The 2012 Chevrolet Volt (Autoblog).
In order for the Chevy Volt to really be a success, the car needs to be affordable for the masses.

But for now, the car is mostly the province of the wealthy. General Motors, which makes the Volt, said Monday that the average income of Volt buyers is a whopping $175,000 a year. That rarefied space is usually reserved for buyers of German luxury cars.

"The Volt appeals to an affluent, progressive demographic," says Bill Visnic, senior editor for "It's rare. It's hard to get one. ... It's the same reason that people buy the really rare exotic cars: Because other people can't have one."

GM hopes that the battery technology offered in the Chevy Volt catches on with the public so much that it can scale up production, making hundreds of thousands and driving down the cost of the expensive lithium-ion batteries. The batteries drive the Volt to be a $39,145 to $42,085 car before a $7,500 tax credit, so lower battery costs would make the car a bit more affordable.

That the Volt is attracting the fat-wallet brigade is not all together surprising. A lot of wealthy car owners have opted to buy the Toyota Prius because of its high fuel economy -- 50 mpg in combined highway and city driving. The Prius has become a badge of environmental honor for suburban families, singles and celebrities such as Larry David, Jodi Foster and Brad Pitt.

Rob Peterson, spokesman for GM, says about 20% of people who buy a Volt trade in a luxury car, and another 20% trade in a Prius. The people purchasing Volts now are early adopters, he says, who are comfortable taking risks.

"They tend to have a higher income level as well," he says. "It's more of a lifestyle of taking risks and trying to be first that got them into that upper echelon in the first place."

What makes the Volt special?

It is an extended range electric vehicle. The four seat hatchback can travel up to about 37 miles on an electric charge. At that point, a gas powered motor kicks in and powers the battery to keep the car moving. In theory, if one drives less than 40 miles per day, the car would consume almost no gas on a daily basis, while instead drawing power from the electric grid. If owners are smart, they charge up overnight when electric rates are cheapest.

When running on gas, the car gets about 37 mpg combined.

The idea of an "extended range electric vehicle" is brand new to the consumer as the Volt went on sale less than a year ago. Toyota is in process of launching an plug-in extended range Prius that will go up to about five or six miles on pure electric. Nissan has an electric vehicle, the Leaf, out now for less than a year.

The Volt is surrounded by much controversy. GM has sold 4,495 Volts to retail customers this year, selling a few hundred per month in just 6 markets. It will build 10,000 by the end of 2011, with thousands of those earmarked to act as dealer demonstration vehicles as the distribution rolls out. GM says it has gradually increased production of the car, while planning a more robust production plan of 60,000 a year in 2012. It has also said a Cadillac Extended-Range EV is in the works.

Why is it controversial?

Many pundits object to the $7,500 tax credit needed to make the car somewhat affordable and competitively priced. Typical is Mark Modica, an associate fellow of the National Legal and Policy Center who wrote a screed against the Volt last month calling the car a "fiasco."

Critics like Modica, shock-jock Rush Limbaugh and conservative writer George Will, for example, have complained about the Volt, calling for the government to stop subsidizing development of such vehicles and allowing them to sink or swim with the public without tax-payer subsidy.

Engineering change

But that position belies the idea that the government has a role in trying to engineer changes in citizen behavior. Conservatives, of course, don't believe that is the province of government.

Through laws and taxation, though, the government has made it clear that it is trying to deter smoking in the workplace and public places such as bars and restaurants. By the same token, the government is vested in trying to establish a marketplace for electric and extended range vehicles by pushing up Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, making low-interest loans to automakers to develop electric vehicles and tax incentives to consumers to buy them since the batteries drive the cost up. The end game is to decrease reliance on fossil fuels to power cars and trucks, and create cleaner burning vehicles.

Some of the opposition to electric vehicles stems from an analysis of the cleanliness of our electric power, which is generated mostly from coal in the U.S. But critics who charge we are all wasting time and money forget that if a society opts for perfect conditions across all energy sectors and costs, nothing will get done. Related industries must move in parallel, if at different speeds, courses of progress. As more electric vehicles circulate, more charging stations will proliferate. As the number of EV proliferates, there should be even more pressure on utilities to adopt cleaner technologies to create power.

There is a cottage industry dedicated to opposing, and even ridiculing, electric vehicles, hybrids and natural gas vehicles. In a politically charged environment where "green" vehicles are often identified with liberal "tree-huggers" and conservatives are attacking government spending of all kinds, the Volt and other EVs are easy targets.

View Photo Gallery: Chevrolet Volt

How does the Volt drive?

