• Feb 27th 2009 at 1:04PM
  • 52
Click above for a high res gallery of the 2011 Chevy Volt

Electric vehicle proponents never like to hear news like this, but another study has indicated that plug-in vehicles with longer battery ranges are going to be too expensive to be cost-effective, even though they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The problem is that the cost of the batteries required to support a 40-mile electric-only range far outweighs the incremental benefit compared to a shorter range plug-in or non-plug hybrid. The cost of a battery pack for a car like the Chevy Volt is estimated to be as much as $15,000, although no one at General Motors is talking about the specific number publicly yet.

While there are certainly people who are willing to go plug-in regardless of the cost, the reality is that most people simply cannot afford to do so no matter how much they might like the idea of helping the environment. Beyond the up-front cost of batteries there also remains the issue of durability. Tesla Motors, for example, is offering a $12,000 battery replacement plan for the Roadster - which has a battery pack that costs around $30,000. General Motors officials have repeatedly expressed confidence that the battery management systems they have developed for the Volt will allow them to meet the 10-year/150,000-mile durability target for the battery. However, accelerated testing in the lab can only tell so much about battery life. Until these vehicles are in the field and exposed to the wide range of conditions that occur over a number of years, no one can be certain.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      A few things to keep in mind:

      1.) New technology is almost always prohibitively expensive. Think of big screen Plasma and LCD TV's that used to be well over $5000 are now routinely under $1000. The same will happen with widespread battery production.

      2.) Though we pay only $2 at the pump, we pay a lot more just to keep gas prices low.

      3.) We can't afford not to transition away from fossil fuel. Peak oil and climate change are two undeniable facts of reality that will force change whether we like it or not.

      4.) If China can produce an affordable plug-in electric, so can we.

      5.) If your car payment is more but your fuel cost is dramatically less, an electric car may still offer lower "cost of ownership".

      • 6 Years Ago
      When you consider that the Volt will probably sell in the low 30's after the tax program and consider how many giant SUV's were sold in that range (or higher) previously, I think there will be plenty of demand for it. GM is only looking to make 65k of them a year initially - they'll sell them all, with waiting lists. At this price level they won't sell like Civic's, but its not in that market.

      GM is also smart enough to have the 2nd generation in the pipeline with the expectation of serious cost savings of the new technology are worked out (and I think they have the 3rd generation in planning) - this is accelerated because they know the technology and associated cost savings will be rapid during its initial years on the market. After rapid introductions of successive generations of the technology, GM will be able to get the costs down with more and more demand occurring as a result. But this isn't going to be a $20k car after 10 years of production, but getting its retail price down to $30k from $40k initially (with a profit margin finally) seems like it might be an achievable goal in that time frame.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I can't see GM selling 65K of these a year. Spending 40K plus on a compact car just to get better fuel economy is just plain stupid.

        You can buy two Honda Insight hybrids for that price.
        • 6 Years Ago
        GM lost $35 billion last year, and the only reason they are still in business is government support.

        So I have to question your theory that GM is "smart".

        Still, I hope the Volt is a success, and I don't expect real success until at least the second, and probably the third generation, so I do hope they can keep it going that long.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Obviously it's not going to be bought only on the basis of saving cash. It's like hybrids, if your sole goal is saving money, then they don't do the job (even this depends on which cars you compare). I say they'll probably be able to sell around half of how the hybrids are selling, given the premium.
      • 6 Years Ago
      "Electric cars are for now at least too expensive, small and short-ranged to be practical for anyone other than enthusiasts and the wealthy, especially as family vehicles or anything other than sports cars or tiny urban short-rangers."

      I'm glad someone let me know; I've been using my electric car for 80% of my driving. It's a conversion that goes 40 miles on a charge and costs me about $2 to charge.


      Electric cars are cheap, clean, and practical for anyone who has a second car for longer trips. As far as I'm concerned that "we're not ready for electric cars yet" myth can't die soon enough.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Normal people want a new car they can drive off the lot with warranty, with features a normal mechanic will recognize and know hot fo fix.

        Enthusiasts, techies, activists, geeks, and gearheads are not normal.

        That's why I don't think flex fuel conversion kits are the way forward. It has to be part of the vehicle from the get-go to make a difference.

        Plus your car, as usual for EVs, is tiny and not suitable for a family, or for hauling stuff around (sports, camping, large pets, picnics, vacations, etc.)
        • 6 Years Ago
        As I said, it's not suitable for families without a second internal combustion car.

        How many times a week do you use your car for picnics, camping, vacations? That's right - a very small fraction. In my case, it's almost exactly 20% of the time that I need to waste my money on gas, and that includes commuting for my very normal wife 13 miles every day (she charges at work, and thus gets miles for free).

