• Oct 13, 2010
2011 Chevrolet Volt – Click above for high-res image gallery

Did General Motors lie or didn't they? The media and public got extremely swept up by the fact that GM told the world its range-extended electric vehicle would not use the on-board internal combustion engine to power the wheels, when it will under certain conditions. This bit of news has blown up in the General's face, but does it change the fact that the Volt is still a pretty amazing piece of automotive engineering? Motor Trend spent a couple of weeks with one and came away impressed by what the Chevrolet Volt could do. In fact, lead flip-flop lead-foot Jonny Lieberman scored some seat time and was able to hit 127 miles per gallon.

The 127 mpg figure was achieved over a variety of Los Angeles city streets, canyon roads and highways. During the trip, the car ran out of battery power and the gasoline engine quietly turned on to give it more juice. Not to the wheels, but to the battery. If the car gets up over 70 miles per hour, then the ICE will send a small amount of power to the wheels, but by doing so it makes the car more efficient.

The M/T editors took the car on another trip and really tried to push it hard. They ran the Volt up to its 101 mph top speed, had the A/C cranked and traveled across some hilly terrain. The result? The Chevy returned nearly 75 mpg. MT feels the takeaway from its time with the Volt is that the car is incredibly efficient and the fact that the gasoline engine occasionally pitches in doesn't make it any less remarkable of a vehicle.



Photos Copyright ©2010 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
[Source: Motor Trend]


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  • 157 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      I have a 2005 Honda Accord V6 that gets 30MPG, that is the actual average mileage over the past 60,000 miles (mostly highway), computed from fuel receipts and the odometer reading, so I feel comfortable using that for my personal calculations.

      The Chevy Volt gets the first 40 miles on electricity. That is equal to 1.33 gallons of gas in my Accord, or about $4.00 worth of gas (at $3 per gallon). The Volt has a 16kWh battery, that Chevy says should not drain lower than 20% capacity. So let's say it takes 13kWh out of the battery to go that 40 miles. Due to charging inefficiencies, it will probably take 16kWh from the grid, to replace the 13kWh in the batteries.

      So let's see how much money it really saves me to drive a Volt:

      I live in Northern California, and PGE is the big utility for most out here. I currently pay an average of .20 per kWh from PGE over the course of a billing cycle. At first glance, you would think that means it will cost me $3.20 to recharge the Volt. That means I save 80 cents per VOLT charging cycle - big WHOOP!!!

      However, we are on a tiered usage rate system as PGE customers. That means my price per kWh goes up as the month goes along and I use more power - the more I use the more I pay and the faster I get into the higher priced rate tiers. The highest priced tier is .40 per kWh.

      I have a spreadsheet model which easily allows me to factor in charging a CHEVY VOLT, and see the impact it will have on my overall electric bill, and my average kWh price - here is what I find:

      Based on my last month (September 2010) PGE bill, I paid an average of .19 per kWh. I used an average of 34kWh per day. If I had used an extra 16kWh per day to charge a VOLT (almost 50% more power than my family normally uses) for 5 days per week (figuring workdays only), I would have paid an average of .25 per kWh. That means by charging a Chevy Volt in my garage, I have paid more for *ALL* of my household electricity because I move through the rate pricing tiers faster. My electric bill would have been $144 more, for 22 days worth of Chevy Volt driving ~40 miles per day on electricity. That means I paid $6.54 per ~40 miles of electric travel, which is WAY MORE (65% MORE!!) than I currently pay driving my Accord 40 miles on gas. In fact my Accord would have to get only 18MPG to make the VOLT break even, for a 40mile trip.

      Forget the fact that maintenance will be way more and only available at the dealer for the foreseeable future; forget that replacement batteries are $10K and no one wants your used Volt without new batteries; forget that you may find yourself climbing hills at a max of 40MPH if you travel in the foothills and have a lot of hills to climb;; forget that basic comfort features like the radio, heater or the air conditioner will substantially reduce your electric only range.

      The bottom line is that for nearly anyone who is a PGE customer - which is a great deal of CA residents where this thing is going on sale now - driving the Volt even 40 miles per day and never touching the gas tank, will still cost you MORE MONEY PER TRIP than even a 2005 V6 Accord. Forget about competing with a Prius or a TDI Volkswagon diesel - there is no comparison. You will pay more, from beginning to end, and everywhere in between - for the 'privilege' of driving Gov't Motors newest sham. Unless you get your electricity for free, it doesn't begin to pen out...
        • 4 Years Ago
        You got some bad numbers there.

