While government tax incentives will no doubt help to make plug-in vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt more affordable, the total cost of ownership will also be influenced heavily by residual values. With several months to go before the first customers even take delivery of a Volt, residuals are purely speculative and will be influenced by numerous factors. Still, we like to think about these things out when we can, and another green car might be able to provide some insight.
When the Prius debuted in the U.S. market a decade ago, it had an exceptionally high 55 percent residual after three years, and the resale values have held up very well over time. The Volt also has the potential for high resale values based on the current interest in the car and limited early availability. The possibility that there won't be any major battery breakthroughs in the near term will also help if the Volt's technology stay's state of the art. On the other hand, of course, if the performance of the Volt and its battery don't live up to expectations over the first few years of batteries get much better fast, then it will kill the resale of the early cars. We'll just have to wait and see.