2011 Chevrolet Volt Long Term Road Test

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2011 Chevy Volt: I'm Number 1!

January 24, 2012

Chevy Volt Low Fuel.jpg

The Volt's DTE gauge is saying 47 miles. I know I'm definitely not traveling 47 miles, although I'll be in the ballpark. Still, I decide to go for it. Eventually, the low fuel warning comes on around 38 miles to go, but the DTE countdown continues. Then in GM tradition, the countdown stops with about 25 miles left leaving me with the above LOW FUEL warning. I do the math and I should still make it, though as I discover, you can still feel range anxiety in the Volt -- it's just the old-fashioned kind.

As the above photo is not of the Volt parked on the side of the Ronald Reagan Freeway, you can guess that I did indeed make it. Actually, I could've made it a lot further as it turns out. I pumped 8.249 gallons of premium into the Volt's 9.3-gallon tank, which is still the most gas anyone has every pumped into the Volt. So there, I'm number 1!

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 14,545 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Weekend Ramblings

January 18, 2012

Volt volting.jpg

I had the Volt last weekend, and tried to treat it the way a Volt owner would. Meaning, plugging it in to re-charge in my garage after even just short trips. The goal here is to remain on battery power as much as possible without tapping into the gasoline reserves.

Since I live 65 miles from work, I obviously ran it out of juice on the way home as well as when I drove back to the office after the weekend was over. I also took it to go hiking on the San Juan Trail off the Ortega Highway (74), about a 40-minute drive each way, so I clearly ran out of battery power that day too.

But that was about it. I plugged it in six times over the weekend, charging it even if the battery wasn't empty. It charges quickly.

In general, the Volt is easy to live with, and it's kinda fun that it's such a rarity out on the road (although I did see one other Volter while I was out electrifying around--she ignored me). People are definitely intrigued by it. Acceleration, something I care about, is adequate from a stop.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Changing Battery Performance Over Time

January 13, 2012

2011_Volt_1600_battery_charge_lead.jpg

I found a few interesting tidbits while looking over our 2011 Chevrolet Volt's charging records.

On average, it took 12.2 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to fully charge the battery using the 240-volt charger in our Santa Monica parking garage. That figure rose to 13.0 kWh when using the 120V home charge cord that comes in the Volt's trunk.

Why? Charging losses. Any laptop user can tell you that a certain amount of charging energy is wasted as heat. Charging losses are a fact of life with plug-in hybrid and EV recharging to the tune of about 10 to 20 percent. It seems the Volt's 120-volt charge cord resides closer to the high end of that range.

On-board vehicle systems continuously monitor the proceedings, throttling the charge rate and battery cooling systems throughout. Because 120V charges take about twice as long, these systems operate for far longer periods (albiet somewhat less energetically, we assume). Also, the Volt's 120V charge cord is notably skinnier and may impart more resistance.

Whatever the reason, the difference amounts to 6.6 percent more electricity purchased for a given recharge, which works out to $25 if we apply this offset to all the kilowatt-hours our Volt consumed this past year.

That's not nearly enough to cover the cost and hassle of installing a fancy-pants 240V home charger. The only reason to buy one of those is reduced charge time. For the Volt, at least, that wasn't really an issue for us.

But wait, there's more...

Our 240V charger dispensed an average of 12.3 kWh to fill our Volt in the first two months we had it, but that fell to 11.9 kWh in the last two months -- a drop of 3.5 percent.

Huh? Is our Volt's battery losing it? Is this a sign of battery degradation?

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: December (And One Year) Fuel Economy Update

January 10, 2012

2011_volt_1600_chargecord_damp.jpg

December represents our twelfth month with the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and that makes this update a one year summary of our Volt's thirst and, well, whatever Bender calls it when he needs a jolt.

In the past 12 months our Volt has amassed just over 13,000 miles. That number could have been higher if we had encouraged more long road trips, but the number of long trips 20 people take in a year is far more than a single owner would take, and that would have skewed the results too far in the gasoline direction, which is most definitely not the Volt's sweet spot.

As it was our Volt was already being driven by staffers who live too far away to make best use of the EV part of its split personality (raises hand). Combine that with the handful of long trips it did make and you get our observed Utility Factor of just 43 percent. The Society of Automotive engineers reckons a plug-in hybrid with 35 miles of rated range should run on electricity 58 percent of the time in the hands of a typical consumer. We reckon they're right.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Best

Worst

Average

EPA

Electricity (kWh/100 mi)

22.9

58.4

34.2

36

Electric Range (miles)

54.6

23.5

37.3

35

Gasoline (mpg)

42.6

21.8

34.3

37

Our average electric range (from fully charged to fully discharged) was 37.3 miles, and that was derived from 96 data points. Twice that many partial discharges can't be counted because the car was plugged in again before it ran out of juice -- which we encouraged because that's what you'd do if you were trying to run on electrons as much as possible.

In perfect semi-traffic conditions I managed to smash through the 50-mile barrier twice -- 54.6 and 54.3 miles on consecutive charges -- though no one else did. In my case, perfect conditions meant nearly-clogged freeway traffic that rolled steadily at 35-50 mph without any stopping or sudden speed changes.

We also beat the EPA's estimate for average electricity consumption. Our average was 34.2 kilowatt-hours used every 100 miles instead of the rated 36 kWh/100 miles.

On the other hand, gasoline fuel consumption was worse than the EPA combined rating, 34.3 mpg actual versus 37 mpg rated. Before you say we didn't drive enough long-distance highway miles, please remember that hybrids do better in the city, where speeds are lower, regenerative braking is in effect and electric motors are more efficient. Note that our longest e-range occured at sub-freeway speeds. At regular freeway speeds the Volt's engine is doing two things at once, generating electricity on the one hand while assiting with direct mechanical propulsion with the other, which means it's working that much harder.

What all this points to is an EPA gasoline consumption rating method that is equally optimistic when this plug-in is burning gasoline as it is when certain brands of traditional gasoline-powered cars are on the dyno rollers. Maybe the EPA and NHTSA should take another look at their methodology. It's hard to see how we would beat electricity by 5 percent and miss gasoline by 8 percent, but we did.

On the other hand, human nature could explain it. Think of the conversation in your head going like this: "I'm out of juice and am now burning gasoline. I have no more range to maximize. The videogame is over. I need no longer drive like Ed Begly Jr. Time to make up for lost time."

Comparing notes with others in the office, the Ed Begley Jr. effect seems to be a real thing.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Sept

Oct/Nov

Dec

Overall

Utility Factor (% EV miles)

49%

53%

51%

43%

Apparent MPG (ignore electricity)

71.9

70.8

73.3

59.8

Cost per mile (US average prices)

7.1¢

7.4¢

7.2¢

8.1¢

(Cal. average prices)<

8.1¢

8.4¢

8.0¢

8.9¢

Popular hybrids, for reference

Sept

Oct/Nov

Dec

Overall

2011 Toyota Prius (US average prices)

6.8¢

6.6¢

6.7¢

7.1¢

(Cal. avg prices)<

7.6¢

7.3¢

7.4¢

7.6¢

2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (US avg prices)

8.7¢

8.4¢

8.7¢

9.1¢

(Cal. avg prices)<

9.8¢

9.3¢

9.5¢

9.8¢

I found a flaw in my October/November data, in which I left some electricity consumption out of the cost calculations. The gray boxed have been revised upwards, which, frankly, makes them make more sense.