The driving experience of the Volt has been lauded by numerous media outlets, including AOL Autos and Translogic. The car also won 2011 North American Car of the Year, an award voted on by fifty U.S., Canadian and Mexican journalists.

The Volt has the highest customer satisfaction of any GM vehicle in the last year. Buyers are early adopters of new technology who are enthusiastic about being part of a movement of change.

AOL Auto Editor-in-Chief David Kiley recently commented on the website's Facebook page that he was able to do a 90 mile commute to his office in a Volt while traveling on gas for only 20 miles of the journey, recharging during the day. Some are buying a Volt as a second car for their families so that multiple drivers can choose the Volt on a given day to optimize the electric range of the car. The gas motor in the car eliminates so-called range anxiety that comes with driving pure electric cars (What if I run out of juice and can't recharge?).

Compare Volt to ???

According to GM, 20% of Volt buyers are owners of luxury cars, with another 20% coming out of Toyota Prius.

"The Volt has comparative drive train dynamic to some luxury vehicles," says Volt communications director Rob Peterson.

Some reviewers compare the car, after tax credits, to a loaded Chevy Cruze, which costs about $10,000 less than the Volt after tax credits.

But that may be a false comparison. The technology and driving experience could well be compared with a Volvo C30, the loaded version of which is about $32,000 or very close to the Volt after rebate. The same goes for the Audi A3.

Compare a Chevy to a German lux brand? BMW of North America President Jim O'Donnell last August told AOL Autos, "We are very impressed with the Volt ... it's surprising that they didn't make it a Cadillac instead of a Chevy."

No wonder the wealthy are buying them.