        The Volt uses about 8.8kWh of it's pack and wastes the other 7.2kWh for one reason or another.

        Charging at 120v is the worst case scenario and uses more juice for one reason or another. 11-13kWh into the pack has been reported. Some have charged the Volt @ 220v and only put 10-11kWh into it.

        Night rates are different for electricity VS day rates too.

        You gotta figure that stuff into it.. what you're looking at is a worst case scenario.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ Middle Way:

        "The Volt uses about 8.8kWh of it's pack and wastes the other 7.2kWh for one reason or another."

        The Volt doesn't "waste" that capacity, it just doesn't use it. The charging system in essence uses the "middle half" of charge (say 30%-80%) for reasons of battery longevity. The Prius does the same thing - and that's why they can get 100k+ miles out of those packs.

        And as there are some enterprising Prius users that have done mods to their car to get more out of their batteries, I'm sure a longer e-only range out of the Volt is just a few mouse clicks away...
        • 4 Years Ago
        "The Volt doesn't "waste" that capacity, it just doesn't use it. The charging system in essence uses the "middle half" of charge (say 30%-80%) for reasons of battery longevity. The Prius does the same thing - and that's why they can get 100k+ miles out of those packs."

        So when i say waste, i mean carries around useless dead weight. ( probably to be eligible for a tax credit )

        Nickle Metal Hydride batteries used in the Prius are most happy at being around middle charge. That is why the Prius is designed that way.

        Lithium is a different ball of wax. You can discharge them down to their rated voltage and charge them to their full rated voltage all day long. This half charge thing is specific to NIMH only. It does not apply to Lithium or even Lead Acid batteries.

        Gm has chosen overly conservative parameters for the pack. Many other manufacturers are using 75%-80% of their battery's total power. That Volt pack could be far better utilized.

        Look at the Nissan Leaf. 24kWh and it'll do 100 miles. Volt's 16kWh will do 40 miles.

        That means.. the Volt would need 40kWh to go the same 100 miles.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Considering that CA is expected to be one of the largest markets for EV's, that's certainly not good news.

        I'd be curious though about how the costs are for your off-peak usage. The Volt(and other EV's) will likely be charged overnight most times when rates are cheaper. You only divided out your total usage to get the average figure but I'd bet most of your usage is not off-peak.

        Additionally, your figures are off a bit. You aren't going to use 16kW-hr to charge the Volt each day, it only uses 8-9kW-hrs of the battery. Maintenance will also not be way more, I don't see how you figure that. The ICE is used rarely(thus requiring less maintenance) and EV advocates brag about how much less maintenance EV's require.

        Increased costs are wholly to be expected though, especially with the Feds wanting to add additional taxes on energy. Sadly, there's no way to get away from it, either you will pay higher taxes on gasoline or higher taxes on electricity, I agree.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ Middle Way:

        "Lithium is a different ball of wax. You can discharge them down to their rated voltage and charge them to their full rated voltage all day long. This half charge thing is specific to NIMH only. It does not apply to Lithium or even Lead Acid batteries.

        Gm has chosen overly conservative parameters for the pack. Many other manufacturers are using 75%-80% of their battery's total power. That Volt pack could be far better utilized."



        Perhaps GM has reasons for being overly conservative. As this is a "gotta get it right the first time" kind of car, being conservative on the battery pack might not be a bad thing. Especially since you could do a 2.0 upgrade in the software and perhaps use more of the pack in the future, when real-world numbers say the pack can hold up.

        And besides, it still seems that fully discharging a Li-ion battery can have problems:

        from: http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/how_to_prolong_lithium_based_batteries

        "A lithium-ion battery provides 300-500 discharge/charge cycles. The battery prefers a partial rather than a full discharge. Frequent full discharges should be avoided when possible. Instead, charge the battery more often or use a larger battery."


        From: http://osxreality.com/2009/07/18/4-tips-to-extend-your-lithium-battery-life/

        "...battery memory doesn’t apply to lithium batteries, this advice was meant for nickel based batteries. Fully discharging your lithium battery frequently can actually be quite harmful to your battery’s health, possibly rendering it completely unusable if energy levels go too low."

        These statements currently apply to laptop and other portable electronics - but as EV batteries are currently just scaled-up versions of those, I'd think the statements still apply.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Give the car a full charge. A single tank of gas. Drive as far as you can without a recharge, until the tank is empty. Divide miles driven by the capacity of the tank. I think this would eliminate the multi-charge argument distorting the figures.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Then you'd only have a single mpg figure based on taking a single long drive. That tells you nothing about how little fuel you'd use on a daily commute when you're not going to be anywhere near the cars full range and when you'd not using the ICE at all. The full range is meaningless unless you plan to use that range up in one trip, and how often would that be?