In the end, the cost to operate our 2011 Chevrolet Volt in National Average terms worked out to 8.1 cents per mile. As it happens, a Toyota Prius would have cost a penny less per mile and a Ford Fusion a penny more, assuming both spent the year running at EPA combined. Any hybrid owner will tell you this is unlikely, indeed.

And that's at a yearlong Utility Factor of 43 percent. One column to the left, where December's average UF was 51 percent, the cost per mile was 7.2 cents. And if you can achieve the SAE's predicted 58 percent UF, the cost per mile drops into the 6-point-something cent range. And it'd be far less than that if you lived in Washington State, where they practically pay you to take electricity off their hands.

Bottom line: the cost to operate the Volt (and whether it makes economic sense to you or not) is entirely dependent on how far you drive every day between plug-ins, how much of that is wide-open freeway and what you pay for electricity.

Furthermore, the Volt's medium sized battery takes about 12 kWh to fill from empty on any given day, which is totally doable overnight (or during a standard 8-hours-plus-lunch workday)on standard 120V electricity from a regular outlet. Pure electric cars with larger batteries can't say that; they need the 240V charger.

Of course, you first have to swallow the price of the thing. Factor that in and the stronger gasoline hybrids may come out cheaper in the long run.

Yeah, there's math involved.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Charging At Home

December 19, 2011

chevy_volt_athome_1600.jpg

In warm weather I can drive the Chevy Volt home and back to the office without recharging. My roundtrip commute is just under 40 miles. But now that the weather is colder, a full charge on the Volt only allows us about 35 miles of electric driving before switching over to the gasoline engine. I'm sure most of you would consider our California weather to be cool rather than cold. So, if any of you have a Volt in a really cold climate, I'd love to hear about your electric range experiences.

After driving home Friday night, I still had about 14 miles of estimated range left. A few errands on Saturday left me with 1 mile left. That's when I plugged in and left it to charge overnight. It sure is nice to be able to "refuel" your car at home instead of going to a gas station -- if you've got the time.

The cord from the charging unit to the car is very long, so you don't have to worry about it not reaching your car. But the cord from the unit to the actual plug is very short. You need to have something for the heavy unit to rest on while you charge so it's not dangling in the air. The way my garage is set up I had no problem. I usually park in the driveway though, and leave our other car in the garage. So, this wouldn't work for people who don't have secure parking. I have outdoor electrical sockets but there are too many curious critters wandering around my neighborhood at night, so I wouldn't want to leave it plugged outdoors while I was asleep. Am I being too paranoid? The charging unit gets warm and I can imagine a skunk or raccoon snuggled up to it for warmth. In the words of Kurt Cobain, "just because you're paranoid doesn’t mean they're not after you." The skunks particularly like my house ;)

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor @ 13,356 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: One Lap of Orange County

December 13, 2011

2011_Volt_1600_charge_driveway_SA.jpg

Just over a week ago I drove the 2012 Fisker Karma around our semi-official One Lap of Orange County city fuel economy course. Aside from our 2011 Chevrolet Volt, the Fisker is the only other plug-in hybrid on the market. But our Chevrolet Volt has never taken a trip around the OLOC circuit.

Until now.

One Lap of OC (OLOC) is a 100% city loop that's 105.5 miles in length. There are dozens of siganls (I'll count someday), and most of the roads are of the main arterial variety. Speed limits range from 25 to 45 mph, though a 3-mile section of Pacific Coast Highway between the signals at Seal Beach and Huntington Beach is posted at 60 mph. There are exactly zero freeway miles.

We adhere to all speed limits except the one on that 3-mile stretch of PCH, where we go 55 mph instead of the posted 60 mph. Throughout we accelerate modestly at a pace that falls somewhere between old lady and late-for-work commuter, and we look ahead and anticipate instead of tailgate.

In other words, we're not hypermiling, but we are driving in a way that would please our parents or any for-hire passengers with weak stomachs we might be carrying. Hybrids tend to do quite well on this loop, though by nature it is too long for the likes of the all-electric Nissan Leaf (although in the interest of science we should try).

2011 Chevrolet Volt

EPA

Rating

Edmunds

LT Test

Difference

Electric Range (miles)

35

37.6

7% better

Electric Use (kWh/100)

36

34.1

5% better

Gasoline Use (mpg)

37

34.2

8% worse

The above chart shows how our 2011 Chevrolet Volt has fared so far in relation to its EPA ratings after 12,000 miles of randomized driving.

At first glance, the EPA's electricity ratings come across as too harsh. We understand the cautious approach for full EVs like the Nissan Leaf -- you don't want to over-promise if a roadside stranding (or a bad purchase decision) is a possible outcome.

But this is a plug-in hybrid, so running it out of juice has no ill consequences. In fact, it's expected, a regular occurence. The EPA can afford to loosen up and be more realistic when it comes to the EV mode ratings of plug-in hybrids, I think.

Meanwhile, the Volt's gasoline rating seems too optimistic, even here when the same driving style continues through the transition from battery power to engine-generated electricity. Perhaps we're seeing the effects of decades of learning how to best calibrate a gasoline engine and transmission to do well on a standardized set of dyno-based gasoline test patterns. Perhaps some that EV-mode pessimism needs to be applied to gasoline hybrid operation modes.

Now let's look at how the OLOC city route compares to EPA ratings.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

EPA

Rating

OLOC

Observed

Difference

Electric Range (miles)

35

44.1

26% better

Electric Use (kWh/100)

36

28.2

22% better

Gasoline Use (mpg)

37

37.6

1% better

Since the regenerative braking function recovers most (but not all) of what is lost at the signals and stop signs, and the start-stop function kills the engine at rest (when it's being used, that is), overall performance can reap the benefit of the loop's low average speed. The 105.5 mile loop takes about 4 hours to complete, which means we're averaging just over 25 mph including all the zero mph rest time at signals.

As such, all three performance metrics improve, especially electricity consumption and e-range.

Our modestly driven Chevrolet Volt did significantly better than the EPA's EV-mode predictions when driven in the medium-density suburban city environmnet of Orange County. It fared better than it usually does in the denser traffic of the West Side, better than it does on wide open freeways. A driving pattern like our OLOC course is quite kind to the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: October and November Fuel Economy Update

December 07, 2011

2011_Volt_1600_plug_coulomb_99.jpg

This month is two months worth of 2011 Chevrolet Volt summary because, well, I had a logbook problem to sort out and I simply couldn't disentangle October from November.

