for you, buying a Volt is absolutely a good move for you, since very little of the electricity in the U.S. is generated from petroleum (less than 1% according to Wikipedia). However, I have some reservations about the environmental protection potential of the Volt (reason number 3). Coal is used to generate nearly 45% of the electricity in the U.S. Is a coal powered car much better than an oil powered car from a sustainability standpoint? I guess is depends largely on efficiencies in coal power generation, but it’s a question that certainly concerns me. Hopefully, in the near future, renewables will make up more of our countries energy consumption and Volt owners will even look at home-generated renewables such as PV panels or residential scaled wind turbines to power their cars, which really will improve the environmental footprint of the Volt, but until then I am still a little skeptical of environmental claims.