        There's not a single figure you can apply to the Volt that will be accurate. For the same reason, there's not single test you can put it under to determine that single figure either.

        Fact is, you can achieve anywhere from 30mpg to infinite mileage depending on how you drive and your daily driving habits. These multiple tests that have come out already are quickly proving that.

        GM also proved that by testing the Volt under the current EPA test and achieving 230mpg. When the test is a bit more than 40miles and the Volt can go 40miles on the batteries, you're not going to use a lot of gas. But considering that most people drive less than 40miles a day, that's a more accurate figure than a full range test like you are suggesting. Most people will fall somewhere in between

        How to whittle that all down to a relatively simple set of figures that you can place on a Monroney and not confuse consumers is the question. Especially the not confusing consumers part of it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think what the automotive public wants to know most is:

      Did Jonny drive it with or without flip flops?
      • 4 Years Ago
      The Volt is going to be MT's Car of the Year winner.

      And it most definitely deserves to win every other top automotive prize.

      The Volt seems to be an amazing piece of technology and GM deserves quite a bit of credit for getting this car built.
      • 4 Years Ago
      from the article:
      "Here's the neat part: at 36.3 miles, we ran out of battery-juice and the engine very quietly kicked on. "
      "we still averaged 74.6 miles per gallon over 122 miles."
      so, that means that they used 122/74.6=1.63538874 gallons
      they traveled 122-36.3=85.7 miles on gas.
      so they got 85.7/1.63538874=52.403442621 mpg while on gas.
      so 36.3 miles using some amount of electricity and then 52.4 mpg after that.....sweet!
        • 4 Years Ago
        I just posted that same calculation in another spot... I got the 122 wrong (I used 127 instead)... yours is right, thanks!
      • 4 Years Ago
      they may have traveled that many miles with that much gas, but its irresponsible and misleading to report it as achieving "127 mpg", especially if they had to stop and charge it twice for 8 hours to go that far. Like I said, they could travel 40 miles on a full charge, then drive an additional millimeter on one drop of gasoline and report that they went 40.0000000000000000001 miles with 1/1,000,000 of a gallon of gas. Would it be fair or accurate to say the volt gets 40 million miles per gallon? No, it would be outrageous just like this article is.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Read it again. It says no such thing. It simply leaving out the information on extra charges.

        It is misleading in the extreme and many gullible are falling for it. You among them.

        "Broken down, over the course of 299 miles on Los Angeles highways, byways and freeways, the Volt burned 2.36 gallons of gasoline "

        No mention if that was continuous, if there were stops for charging. Nothing.

        • 4 Years Ago
        you sir, are a ignorant fool. if you were to actually read the post describing this 300 mile drive, you would see that there was no stopping to recharge the car. it was a continuous trip. while i give you that driving for the first 40 or so miles with no fuel will inflate the mpg, the fact remains that on a 300 mile trip the car used 2.36 gallons of gas. i cant tell if your just being a fanboy, or trying to start an argument. but you should get all your facts before commenting.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ jdvm

        You are wrong my friend, you should read, digest and lay out your arguments instead of crass name calling.

        Montoym is right... if you read the article carefully, there were two separate runs of 299 miles and 127 miles where they recorded completely different mileages.
        • 4 Years Ago
        MT reveals the actual driving log:

        Showing 8 trips averaging about 37 miles each with multiple charge cycle.

        http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/car/10q4/2011_chevrolet_volt_full_test-road_test

        • 4 Years Ago
        Glad to see that. Still like to see them break it down a bit more and include the charge times, rates, cost etc. and tally it all up and compare it to other hybrid/EV/ICE options. I understand it's tough to do though considering that you aren't charging at the smae place or time all the time.

        Also interesting to note that they were managing to get 40miles out of the batteries pretty easily, no small feat for auto journalists and contrary to what many thought was possible despite GM stating time and again that they routinely were hitting 40mi+ with their test fleet.

        Granted, their sample size is small, but they show 4 trips in which the Volt's battery was fully charged, of those four 2 were driven until the ICE came on and in those two trips they went 40.7 and 39.9mi respectively. The other 2 trips were shorter than 40miles and they were completed totally on battery power (30.5 and 31miles).