No matter.

During this period we made an effort to hand the Volt over to folks who live closer to work in order to increase the percentage of electrically-driven miles (aka the Utility Factor) up closer to where it should be. A plug-in hybrid with 35 miles of electric range should theoretically spend 58% of the time running on battery power in the hands of a typical buyer.

Many of our editors live too far away to make best use of the Volt in terms of its UF, so we've been struggling to keep the electricity/gasoline ratio real.

That said, we have a very solid grasp of the Volt's consumption of each fuel on its own. Here then is the summary of the Volt's performance so far over 11,989 miles of data with October and November included.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Best

Worst

Average

EPA

Electricity (kWh/100 mi)

20.6

58.4

34.1

36

Electric Range (miles)

54.6

23.5

37.6

35

Gasoline (mpg)

42.6

21.8

34.2

37

As usual we're doing better than the EPA's estimates in terms of electricity consumption and range. And on gasoline our Volt is doing about 10% worse than its EPA rating.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Aug

Sept

Oct/Nov

Overall

Utility Factor (% EV miles)

35%

49%

53%

42%

Apparent MPG (ignore electricity)

56.3

71.9

70.8

63.8

Cost per mile (US average prices)

8.1¢

7.1¢

5.8¢

8.0¢

(Cal. average prices)<

8.6¢

8.1¢

6.4¢

8.8¢

As you can see we brought our Utility Factor up to 53% this time, and lead directly to lower operating costs. Increased use of electricity = less money per mile.

This is true despite slighty a higher electricity consumption rate this time. Last month we used 34.1 kWh for every hundred miles of electric operation. This time we used 35.8 kWh per hundred miles. Our average mpg on gasoline dropped from 36.9 to 33.0 mpg, too, which is why Apparent MPG went down a tick despite an increase in the percentage of electric miles.

Why? Our effort to increase the electric miles put the cars into the hands of editors that live close to work. Anyone who knows West LA knows that means more off-freeway traffic of the impacted nature. This city is not the city of city mpg fame. It's far worse. The freeways are a picnic in comparison.

Still, on an overall cost basis, the increased Utility Factor more than made up for the increase in per-mile electricity consumption because electricity is that much cheaper than gasoline.

Popular hybrids, for reference

Aug

Sept

Oct/Nov

Overall

2011 Toyota Prius (US average prices)

7.2¢

6.8¢

6.6¢

7.2¢

(Cal. avg prices)<

7.5¢

7.6¢

7.3¢

7.7¢

2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (US avg prices)

9.2¢

8.7¢

8.4¢

9.2¢

(Cal. avg prices)<

9.6¢

9.8¢

9.3¢

9.9¢

Note also that the Volt's per-mile cost dipped below that of the all-gasoline Prius (a theoretical Prius, it must be said, that is nailing its EPA prediction) for what may be the first time during this long-term test. It seems it takes a Utility Factor of 50% or higher to get to the crossover point, something that's a piece of cake for a real-world buyer who drives the predicted 58% of his or her total miles on electricity.

To the surprise of no one, the cost-based case for the Chevrolet Volt hinges absolutely on a prospective buyer's ability to drive within the car's electric range as much as possible and at least 50-something percent of the time.

UF is easily the biggest knob in the equations. Here, in a month where gasoline mpg, range and raw electricity consumption all got worse, a higher Utility Factor was able to offset it all and bring our ultimate per-mile costs down anyway.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Charged at Home

December 05, 2011

Volt in Garage.jpg Earlier this year, I wrote about going an entire weekend without having to charge. At the time, I didn't have much of a choice. I had to park in a carport with no electrical sockets nearby. This post didn’t sit well with some of our readers. They said that we weren't using the Volt as a typical owner would. I have a garage now, and this time, I was the typical Volt owner.

This weekend I had dinner with some friends and attended my wife's company holiday brunch, neither of which was close to home. The rest of the weekend I ran errands around my neighborhood. I left the Edmunds' offices with a full charge and then plugged in three times at home. With the battery fully discharged, it takes about 10 hours to get a full charge on 110-volt current. In this sense, I wasn’t the typical Volt owner -- he would likely have his own 240-volt charger, which would cut that time in half. Perhaps I was more like a Volt owner who went to a relative's house and borrowed an outlet to plug in overnight.

I drove a total of 208 miles, 116 of which were on electricity. My utility factor was about 56 percent, well above the 40 percent we've been averaging. At home, the Volt consumed 31.64 kWh. At my rate, which is 15 cents per kWh, it cost about $1.88 for a full charge. The total cost for the weekend of charging was $4.75. Not bad for 116 miles of driving. The instrument panel showed that I had consumed about 2.4 gallons of gas. This translated to about 38 miles per gallon.

The Volt and the Leaf are often compared to one another. Initially, I preferred the Leaf. I figured, if you're going to go the EV route, why not go all the way? But now my opinion has changed. When you want to go somewhere in the Volt, you don’t give it a second thought. You just go. And if you run out of (electric) juice along the way, oh well. You have the gas tank, and you still keep going.

The Leaf, on the other hand, requires more planning that I care to do. Los Angeles County is huge. I have friends and family in all its corners. Some of the round trips I take would either not be possible in a Leaf or would be very stressful due to range anxiety. I'm not saying the Leaf is a bad car, but for my needs, the Volt is the best.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 12,828 miles

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2011 Chevy Volt: Leno is Wrecking Us

November 18, 2011

LenoChevyVolt10000Miles05.jpg

When we get a new long term car early, we like to lead the mileage pack. Remember the GT-R? We hit every mileage milestone first. We needed an oil change before Nissan America had even figured out how to price them. We got the super-expensive 18,000 mile service first. Hit the 20,000 and 25,000 mile markers, too.

With 12,000 miles on our Volt, we knew we weren't leading the pack, but learning that Jay Leno has put 11,000 miles (the press release said 10,000, but one of GM's guys tells us he's now over 11) on his Volt...on electricity alone. He's never even put gas in it. He's got a 41-mile commute that must be the perfect speed, slow but never stopped.

GM is celebrating this achievement by giving owners a special "10,000 mile Electric Mile" badge. Ours will be sold long before we manage that number. (Will update this post when I figure out how many EV miles ours has. In progress.)

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

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2011 Chevy Volt: Where's The Hold Button?

October 26, 2011

Vauxhaul interior.jpg

This is the interior of the Vauxhall Ampera. Besides being slightly different in terms of design (the knobs are far smaller and also in the wrong spots) there's a big functional difference here, the "HOLD" button.

This is a simple and rather brilliant idea by GM to let the operator decide when their car would be most efficient. Hint: It's not always in the first 30 miles of the drive.

Let's say I'm driving our Volt out to visit Dan Edmunds down in Orange county. That's going to involve a lot of fairly fast highway driving and then a bunch of stoplights and signs once I'm off the freeway. EVs don't really like highway speeds; they operate best somewhere right around 30-35 mph.