        No, "normal" people want a car that rarely requires a mechanic - no oil changes, oil filters, alternators, spark plugs, mufflers, starters, radiators, coolant, etc etc etc - and is very economical to drive. Don't you?
        • 6 Years Ago
        You know what, wt, those are all actually pretty good points.
      • 6 Years Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      A small EV Company in LA was asked to build an EV truck that could pull 60k lbs and the owner said sure I'll need $500k to get a prototype built ready for production, that has been done, it is now set to save millions of gallons of diesel pollution in LA and probably will become the standard across the country if not the globe for container port transportation, why cant GM do things like this???? why haven't they started an offshoot brand to produce funky alternative vehicles ?? in small volumes, where is a diesel hybrid?? why is this not being done? 5 college kids with a well equipped shop and some guidance could pump out marketable exciting fuel saving vehicles, hey here's any idea build a compliant shell, and let them have at with the bodywork and drive train? what the hell if it has three wheels they dont even have to be DOT compliant, GM is a disgusting rotting corpse of a wasteful dinosaur that should be left to die in piece and the management should all be blacklisted as unfit to lead.
        • 6 Years Ago
        you know its so funny how old fools go on about socialism and commies every time somebody intelligent has a good idea, but the irony is those same old fools, like the ones running GM, run it just like Stalin ran Russia, idiotic, iron fisted control from a tiny elite of over privileged out of touch ultra conservatives too fearful to step outside and look at the world as it could be
        • 6 Years Ago
        Building a specialized port hauler is a lot different than trying to build a car with a wide demographic and tons of competition.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hold on... I think that the volt's battery will cost $20,000, no wait... $25,000, no wait, $60,000... dang, it seems that my random number generator is broken.

      What I'm getting at here is that nobody in the press knows hows exactly how much the battery will cost. I don't see how anybody can write an accurate news article stating costs.
        • 6 Years Ago
        From hints by the battery manufacturer, about $1k per usable capacity.. the Volt uses 8kwh out of its 16kwh pack to extend the life to 10y/150k miles so we can say the Volt pack is $8000.

        So add $8000 plus the associated electric motor/generator/inverter and other electric bits (water pump, A/C etc), guessing about $1500 extra to the basic cost of Chevy Cruzer ($18-$22K ??) and that comes to $26-30k

        There are rumors that GM is also planning for a battery replacement during the warranty of the car so add another $8000 to the cost (and they get to keep that $8000 if the warranty is not needed).. so we end up with $34-38k, very close to the estimated cost of $37,000 before tax credits for the Volt.

        Meanwhile BYD started selling its F3DM plugin-hybrid for $22,000 (in China) ... with a 60 mile range and a durable LiFe battery. Battery capacity is probably around 16kwh also. The car is a copy of an old Accord, and that is a good thing. I'm sure the software will not be as fancy and the battery warranty will not be as good either.


      • 6 Years Ago
      Right on the second page, where it should have read:

      "In summation, we accomplished nothing original with this study. We humbly suggest that you, the layman, stop reading now. On the off chance, you have ever contributed to Carnegie Mellon University or are an esteemed Alumni, we are personally very, very sorry."

      Instead they wrote:

      "High fuel prices, low-cost batteries, or high carbon taxes combined with low carbon electricity generation would make small-capacity PHEVs cost-effective for a wide range of drivers. In contrast, increased battery specific energy or carbon taxes without decarbonization of the electricity grid would have limited impact."

      Really? Are you sure? No kidding eh? A return to $1/gallon gas increases the ROI of a $40k PHEV? Come on?!?

      Likewise, 50 year-old coal power plants generating / delivering electricity to homes of owners of PHEV is greater GHG production than driving a Prius at 18mph on a flat road during a 65 degree day?

      If we start burning old tires to power steam generators, that is a step backward right? Do you want to get back to me on that? I want to make sure I get this PhD lead study's finding correct.

      You mean, we shouldn't try to decrease our GHG emissions at the Utility level? Or take personal responsibility for our own electricity/use generation (See: Living off the Grid, Green Homes)?

      Good thing there are no state or government rebates, taxes credits or subsidies to get people thinking about Net Zero electricity use and net metering...whoops too late.

      Maybe we can hope Aliens will return from the Home World with some similar to the Doc. Brown's Mr. Fusion?

      Thanks for the hearty laugh and the reminder that a PhD and a 15 page CV is nearly worthless without a moral compass or a shred of common sense.

      Next time: try making something. Of use. Potentially. You are still engineers, right?
        • 6 Years Ago
        I think this is the first time that I've had a hard time understanding someone for being TOO sarcastic, lol.

        I agree with you though!.... I think.
      • 6 Years Ago
      What I don't understand is why GM refused to go into direct competition with Toyota and Honda with standard hybrid cars as a backup to the Volt program. Ford has been able to bring a car to market at reasonable cost, and I would have thought the Malibu could be modified analogously to the Fusion to provide a true hybrid instead of the half-assed one they came up with. It boggles the mind.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Isn't that what their two-mode system is for? While it currently seems to be geared for heavier duty use, I would think that they'd be able to reduce the cost of the system effectively in the same time period.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The Cadillac version of this might be more successful, it would be more in line with what people are willing to spend for a car like that.