        The last part of the post sums it up best for me,
        quote - "Over the 173.9 miles I'd covered since leaving Tehachapi -- 70 percent of which had been hard-driving freeway miles -- I'd averaged 59.3 mpg. But I still had six gallons of gas left in the tank, which might last me another four months if I continued my usual commuting and weekend driving pattern around L.A., or another four hours if I decided to drive to San Francisco.

        The more we think about the Volt here at Motor Trend, the more convinced we are this vehicle defies conventional labels. The genius of the Volt's powertrain is that it is actually capable of operating as a pure EV, a series hybrid, or as a parallel hybrid to deliver the best possible efficiency, depending on the duty cycle." -

        I truly wish I had the means to consider purchasing a Volt(or at least getting one for a long-term test). That's saying a lot from someone who's never been a huge green car fan and who'd never buy a Prius, Leaf, CR-Z of the like. Closest I'd get is a VW TDI(which I've considered). I just imagine the overall economy I could achieve in a Volt. I had already calculated it out months ago as specs about the Volt have come out. This test and others are proving my calculations to be correct.

        This car truly is a huge step forward no matter how you look at it(even if it acts like a Prius 5-10% of the time). So what? It is super economical overall and that's what counts and that's what will count to consumers. Heck, for a lot of them, the fact that it is anything like a Prius would probably be a benefit.
        • 4 Years Ago
        If this was on a single charge, then the range for the Volt on a full tank of gas would be 900+ miles, not the 300 miles that Chevy says it is. Clearly they charged it multiple times and did not mention this in the article, which is why this is a deceiving load of garbage.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The 300miles was over the entire time they have the Volt, not a single trip. It's all clearly laid out in the article.

        Here's another quote from the article about a separate trip,

        "At the end of the journey, we'd covered more than 120 miles. City, hard-core mountain roads and freeway -- we even took the Volt up to its limited top speed of 101 mph. Well, the speedo indicated 102 mph, but we were pointed downhill. Let me also mention that we had the A/C on because it was 100 degrees out. Factoring in the mountainous part of our romp, where Frank and I acted like utter hooligans and neglected (on purpose) to put the Volt in Mountain Mode, we still averaged 74.6 miles per gallon over 122 miles. Sure, that's less than the 126.7 mpg we got driving the car from the office to home, but it's still pretty dang good. Also, remember that if we had simply stopped driving when the battery went dry, our mileage was infinity" -
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ok now I'm impressed :)
      • 4 Years Ago
      whats with that ugly plastic under the front bumper ( please dont say mach 1 lip )

      i'm sure it provides extreme aerodynamics...
      • 4 Years Ago
      I like this car, I just wish that all the "green" cars didn't have the goofy Prius like silhouette. Can't a car just look like a car? Most every time I look in the window of a Prius or Insight, it's some smug baby boomer or a hippie. I would like a car that doesn't give of the same vibe but is still just as efficient. I can use the HOV lane in my state if I own a hybrid. I won't save much in gas, but I can't put a dollar amount on my time or sleep.

      The Fusion hybrid is out of my price range.
        • 4 Years Ago
        And what NF said.
        • 4 Years Ago
        It's not possible for a high-mileage car to not have some sort of smoothly tapered roof at a 14-degree angle, as a truncated teardrop profie. That is the law of aerodynamics at work, and it's not something one can get around if you want to get good mileage.

        The only thing one can do is to go with *more* of a teardrop shape, in search of even better aerodynamics with less drag.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @NightFlight, most people would be willing to sacrifice some efficienty for better looking hybrid.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ TechySpecy : What does a Baby Boomer look like? Just curious.

        I don't think I've noticed any particular type of person driving a Prius. There are so many of them on the road now and I personally know Prius owners from all walks of life : teachers, software engineers, etc.
        • 4 Years Ago
        You do realize that shape they use is the most aerodynamic, right?

        Maximized aerodynamics = maximized MPGs
        • 4 Years Ago
        As has been stated just about everywhere, the typical hybrid shape is assumed for aerodynamic reasons. It's not done so the car "looks" green. Punch a smoother hole through the air and you save fuel. I personally like fastbacks and hatchbacks, so the "goofy" look works for me. Hell, I even find Honda Fits charming.