I know that and you know that but the Volt doesn't care. It gives you electricity first and then you're stuck with the motor the rest of the ride. The Ampera, however, is a little smarter.

Picture it: Meander through LA traffic to the highway in EV mode -- using about 2 miles of range -- then flick the hold button and suck down gas while cruising along at 75 for the next 30 minutes and then put it back into EV mode when dealing with the stop-start of a residential area in a different county.

Now, mountain mode sort of does this, but it puts the internal combustion engine at a higher load than normal to provide more power for motoring up long, steep hills. Not exactly a situation you want to be in all the time.

It's a super handy feature that GM can't bring over soon enough. They can keep those stupid small knobs, though.

262011.jpg

Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Finding the Balance

October 25, 2011

wii_fit_balance_1600.jpg

We've had the Chevy Volt in our long-term fleet for about 10 months and last night was the first time I drove it. I don't have anything against the Volt, I was more leery of Dan Edmunds telling me I filled out the complicated electric/fuel consumption record incorrectly. Turns out it was easier than I thought.

I managed to drive home and back without ever switching over to gasoline. Another couple of blocks would have put me over. So, I guess I'm one of those commuters that Bob Lutz was talking about, who drive fewer than 20 miles each way to work. I travelled 39.6 miles on electricity.

On the instrument panel there is this floating ball thing that shows acceleration and braking. I found myself trying to keep the green ball in the center as much as possible. It actually does stay there quite a bit on its own. It reminded me of the balance game in my Wii Fit (picture above), except the Chevy Volt doesn't yell at me for not using it in 15 days.

chevy_volt_balance_1600.jpg

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor @ 11,641

wii_win.jpg

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: August and September Fuel Economy Update

October 12, 2011

2011_Volt_1600_r34_driveway.jpg

With no Nissan Leaf to kick around, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt fuel consumption tally becomes a bit easier to put together.

Here's a summary of the Volt's gasoline and electricity consumption for the months of August and September.

Consider these random factoids: Since January the Volt has made 39 visits to the gas pump over 6,715 miles and has been plugged in 152 times for another 4,335 miles. Some of those were partial charges, so these numbers can't be used to compute an average range.

But I have the required detail in a huge spreadsheet I'm staring at. Here's what it says about how our Volt has fared since it joined the LT fleet back in January.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Best

Worst

Average

EPA

Electricity (kWh/100 mi)

20.6

58.4

33.8

36

Electric Range (miles)

54.6

23.5

38.4

35

Gasoline (mpg)

42.6

21.8

34.3

37

In EV mode our Volt is using 6% less electricity per hundred miles and travelling an average of 10% farther on a full charge than the EPA leads us to believe. Good stuff.

On the other gasoline-stained hand it's consuming about 8% more premium unleaded than expected when operating in series hybrid mode.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

July

Aug

Sept

Overall

Utility Factor (% EV miles)

26%

35%

49%

40%

Apparent MPG (ignoring electricity)

47.9

56.3

71.9

57.5

Cost per mile (US average prices)

9.3¢

8.1¢

7.1¢

8.3¢

(Cal. average prices)<

9.7¢

8.6¢

8.1¢

9.1¢

The Utility Factor shows an improvement from July, when the Volt ran quite a distance on gasoline to Vegas and back as part of our annual fuel sipper smackdown.

Things improved significantly last month when the Volt spent about half the time in EV mode in the hands of editor Brent Romans. His week with the car was even better than the numbers suggest, as Brent was able to drive the Volt as an EV 95% of the time near his home in Fresno, California.

Turns out that Brent is one of those folks that has the right sort of driving pattern to get the most out of a Volt. But the long drive from his remote office to the Edmunds HQ is the main reason why the Utility Factor average fell to 49% for the month.

A funny thing happened to gas prices in September: they increased in California but fell a bit nationwide. For this reason the Volt's per-mile operating cost in our home state was a full penny higher than the national average; the difference is usually just a half-cent.

Popular hybrids, for reference

July

Aug

Sept

Overall

2011 Toyota Prius (US average prices)

7.4¢

7.2¢

6.8¢

7.2¢

(Cal. avg prices)<

7.6¢

7.5¢

7.6¢

7.7¢

2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (US avg prices)

9.5¢

9.2¢

8.7¢

9.2¢

(Cal. avg prices)<

9.8¢

9.6¢

9.8¢

9.9¢

That same California cost offset shows in the hybrid per-mile costs.

The Volt's net fuel cost still floats somewhere between the Prius and a Fusion Hybrid, but it's clear that someone with a short commute, someone like Brent that could keep the Volt in EV mode most of the time, could achieve an operating cost well below that of the Prius.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

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2011 Chevy Volt: Gas vs Electricity

October 12, 2011

35 and 37 Volt Readout.jpg

Since last Friday, I travelled 72.5 miles in our Chevy Volt. I went 35.5 miles on an electric charge, then 37 miles on 1 gallon of gasoline. My driving environment was a mixture of highway and hybrid-friendly stop-and-go traffic. My driving style was somewhere in between normal and thrifty, though I was definitely trying to maximize electric motivation when in gasoline-burning hybrid mode.

Based on our local Exxon station, it cost me $4.059 to go 37 miles

Based on our electricity bill, it cost me about $1.75 to go 35.5 miles.

Could the gasoline engine be more efficient? Maybe, but if your commute is like mine, it would absolutely be cheaper to run the Volt than any gasoline-powered car since you'd almost always be running on electricity. Once it becomes cheaper to produce the car itself and its various components, I truly believe this is the recipe for future commuter cars.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

P.S. Yes, I realize the screen says 0.99 gal used, but the gallons used read-out in the gauge cluster I was looking at said 1 gal when this photo was taken. I guess it rounds up. Maybe I got 37.1 miles or something, but I'll never know. Oh well.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Driving Style Test

September 30, 2011

Volt_efficiency.JPG For the first week I had our Chevrolet Volt, I drove it as if it had the equivalent of electric gold in its battery pack. I employed pretty much every easy trick I could think of for improved efficiency -- maximum use of the regenerative brakes, no excessive speeding, coasting up hills, predictive approaches to stop lights. Mostly, this is because I wanted to. Chevrolet designed the Volt to be efficient, so I figured I'd return the favor by driving efficiently.

But then I thought: does it really matter? Is my driving style really making a difference? So I devised a test to find out.

Since I'd been taking my daughter to school every day as part of my stay-at-home parent emulation, I had a repeatable route of about 17 miles of city driving. For two days I drove the route with efficiently in mind using the techniques noted above. Then for two more days I drove "normally," which was basically driving like everybody else on the road.

After each trip I recharged the Volt (on the 120V charger) and used our Kill-A-Watt meter to determine the amount of electricity used (in kilowatt hours) for the drive.