      Here in SoCal, there's plenty of people with tons of money, I expect to see them everywhere. Not sure about other places tho.
      • 6 Years Ago
      How does Aptera do it for relatively low cost?
        • 6 Years Ago
        The Aptera is a light weight vehicle with a far lower drag coefficient than the Volt. It doesn't take nearly as much energy to get the thing moving. It also has a much smaller battery stack than the Volt, so the initial cost of manufacturing it is lower. The fact that it isn't classified as a car has virtually nothing to do with how much it costs.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The Aptera doesn't cost much less, and it isn't classified as a car, so they save a lot of money that way.

        Obviously you can't expect the first PHEVs to make the biggest impact since they will be the most expensive. The price will likely go down after a while ($30-20k range is doable depending on the size of the car) and then they can make more impact.
      • 6 Years Ago
      For those naysayers again,

      EVs are practical. In Canada there are electric outlets everywhere because in the winter they have to have their cars heated or else it won't start. So if they can have a small infrastructure to plug in their engines you can plug in EVs. And if 200 miles isn't enough for your daily routines then an EV isn't yours and that means you are 5% of the population. The EVs are practical for 95% of the population since 200 miles is more than enough.(220 for the Tesla)

      GM is plain dumb. Their EV1 today would still be an awesome car that would make money if they chose to build them and build them in the thousands not in the hundreds.
      The Volt is another way of saying, "we are doing stuff even though it won't make money, but look, new car, new tech, look at us look at us" It still isn't going to make them viable.

      Just like the saying, "If you're going to do it, put 150% into it". Don't put EV tech with a Gas ICE. You put two proponents of newly untested technology to make one car which makes it more expensive no matter how you cut it in comparison with a vehicle that has only one. A good non plug hybrid like the prius or insight is far superior in its cost than a plug in hybrid with a bigger battery like the Volt.

      The Tesla Model S is a luxury sedan competing with the BMW 5 series. It also is in the same price point of Lexus cars. When Tesla becomes profitable no other automaker can say that they can't make money off of pure electrics.

      • 6 Years Ago
      Well then! Why do you think "Better Place" addressed this issue up front? Their idea is to rent the batteries just like the cell phone industry sell minutes. In effect they sell you electrons and maintain the batteries for a monthly charge; there are all kinds of advantages to doing this, including upgrading to the latest battery technology as it become available and changing out the batteries to extent the range of the car. I suggest GM contact Better Place and forage an partnership to solve this problem. The writer is correct Americans will not pay the price GM expects to charge for their EBEV and then pay another $15,000 to replace the batteries. When the batteries go dry, the people will run the car on gasoline only. It's looks as if GM is setting the stage to sell you their ICE Cruze and not the EBEV Volt.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I thought we already discussed time lines here. And do I wish it were that easy to click our fingers and think the EV world is going to be your savior on all fronts. Let's only hope.

        I also have a different definition of scam. Just because it's under the pretense of a business doesn't make it immune to being one.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yes! the contract is the thing! However, one must weight the feasibility of buying against renting. Seems to me that a short term contract during the initial technology development period should be seriously considered. Perhaps the time to buy is when you know and can trust the reliability of the product.

        I suspect that PBP will expand to cover just about any battery format and form factor after they are established, since their business plan is based on renting the batteries and selling the electrons.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Noz, a "scam" implies a criminal intent to defraud by deception, and there is no evidence of any criminal intent or deception in the PBP plans.

        Of course, it may or may not be a good deal for consumers, we won't know for sure until we get all the details. Nobody is going to force you to sign up.

        A decade from now most of us will be driving electric, and noz will still be waiting for his hydrogen ship to come in.

        • 6 Years Ago
        Project Better Place is a scam. IF they are modeling their plan after cell phone style minutes purchases and renting out, I'll pass thanks.

        I just don't trust PBP.
        • 6 Years Ago
        GM already knows how to do leasing, they don't need help from Project Better Place to set up battery leases.

        PBP also is setting up battery swapping facilities, but battery swapping isn't very useful for plug-in hybrids like the Volt. Battery swaps will be used mainly for longer trips, and plug-in hybrids already have a range extender for long trips.

        The only areas GM and PBP have a common interest is in public recharging facilities. If GM gets back into the BEV market, then maybe they might have PBP supply the swappable batteries.
        • 6 Years Ago
        pbp does have some good ideas in terms of standardizing battery pack form factors and voltages. Since they own the batteries you can swap our your new pack for some unknown pack without worrying about getting stuck with an old battery.

        If you have standard battery packs you can choose between Energizer, Duracell or Samsung, you can choose the range based on what you can afford.

        The thing I dont like about pbp is that your are stuck with their contract. In theory if battery packs become cheap then plug in electric cars should be much cheaper($2 per 100 miles, very little regular maintenance) than gas cars. But I expect that if you sign a contract with pbp that the monthly fees will be such that it will be just as expensive as gas vehicles and you will be locked into their system.
    • Load More Comments