Contributing: Ross Kenneth Urken, AOL Autos associated editor

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sick of people calling it Governmental Motors. Do any of you morons realize that the Japanese government give subsidies to their automakers or are all of you just stupid?
      • 3 Years Ago
      I like my CTS CAD. Buy a Volt are you kidding me
        • 3 Years Ago
        I know two CTS owners who traded up to a Volt this week, so no, not kidding you.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Affluent,progressive demographic says it all.This won't even make on the elctric motor so they can get to the airport to go somewhere on thier fuel guzzling private jets.If it is so good and the rich want one why are the taxpayers having to subsidize the affluent to the tune of 7500 bucks?
      • 3 Years Ago
      So Obama bailed out GM so they could make green cars for the rich. Do you know how stupid that sounds? And if it's true, then the taxpayers are the stupid ones.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I heard they sold 750, far from their 10,000 wish list. Electric cars still create pollution and are expensive to charge....I think this article is just another government means of advertising. Green solar companies taking our taxmoney thanks to Obama and filing bankrupt? Creepy stuff happening. In order for solar panels to be cost effective they need to be at 1.00/watt, far from the 7.50-9.50/watt we're being charged. Not to mention if you really want to go off the grid, you'll be paying 4x that amount for the energy storage batteries.
      • 3 Years Ago
      As someone whose family has been driving GM since before WWII, I say bravo to GM. As a car guy, I'm keeping my Malibu LTZ with the 3.6L DOHC V-6. I like my 0-60 time (6.6) and the throaty exhaust.
      • 3 Years Ago
      NO ONE would like to see the END of the "INTERNAL COMBUSTION" engine & OUR DEPENDENCE on foreign oil than myself.It is still mystifying that as a country we still drive GASOLINE powered cars this far along in our evolution.As a child,I was convinced that by the year 2000,we would all be driving either ELECTRIC or some form of ATOMIC powered automobiles.That was the way it just seemed to be heading with TECHNOLOGY and SCIENCE moving along so quickly.But some where along the line,we LOST OUR FOCUS.It has become MORE IMPORTANT to create fancy CELL PHONES,and VIDEO GAMES.Our direction as a country in regards to technology is going in the WRONG DIRECTION.If one needs proof of this,simply step into any new car.What is the ONE THING in that car that is REALLY,REALLY advanced???......The interior???,NO,interiors aren't any BETTER or mare advanced than 10-15 years ago....The ENGINE and DRIVETRAIN??....Not really,things there haven't advanced much in the last decade...Let's see,the ELECTRONICS??.....Thats Right!!!!!.....It takes a JUNIOR SCIENTIST,and about 10 days to figure out all of the electronic advances/options on new cars.So nowadays,you can step into a totally DIGATIZED SUPERIORALLY ADVANCED AUTOMOBILE from the likes of the 22nd century,and you still TURN THE KEY AND LISTEN TO A INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE START....HOW QUAINT!!........Or should I say,BACKWARD??
      • 3 Years Ago
      and by the way these should not be called elecdtric powered cars they are mostly powered by COAL......
      • 3 Years Ago
      During my lifetime, I've bought more than 60 GM vehicles, but no more...not as long as the union owns 17% (was "given") and Government owns 55%. I'll continue buying American, but it will be Ford. Yes, Ford does some questionable things, but, at least, they didn't accept government's "bale-out" money!
        • 3 Years Ago
        The Volt is not for you, Don. At one car a year, if you started buying cars at age 16, you are 76 years old and your VCR (no streaming movies for you) is blinking 12. Stay away from the Volt. It's aimed at a younger demographic. Yes, let's not buy a union built car, lets buy a Ford instead. Oops.
        • 3 Years Ago
        That is exactly what I think.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Sorry, GM paid back the government, and tax payers almost a year ago in FULL, including interest. It is profitable now. WE DID NOT "BAIL" THEM OUT, only gave them a line of credit to restructure. Stop listening to idiot high school dropouts like Rush who know nothing.
          • 3 Years Ago
          then why does the government own part of garbage motors if it was all paid back?????? the union sucks as much as the volt hmm or more
          • 3 Years Ago
          who is rush??? he is a great man ! so go stroke it
          • 3 Years Ago
          Sorry stroker, but GM did not pay it back. Just more smoke and mirrors.
      • 3 Years Ago
      It is very nice the poor people of America can still afford a cheap plain gasoline car that gets 40 miles per gallon. Too bad it is made in a foreign country where the government does not subsidize the auto industry.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Which country is that that?
      • 3 Years Ago
      Hello everyone, I posted a comment about the volt yesterday and got a pretty good little rise out of tina. I work for one of those evil oil companies and worked heavy oilfield when I was younger. Here are some facts for volt owners. You will still have to do oil changes, filter included, replace fuel filters, replace air filters, change transmission fluid no matter what GM says ( they have in print that they consider 150,000 miles a vehicles life ) and the older the vehicle gets the less driving time you will have in the electric mode, and the cost of a new battery pack will probably be half of the depreciated value of the car. No one knows how this car will hold up over a period of years and after the warrenty is gone I would think that the volt might be a little hard to sell on the used car market. Let us all keep in touch with Tina and if she can see through the forest to see the trees on the other side then she will tell us how much money she is saving driving her Chevrolet Volt. Hang in there tina and keep us posted. Thanks LT Gravitt.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Unlike many Volt-bashers, those who buy and own a Volt have done the research and understand it has a gasoline powered electric generator that will need servicing at some point. But given a duty cycle that sees it used 90% LESS than a non-electric car engine, those maintenance items will be spread out further and be required less frequently. In other words, in the 14,400 miles I drive in one year, the gas-powered generator will have been used for 1,440 miles. In 10 years. the engine will have 14,400 miles on it. That's not much wear and tear on a 1.4L gas engine. Your understanding of how the battery is designed to degrade gracefully over the course of a decade or two is equally flawed. The Volt has a 16 kWh battery but only uses 10 kWh of that capacity. The extra capacity means the battery is never being fully discharged (that means it will have a longer life). When the battery does degrade, those extra 6 kWh will be used to make up for the degradation (that means you wont know the difference). In addition, the Volt's battery pack is surrounded by a sophisticated thermal management system that keeps the battery within an ideal temperature range at all times, even when parked. GM put the battery packs through the equivalent of 150,000 real-world miles and ten years of use. The durability of the battery pack was tested for a broad range of extreme ambient conditions including a shaker table to simulate potholes and a thermal chamber, to simulate temperatures varying from 116 °F (47 °C), typical of the Southwest deserts, to −40 °F (−40 °C) typical of the Alaska tundra. The battery is a lot tougher than most understand. The rest of your post in pure conjecture, they are your guess.
      • 3 Years Ago
      If you think 37 miles on a charge is good check out, they make all other electric cars look like toys... Tesla has style, performance and O yea 300 mile to a charge in 7 passenger sedan.. and then a 0-60 in 3.7 sec Roadster that does 245 miles per charge.. Can't afford it but the technology is out there to get this done, and GM is happy with 37 mile and a Gas engine..
        • 3 Years Ago
        I get 50 miles on my Volt's battery before the electric generator takes over. 80% of US drivers commute 40 miles or less per day. With a Volt, they can drive on cheap electricity and never need gas. If a longer trip is needed, the gas-powered electric generator kicks in. $31,500 for a Volt. $101,500 (after tax credit) for a Tesla roadster. The Volt can be charged from a standard household outlet. The Tesla? Not so much. So GM is providing a car that fits the daily needs of 80% of daily commuters. My commute is longer and I still get 256 MPG.
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