Efficient Driving: 29.4 kwh/100 miles average

Normal Driving: 33.9 kwh/100 miles average

(I wasn't driving 100 miles, but I converted the figures so that they're the same style that we've been reporting in the fuel economy updates. Remember that the lower the number, the better)

So the Volt became 13.3 percent more efficient in my limited testing. And driving this way hardly made any difference in terms of when I got to my destination -- there was no cost to me in terms of time. But I will say it does take more mental energy to drive this way. Sometimes it's kind of fun to test yourself, but other times you'll just want to just drive and not think about every little energy savings.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: 120-Volt or 240-Volt Home Charging?

September 23, 2011

volt_charger1.JPG

Leading up to my extended time with our Chevrolet Volt this week, my general assumption was that you had to get a 240-volt home charger if you were to actually own an electric car. I saw it as sort of an accepted accessory you just have to get, like a $30 case when you get a new smart phone.

But so far this past week I've gotten along just fine using the 120-volt charger that comes with the car. So now I'm wondering: is the $2,000 home charger aspect overplayed?

Here's my opinion on a 240-volt home charging station: I don't think very many people are going to need one for a Volt.

volt_charger2.jpg Going with 240V does one main thing: it reduces the amount of charging time, usually by at least 50 percent compared to regular 120-volt household current. However, if you're normally just charging overnight after a day's use -- and with the Volt you can give a full charge from depleted in that time frame -- you don't really gain anything by having 240V. Whether it's 120V or 240V, your car is still fully charged by the time you're ready to take it out the next day.

Also, my coworker Phil Reed pointed out another interesting aspect to me: it's rare that you're charging an electric vehicle from fully depleted anyway. Usually you've only used a certain percentage of electric power, and either you've come home or perhaps arrived at a public location or office that you can charge (a rare situation, admittedly). But either way, it's not like you're always going to need a full 10-hour (120V) or four-hour (240V) charge time.

Plus, installing a 240-volt home charger can be expensive. The basic SPX charger GM recommends for the Volt is $490. Installation can be another $300 to $1,900. Of course, there might be rebates or incentives. But it's still not chump change.

Now, having said all this, I'm going to seemingly contradict myself and say that I'd still buy a 240V home charger if I owned a Volt. But there's a difference between needing one and wanting one.

There are two main reasons. One would be extra piece of mind -- I'd just like knowing that if I needed a quick charge ("quick" being relative for an electric vehicle) for some reason, I'd have 240V at my house. And the other is efficiency. I've noticed that my at-home charges have used more kilowatt hours than they typically do at our office location. Dan Edmunds speculated on the reasons why in a previous post, but basically using a 240V charger is more efficient.

Finally, if I did own a Volt, it's not because I'm trying to save money. I've already bought a $40,000 car, and its raison d'etre is electric drive. Dropping another $1,500 or whatever for a 240V charger probably wouldn't seem like a huge deal.

So, 120-volt or 240-volt? It would depend on the owner's wants and needs. But don't just assume that 240V is a neccessity, particularly for the Chevrolet Volt.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Stay-At-Home Parent: Errand Test

September 21, 2011

volt_shopping.jpg

As I noted on Monday, I've got the Volt all this week and next week and am trying to drive it as if I owned it and was a stay-at-home parent. With a lot of short trips and easy access to at-home charging, I'm playing to the Volt's strengths here. But it's also interesting to me to see how it does.

So far, it's all been quite positive (ha!). With a conservative driving style, I've been able to go about 40 miles on a charge, and 40 has so far proved to be plenty. Even if I've done multiple trips in a day, I've always brought the Volt back home at some point, and that means I've been able to hook the Volt up to the charger to top off (or at least have the option to). For errand running situations, it'd be pretty hard not to stay on full electric continually in my opinion.

Besides the power issue, the Volt also works pretty well as an urban runabout. It's quiet, comfortable and has a trunk that's big enough to handle most daily items.

volt_shopping2.jpg Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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2011 Chevy Volt: Can You Plug-In On a Road Trip?

September 15, 2011

Chevy Volt FSS4 Wet Paint.jpg

A few months back, we took our long-term Chevy Volt on our fourth-annual Fuel Sipper Smackdown comparison test. In the past, we followed the same route and testing procedure, but the Volt required that we switched things up. If we were to give Chevy's extended range electric vehicle a fair shake, we'd have to start it with a full battery. That meant we would have to park it overnight at our test track location before getting started and then find someplace in Las Vegas with a charging station. Sure, we probably could've asked my ex girlfriend if I could plug it into her garage, but that would've been awkward for everyone.

Thankfully, Ron Montoya came across an article about the Flamingo Las Vegas being the first Las Vegas hotel to install an electric car charger. That seemed like a perfect solution. I put in a call to EV Charge America, the Las Vegas-based company that produced and installed the Flamingo charger, to verify that the charger did indeed exist and wondered if we could "reserve" the charger for the two nights we'd be staying in Las Vegas. Arriving there only to find one of the world's scant few other Volts would be just our luck and a test-ruining scenario.

EV Charge America's CEO Bob Rosinski agreed to set us up and explained that the Flamingo's charger is a 240V model with a single terminal similar to the ChargePoint one we have at Edmunds HQ. It's more a residential model, however, and it will eventually be replaced by a charger with multiple charge cords.

Sounds good, smash cut to our arrival at the Flamingo. Rolling down the window, I stopped at the security guard booth.

"Excuse me, I'm trying to find the electric car charger." I might as well have said "Can you direct me to dee naval base in Alameda. It's where dey keep dee nuclear wessels."

He had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, so I decided to drive around until I found something that looked like an electric car charger. Eventually, right there at the main entrance was a pair of parking spots blocked off with police tape. Sure enough, there was the electric car charger, but there was no identifying signage for electric car parking (or that it was reserved for the all-important Edmunds editorial team). We pulled down the tape and plugged in our Volt ... nothing happened.

fssd_4.jpg
Me on my iPhone trying to get through to Bob Rosinski of EV Charge America. Note that the green lines had not yet been painted and the green bollards not yet installed.

Full Behind the Scenes Fuel-Sipper Smackdown Photo and Video Gallery

Given our experience with our own charger, we recognized that we would need a special mini access card to activate it. We went to the front desk where a very nice, helpful employee nevertheless had no idea what we were talking about. His attempts to contact someone in the Flamingo's maintenance department were just a fruitless. Basically, we were SOL ... at least if we were an everyday Volt owner who doesn't know the president of the charger manufacturer. At 10 pm, Rosinski went above and beyond to kindly deliver the needed access card and we were in business.

Though EV Charge America sells chargers that can be activated by anyone at the push of a button or by swiping a credit card, the Flamingo's parent company Harrah's insisted on using the access cards and giving them out to guests who requested them. That's an iffy system to begin with and it's worse when hotel employees don't even know about it.

