The national conversation around the Chevy Volt is depressing, and reminds me not a little of the discussion that takes place around whether the U.S. should or should't have national healthcare, and whether we should try and limit the crap food that is readily available to kids in schools. The level of discussion and honest debate is generally pathetic.
The Chevrolet Volt is a technological marvel. Is it the prettiest car around? That is subjective. I like it just fine. Is it a good value? Well, now it is. Discounted from roughly $40,000 to $30,000, and benefitting from the Federal $7,500 tax credit, the price of the car, then, boils down roughly at $22,500, about as much as a loaded Chevy Cruze.
If you go to the dealership, though, we are told it is not as easy as just seeing a $22,500 sticker. The specific way the rebate is being applied is low-interest financing if you are buying, and subsidized leases, leading to lease agreements requiring a monthly payment as low as $250 with very little money down. In August, some dealers had monthly payments down to $199.
I was a fan of the Volt before the rebate. At this price, you are just plain nuts and obstinate not to have it on your shopping list if you what you want is compact sedan that gets great gas mileage.
We have written many times about what the Volt is and why car buyers should be considering it at all. But we'll do it again here:
Will a Volt run out of power in a dark street?
It is an extended range electric vehicle that runs on a battery, but has a built in safety net to keep you from running out of battery juice. There is a gas-powered motor on board that continues to power the engine when the battery is depleted. Unless you run out of gas, you will not run out of power. I repeat: Unless you run out of gas, you will not run out of power. Got it?
Why would you want such a vehicle?
The Volt will take you about 35 spritely miles (the car has plenty of get up and go) on a battery charge. If you are smart, you will have charged the battery overnight in your garage from a 220-volt charger you will have installed when electricity costs are cheapest. If your daily commute is 35 miles or less, you will have used no gasoline. How do I get home? If you can't locate a charger at your destination (i.e. company garage or parking lot), drive home on the gas. You have at least cut your gasoline consumption in half. But try to find a charger at work or at a nearby lot, or ask your company to install a few.
Why haven't the Volts been selling at the approximately $32,500 (after-tax-credit) price?
Many reviewers and critics of electric vehicles, even ones like the Volt that can also be powered by gasoline, compare it to a Chevy Cruze that costs about $24,000 loaded and contend the Volt is a bad value. I think that argument is loopy, as I would more appropriately compare the Volt to cars like Volvo C30 and Audi A3, which sell for between $30,000 and $34,000.
Also, the idea of a car that can run on all-battery power, and also on gasoline, and needs to be plugged in to recharge, is apparently too challenging for a lot of consumers, according to some critics. Really? Don't these same consumers recharge their phones and laptops every chance they get? I realize Jay Leno has no trouble finding people on the street who can't name the vice president (Joe Biden) or which side won the American Civil War. But if we are a people who can't sort out the idea of plugging a car into an electrical outlet, then let's just close up shop now as a civilization.
Why did they cost so much in the first place?
The Lithium-Ion batteries that power the Volt are very costly. If we bought more cars that were powered by the batteries, the price would go down. Anyone remember when the first calculators hit the store and cost around $90.00? Same principle.
Why are battery-powered cars good for us anyway?
There is no shortage of scientists and papers that talk about "whole cycle" benefits of electric cars and the lack thereof. Their argument against is that electricity comes largely from coal-fired power plants, so we aren't really doing much of anything to reduce carbon emissions.
Okay, but that's not the only reason to buy extended-range electric vehicles and electrics. The best reasons to jump on the EV and Extended EV vehicle wagon is to sell enough to give the oil industry competition from the utility companies, and to draw more on our own natural resources (natural gas, coal and nuclear-powered power plants). If the U.S. can get by on home-grown energy sources, and don't need oil from the Middle East, the incentive to fight expensive wars in the Middle East goes exponentially down.
Are we wasting our money?
The Congressional Budget office just said that the government will spend about $7.5 billion promoting electric vehicles by 2017, and that their sale will not reduce our dependence on oil. The reason: The selling of electric and extended-range electric cars, with very high fuel economy, gives the automakers credits to be able to sell more trucks and SUVs that don't get such good fuel economy. That is a failure of the energy policy drafted buy the Bush White House and enacted by the Obama White House, not a failure of the technology.
We have driven the Volt. In addition to it being a nifty car to drive, there is an exhilaration about participating early in a transformative technology. Getting to the office or to a parking public parking garage and plugging in is a cool way to live with your vehicle. Not worrying about running out of power is even better.
The numbers? At approximately $22,500, the Volt is now not only fully competitive on price with other cars, it is a bargain. If you regularly drive 70 miles a day or less, you can probably recharge your battery at a maximum cost of the equivalent of less than $2 a gallon and less than $1 in some markets when the cost conversions are done based on today's price of electricity and gas.
Because the re-charging infrastructure of chargers is still being built out, there are lots of opportunities for owners of rechargeable vehicles to take advantage of free out-of-home electricity. Cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, MI and Atlanta have free recharging parking. Universities such as University of Michigan, Stanford and LSU have recharging parking spaces, some of them at no cost. Companies including SAP, Netflix, Advanced Micro Devices and Apple have recharging spaces. Being an early adopter of a rechargeable vehicle, especially at these prices, can be a real weekly windfall for owners while it lasts.
There is a persistent theory that not enough American buyers will accept rechargeable vehicles at any price. As prices come down, and automakers sweeten deals with extra rebates to get the ball rolling, and the price of gasoline continues to edge up with forecasts of gasoline above $4.00 per gallon being a "new normal," getting over whatever apprehensions or prejudices people have just makes good dollars and sense for car owners who are determined to get off gasoline.
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