        If the Fusion Hybrid is out of your price range, don't even bother looking at a Volt.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The "goofy" styling is one primary reason they sell: people want other people to know they are trying to be green. That's why the Prius outsells every other hybrid, probably combined. And why hybrids from the Accord to the Civic to the Escape have largely failed to catch on.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Good. The General did something right. And all the naysayers can bitch all they want.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This article is a joke. If you drove it 40.00000000000000000000001 miles you could report an astronomical "MPG" number. This number is useless without relevant information about how far it went on charge and what mileage it achieved in charge sustaining mode.
        • 4 Years Ago
        But they don't tell you how many times it was charged. So it is an utterly ridiculous puff piece.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I would suggest some of you read the source material linked in this blog post before you comment. Otherwise, you are going to look like an idiot.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ NOPR I agree... it's tough to completely accept those numbers without all the facts. But come on... even if it was only for 10 miles, the car still got 100+ MPGs, that impressive no matter what... the only way I can get my Volvo to read out 99.9 MPGs is if I'm coasting down a hill on the highway in neutral going 70 mph.

        And they did also state that they ran the battery dry, meaning they went at least 50 miles (since that's at least the range they advertise).

        So, no need to hate on the Volt, it's a huge step in the right direction, not only for GM, but the auto industry in general.

        • 4 Years Ago
        I have to agree with NOPR. Anybody that quotes an MPG number on a PHEV that includes the mileage driven under battery-only power is purposely misleading the public. And the fact that they unnecessarily bash the Leaf for an entire paragraph just shows that Motor Trend is in GM's pocket and cannot be trusted to be objective.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Lionsfan.

        You are wrong. I calculated the charges based on what we know about RE MPG (~35MPG).

        They absolutely had to charge it at least 6 times. Not including that bit of information goes way beyond misleading as it has clearly taken in many people here.
        • 4 Years Ago
        What about the use of the Volt's regenerative breaks? Depending on the drive, that might have a lot to do with the range they achieved on the 2+ gallons of gas.

        Now also knowing how hard MT drives vehicles (they ALWAYS get mpg's below EPA estimates and what the typical driver gets in their car) the reported numbers for the Volt are pretty impressive.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @jim

        You buy the car for your situation. if your commute and daily jaunts are a round trip less than 40 miles than the volt is the clear choice. If your commute is over 120 miles on the highway round trip then a diesel benz or vw would probably be ideal. If your commute is over 120 miles and involves 4x8 sheets of plywood then a pickup truck is most likely ideal.

        What better way to measure the volts worth than mpg in real world situations?
        • 4 Years Ago
        Unlike ICE or even hybrids like the Prius, the Volt's gas mileage will vary widely depending on the driver. Yes the owner who has a 40 mile round trip to work and recharges each night, might report that their 'gas' mileage of hundreds of miles per gallon, while the driver with a 120 mile round trip to work via the interstate may report only 70.

        "Gas mileage" for vehicles such as the Volt is a meaningless measure.
        • 4 Years Ago
        In normal, everyday driving we got 127 miles per gallon (fine, 126.7 mpg). Which is pretty amazing. Broken down, over the course of 299 miles on Los Angeles highways, byways and freeways, the Volt burned 2.36 gallons of gasoline (fine, 2.359 gallons -- we rounded up). Most other cars use up a tank of gas going 299 miles. The Volt, to reiterate, used 2.36 gallons over 299 miles. That's freaking amazing!

        Read more: http://blogs.motortrend.com/6719595/green/127-mpg-this-volt-story-must-be-told/index.html#ixzz12GQgAEkq
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ Lionsfan..

        You have something there.... there were two independent tests out of which you can get a lot of different numbers....

        The first was "Normal" daily driving - 299 miles @ 127 MPG

        The second was the 127 mile "rough use" test, in which they used 1.635 gallons of fuel to average 74.6 MPG. Out of that 127 miles, 36.3 was electric only (can be read as from a wall socket / charging station). The remaining 90.7 miles was what used the 1.635 gallons at the rate of 55.5 MPG.

        I suspect depending on who is testing and what their agenda is, this is roughly the range of numbers that we are going to see -> between 55 and 127 MPG.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I have to agree with NOPR. Anybody that quotes an MPG number on a PHEV that includes the mileage driven under battery-only power is purposely misleading the public. And the fact that they unnecessarily bash the Leaf for an entire paragraph just shows that Motor Trend is in GM's pocket and cannot be trusted to be objective.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Do people really need to know all those detailed figures and estimates for 'typical' usage that probably wouldn't apply in their particular usage?

        -or-

        Do they just need a screen on the Volt display that shows an overall lifetime MPG for their particular usage of the vehicle? (or even an overall cost per mile if an average electricity cost is entered into the system)
      • 4 Years Ago
      This will be remembered as the definitive Volt article. No nonsense, just using the Volt the way it's meant to be used, and getting good results. It doesn't take a genious, yet most auto journalists seem to completely misunderstand the point of the Volt. Jonny Lieberman deserves a cookie.
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