Nevertheless, we came down the next morning to discover that as we slept the Flamingo had painted green lines around our car and even installed green-painted concrete bollards. It got me thinking, though: Had Bob Rosinski really come through in reserving the spot, or did our arrival just perfectly coincide with the Flamingo finally getting around to preparing the spots? Or had our arrival reminded the Flamingo that they were dragging ass on its EV parking?

Inevitably, it didn't matter and we left for our city driving loop. At lunch, however, Montoya had a prophetic insight: "You know, we probably should've put that traffic cone back in front of our spot."

fssd_3.jpg
No, we didn't steal that chap in the wheelchair's parking space. He and his friend were just curious about the Volt.

He was right. With only green lines and no EV signage, a Chrysler 300 with a disabled parking sticker saw no problem parking in our spot from the night before as the spot's old disabled placard hadn't been removed. The second spot, which didn't have any placard, was occupied by a Nissan Versa whose owner appeared to be standing outside. I haphazardly double parked and bolted out of the car, hell bent on making sure elderly Mr. Versa didn't leave with his car in the spot. Thankfully, I didn't have to give the heave-ho to a disabled veteran, because he just as quickly vacated the spot. I stood guard and waited for John DiPietro to back in the Volt since the charger was on the wrong side in this spot. Crisis averted, Volt charged.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying "It's very difficult to recharge your Chevy Volt when on a road trip." Indeed, this is the first moment when I fully realized our position as extreme early adopters. We only had one hotel choice (a terrible one, the Flamingo is a dump), nobody at the hotel knew the charger existed, the Flamingo's access card system is silly and you always run the risk that the other Volt in town will take your space (not to mention Mr. Versa).

Since then, the Mandalay Bay has installed a charger (d'oh!) and Rosinski said that our test indeed served as a kick in the pants for the Flamingo. EV Charge America delivered a batch of cards to the Flamingo and one can only assume the hotel has increased the signage to fend off non-EV drivers. However, similar scenarios will no doubt be playing out all across the country as plug-in cars become more prevelent -- EV Charge America's business has increased 1000 percent in the past three months. It will be interesting to see what a similar plug-in road trip would be like in a year, two or three.

Inevitably, though, this is all very much a moot point: the beauty of the Volt is that you don't actually have to plug it in.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 7,799 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: No Charging on Electric Avenue

August 23, 2011

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I may live on Electric Avenue, but I can't charge the Chevy Volt here. With no power to my personal garage, I can drive the car home from the office on a full charge, but it switches to gas just six miles into my morning commute back to the office.

If you knew you would have access to a charging station at work, but never be able to charge at home, would you still consider a plug-in hybrid?

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 9,856 miles

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2011 Chevy Volt: I Would Own One

August 15, 2011

Long-term-Volt-drive-1.jpg

I just spend the better part of the weekend driving our long-term 2011 Chevy Volt. Sometime last evening, Volt packed with my offspring, I decided I could happily own one.

Fact is, I like driving the Volt. Another fact is that I don't like driving a Prius. And another is that I would never hem myself in with the limited driving range of a Leaf.

Meanwhile, I drive just 9 miles to work each morning. And my wife spends most of her days well within the Volt's 40 miles electric range.

For us, the Volt makes a lot of sense. It would be used as an electric vehicle most of the time. But my wife could also drive it to grandma's house (either 75 miles or 135 miles away depending on which grandma) without breaking a sweat.

I left the Volt with my wife today. I wanted her to use it. I'll report her reactions tomorrow.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 9,234 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Works for My New Commute Too

August 09, 2011

Volt r34.JPG The Chevrolet Volt made a lot of sense when I lived about six miles from work. But now I live much further, and the last time I took Volt home, it was only 75 percent charged, so I wasn't able to get an accurate representation of its range.

I now have an 18.5 mile commute that goes up a hill before a drop into the San Fernando Valley. I catch a fair amount of traffic on both ends of the commute, which actually helps out the Volt by keeping the average speed down. Going up the hill at full highway speeds would significantly deplete the charge.

When I left the office, the Volt estimated that I had 39 miles of range on the fully charged battery. I drove home calmly and frequently used the "L" gear when I was in traffic to take advantage of the more aggressive regenerative braking. I alternated between "D" and "L" as if the Volt had a manual two-speed transmission. This kept me off the brakes and kept the eco ball centered in the gauge cluster. The weather was mild, so I didn’t have use the A/C. I drove with the general flow of traffic and the fastest I went was about 65 mph.

I was able to make the 37-mile round trip and still have 14 miles left on the estimated electric range. This was impressive, given that the Volt went up a hill twice. If you add up the figures, the car theoretically could have gone about 51 miles. This would've been a record for me, but still short of Dan's impressive 54.6 miles. I don’t have any kilowatt numbers or utility bills to back this up, but given that I can make my commute both ways without using gas, I'd say the Volt still makes sense for my commute.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 9,069 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Driving with a Partial Charge

August 02, 2011

Volt Partial Charge Front.jpg I moved recently and I was looking forward to seeing how our Chevrolet Volt would do on my new commute. But when I was ready to leave, the Volt was still charging. It was about an hour and a half away from a full charge or about 75 percent full. The battery indicator showed that I had about 26 miles of electric range available. My new commute is about 19 miles (it used to be six), and some of it is uphill. How far do you think I went before the gasoline engine kicked in?

Volt Partial Charge.jpg This photo makes it seem as though I set a new electric range record -- but I didn't. The display will not reset itself unless the battery has a full charge. To get the real electric-range number, I went to our logbook and subtracted the last electric range mileage (39.9) from the 67.5 mile readout. This gives us a total of 27.6 miles of range -- on a 75 percent charge. Not too bad. Some people would get that number on a full charge (*Cough* Mike Magrath *Cough*).

The stop-and-go traffic really helped out in my case. If I were traveling at normal highway speeds, the incline before the drop into the San Fernando Valley would have taken a sizeable chunk out of the range. But by moving at a slow speed and driving calmly, I kept the drain on the battery to a minimum. I also didn’t use the A/C until I was over the hill and when I did, I kept it on "Eco" mode. Later in the day, I ran a few errands and before I returned home, the gasoline engine kicked in on. I'll try my commute again with a full charge and see if I can make the round trip on electric power only.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 8,902 miles

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2011 Chevy Volt: A Long Weekend Away From the Cord

July 29, 2011

volt weekend 2.jpg

The real, and obvious, beauty of the 2011 Chevy Volt, is the range extender feature. There are some crazy people who are upset about this because the Volt isn't a real EV. Fine. Whatever. It's not. But you know what it is? A real car.

I had the Volt for a quick three-days-away-from-the-office pseudo vacation and, like most Volt owners, I did not vacation in a place that had convenient access to a charging port. I was looking forward to this time in part because I'd never spent much time with the gasoline motor of the Volt. Sure a few minutes here and there, a quick run up the freeway now and again, but this would turn out to be three solid days with no charge.

How'd it go?

Volt weekend 1.jpg

Well. Extremely well.

In total I put 258.4 miles on the Volt, only 27 of them off of the fully charged battery. Sure, without the battery there's a little less zip, but the car is still pleasant to be in and not offensively slow. It does have some issues (noise, engine strain) cruising on highways with a 75 mph speed limit too.

The only annoying thing is the disconnect between the accelerator pedal and the noises of the gasoline motor. (Just to refresh, when the battery's dead, the gas motor works as a generator spinning metal near magnets to make electricity. ) So what you end up with is a gasoline engine that revs completely independently from the actions of your foot. Decelerating while the engine revs go up is really awkward and slightly troubling. Still, after it doesn't unintentionally accelerate anywhere, you get almost used to it.

Oh, the best part? Nearly 40 MPG driving like a guy who likes to drive (and usually gets well below EPA ratings) and not some jerk in a hybrid. There are full-throttle events, twisty roads, 75 mph freeway runs and too much crappy traffic to mention represented here. Riswick would certainly have managed better. I'm happy with 38.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

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2011 Chevy Volt: My Week in the Volt

July 22, 2011

Chevy Volt at Bergamot.jpg

My commute is conducive to owning a Chevy Volt. I only go about 8 miles each way in traffic, so I'd theoretically be one of those people who could go months without ever tapping the gasoline engine. Since my wife rarely drives her car other than during her similar commute, that would go double for her.

As such, I decided to take the Volt every night this week to see what type of electric range I would get and over how many days the charge would last. As I described yesterday, I was trying to be as efficient as possible without being a hypermiling road block.

The result is I went 43.4 total miles on electricity, which was good for four "legs" from my house to the office or vice versa. However, the Volt switched over to gasoline with about 1 mile left to go on my fifth "leg" driving home last night. In other words, I was using electricity for 2 and a half days. Of course, I could've recharged each day, but I probably wouldn't bother. Why? Laziness partly, a lack of need would be another, but think about it from a futurist perspective. If you owned two Volts or cars similar to the Volt, you could plug in one car at a time rather than having two giant electricity vampires suckling on your house.

The more time I spend with the Volt, the more I'm convinced that it's a fantastic model for future cars. The price will go down over time, battery capacity will go up and there theoretically will be a wider variety of vehicle body types available for those who find its packaging limited. My week in the Volt points to the way of the future.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 9,353

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: First Meet and Greet

July 20, 2011

volt_parkinglot.jpg

I drove the Volt briefly for the first time ever a couple nights ago. It was a bit strange finally driving a car I'd been reading about for months (or years). I enjoyed the seat time. In general, I like the technical aspect of cars that are efficient. So I was pleased to see I went 33 miles on battery power and still had, at least according to the Volt, about another 12 miles left of juice.

The Volt isn't weird to drive, either. It's quiet on the highway, has a nice, compliant ride quality and feels substantial at the wheel. Parking it was trickier than expected, though, due to the touchy brakes, limited visibility and somewhat wide turning circle (36 feet, about 2.5 feet more than the Cruze's circle, even though the Volt is shorter).

I know this drive was just a taste, so I'm looking forward to spending more time with our Volt in a couple of weeks.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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2011 Chevy Volt: Propulsion Power is Reduced

July 20, 2011

Propulsion Power is Reduced.JPG

To Mountain Mode or not to Mountain Mode, that is the question. The Volt's Mountain Mode essentially stores up electricity so that you can apparently climb any grade in the United States at 70 mph. Trouble is, it hurts your electric range (should you be in electric-only mode) or your fuel economy. This was my quandery last week during leg 1 of the Fuel-Sipper Smackdown.

As this was a fuel economy test, I decided to leave the Volt in Normal. Even with the plug-in electric charge depleted, the powertrain had no trouble getting up the rather steep Cajon Pass on Interstate 15. Other grades were dispatched without issue, including one ascending Panamint Valley. However, as I made the long climb up the mountain leading into Death Valley, the Volt doth protested.

As the above photo shows, I got a warning saying "Propulsion Power is Reduced," and my speed quickly declined. By this time it was too late to engage Mountain Mode. Eventually, I had my foot planted to the floor, the engine was whirring like a lawn mower and the Volt was dawdling up the mountain at an embarrasing 35 mph. The other fuel-sipper cars formed a parade behind me, wondering why I decided to drive like Ma and Pa RV Owner.

Had this not been a fuel economy test, I almost certainly would've seen the big scary mountain ahead and gone "duh, Mountain Mode." But at least I now have a good idea of the rather extreme circumstances in which the Volt's gasoline engine is overwhelmed when in Normal Mode. (There's also the matter of whether drivers will even know there's a Mountain Mode there).

So how did fuel economy fair in this scenario? Curiously, the Volt still managed to achieve 39 mpg (subtracting its E range) on this more vigorous portion of the Death Valley leg, whereas it only managed 31 on the less mountainous second portion. I have no idea why. Beyond Fuel-Sipping, Death Valley was definitely an interesting test for the Volt.

For more fuel economy numbers from Fuel-Sipper Smackdown 4, you'll have to wait a few weeks, however. Stay tuned, but at the very least I can say I once again walked away impressed with this nifty car.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 7,799 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Runnin' On Electric

June 27, 2011

Volt volting.jpg

Had a pretty quiet weekend, logging only 40 miles around town for errands and to go see some live music at a local coffee shop. But since I never drove very far during any one stint, and because I recharged the Volt in my garage, I was able to run all of those miles on electric (not that it's a great feat, mind you).

It's an odd feeling running the Volt in pure electric. On the one hand, it's eerily silent, which is very different than what I'm used to, whether it be with cars or motorcycles.

But I also find that I have this odd desire to go full-throttle from a stop around town, which isn't exactly efficient. I liken it to riding a scooter: The few times I've ridden a scooter, I'm full-throttle all the time, baby. Part of the reason for that is that scooters generally don't have much power and don't go very fast, so you have to get up to speed quickly or you get run over.

It's similar in the Volt: Around town, it's natural for me to want to use all of what little power the Volt has. I know I shouldn't do it, because the Volt is theoretically all about efficiency. But there's something fun about out-dragging a gasoline-powered SUV from a stoplight with an electric car. Even if they might not have been fully aware we were racing.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 6,867 miles.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Shockingly, Not A Crappy Drive

June 23, 2011

Volting.jpg

I don't know if I hang with the wrong or the right crowd, but no one has ever asked me: "So what's it like to drive a Chevy Volt?" Maybe my friends just assume I only care about high-powered sports cars and sports sedans.

But one person actually has been pestering me about the Volt: Me. Last night, I finally got the chance to drive our long-termer.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it turns out the Volt is simple and fairly normal to drive. In a strange way, it's kinda fun because you can actually drive it in full electric mode for a long period of time, including highway speeds. With other hybrids, as soon as you step on the gas with any real force, the gasoline engine immediately fires to life.

In fact, the most confusing thing about the plug-in Volt may be our elaborate fuel/electric logbook (photo below), which is much more in-depth than with our gasoline testers. But for good reason. And yeah, I probably screwed it up and Dan Edmunds, our Director of Vehicle Testing, will fire me soon.

Volt fuel log.jpg

Back to the Volt. The switchover from full electric to gasoline is nearly seamless. For the record, it did The Great Switchover at 34.6 miles. Traffic was moving at a decent rate last night, which means the Volt was not operating at its most efficient because speeds were relatively high.

Acceleration was reasonable in both full electric and gasoline modes. It's about as quick purely numbers-wise as the Kia Forte 5-door I had been driving the last few days. But in real-world stop-and-go, it actually feels considerably faster, what with all that immediate torque available.

I can see why people might be attracted to this car. It has a plush ride and comfy seats for a real kick-back commute. The steering is admittedly a bit lifeless, and the Volt feels Heavy when you lean it into a turn. There's little in the way of sporty driver involvement, but then, this is an A to B car if there ever was one.

The Volt has some quirks and faults for sure, such as its odd low-speed braking behavior that makes it difficult to be smooth, but we'll delve more into those on later blogs.

For now, I'm pleasantly surprised. And I'd definitely drive it again. The fuel/electric logbook won't scare me off.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 6,761 miles.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf: May Fuel Economy Update

June 06, 2011

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It's time to add the May data into our 2011 Chevy Volt and 2011 Nissan Leaf fuel consumption summary.

Yeah, I know. Some people don't like my persistent use of the word "fuel" with respect to electricity. Sorry, but it's still the best shorthand there is for stuff you put into a car to make it go -- especially in the case of the Volt, which can be filled up with two kinds.

Above you may also notice that the Volt is plugged in via its 120V home charge cord. That's because the Leaf gets dibs on the 240V charger owing to its utter lack of a range extender, otherwise known as a gasoline back-up engine. If the Volt's battery isn't full, it's no big deal. The same cannot be said of the Leaf.

Once the Leaf is full we swap the Volt onto the 240V charger to make sure it gets topped up, too.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Best

Worst

Average

Electricity (kwh/100 mi)

20.6

52.0

33.6

Electric Range (miles)

54.6

25.8

38.8

Gasoline (mpg)

39.0

27.9

33.3

2011 Nissan Leaf

Best

Worst

Average

Electricity (kwh/100 mi)

24.2

53.8

32.0

Projected Range (miles)

104.0

65.8

85.5

Observed Range (miles)

76.7

As always, lower is better for electricity consumption in kWh per 100 miles.

Big changes this month include a new best range for the Volt of 54.6 miles. That's me, and I was able to back it up with 54.3 miles so it's a real thing. The Volt's average electric range therefore rose from 37.5 to 38.8 miles.

The Volt's lifetime electricity consumption improved along with this, falling from 34.8 kWh/100 to 33.6 kWh/100. Gasoline mpg improved from 32.7 mpg to 33.3 mpg.

Yeah, we had more lightfoots in the car this month.

As for the Leaf, nothing much changed. Electricity consumption did rise slightly, from 31.5 kWh/100 to 32.0. There was a recording error for the last charge of the month that should correct itself when June is added in, but there's something else at work, too. We came close to breaking our 76.7 mile single charge observed range, but close doesn't change the chart.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Best

Worst

Average

EPA

Electricity (kWh/100 mi)

20.6

52.0

33.6

36

Electric Range (miles)

54.6

25.8

38.8

35

Gasoline (mpg)

39.0

27.9

33.3

37

2011 Nissan Leaf

Best

Worst

Average

EPA

Electricity (kWh/100 mi)

24.2

53.8

32.0

34

Projected Range (miles)

104.0

65.8

85.5

73

Observed Range (miles)

76.7

The lifetime averages of our Leaf and Volt are still beating EPA estimates for electricity consumption and range. The Volt still lags behind the EPA's estimate for gasoline consumption, which is odd because it's the same drivers driving the same car on the same trip.

Maybe not, though. We have heard Jekyll and Hyde stories of folks driving sedately to get a good electric range number to appear on the Volt's screen, after which they try to make up for lost time once the gas engine comes on.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Mar

Apr

May

Overall

Utility Factor (% EV miles)

58%

20%

52%

42%

Apparent MPG (ignore electricity)<

80.2

39.1

76.2

57.3

Cost per mile (US avg prices)

7.0¢

11.7¢

7.0¢

8.3¢

(Cal. avg prices)

8.0¢

12.6¢

7.8¢

9.3¢

(at my house)

11.0¢

13.7¢

10.2¢

11.5¢

May saw the Volt rebound from its trip to San Francisco as its Utility Factor rose from 20% to 52% as it spent more time on electricity this month. This nudged its lifetime UF from 40% up to 42%, but as every baseball hitter knows it takes awhile to raise your average after a slump.

Apparent MPG was 39.1 mpg in April and 76.2 mpg in May, a turn of events that bumped the lifetime average up from 54.5 to 57.3 mpg.

Take the Volt on very many long trips and the average gasoline cost-per-mile and apparent mpg will reflect it for a long time thereafter. With only one out of town trip under its belt, our overall cost-per-mile dropped from 8.6 to just 8.3 cents even though this month's cost was 7.0 cents on its own.

2011 Nissan Leaf

Mar

Apr

May

Overall

Utility Factor (% EV miles)

100%

Apparent MPG (ignore electricity)<

Infinity (zero gas used)

Cost per mile (US avg prices)

3.5¢

3.2¢

3.8¢

3.5¢

(Cal. avg prices)

4.5¢

4.6¢

5.0 ¢

4.7¢

(at my house)

9.8¢

9.0¢

10.5¢

9.8¢

Average electricity prices stayed about the same this month, but the Leaf did use a bit more juice per mile. We're starting to suspect that plugging in every day isn't desirable if the last person drove it a very short distance, say 4 or 5 miles. It seems that recharging in these circumstances is rather inefficient for reasons we can't yet explain. Of course anyone who ventures less than a few miles from the office is doomed to heavy west-side traffic, so it may also be the driving pattern. We're going to try and disentangle these factors.

Even so, the Leaf equaled the EPA consumption rating of 34 kWh/100 miles for the month.

Popular hybrids, for reference

Mar

Apr

May

Overall

2011 Toyota Prius (US avg prices)

7.4¢

8.0¢

7.5¢

7.1¢

(Cal. avg prices)

8.2¢

8.5¢

8.0¢

7.7¢

2011 Fusion Hybrid (US avg prices)

9.5¢

10.2¢

9.7¢

9.1¢

(Cal. avg prices)

10.5¢

11.0¢

10.2¢

9.9¢

National average gas prices fell slightly at the end of the month, improving the cost-per-mile projections of the traditional hybrids we're following for comparison.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

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2011 Chevrolt Volt: Would You Believe 54.6 Electric Miles?

May 12, 2011

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My new 2011 Chevrolet Volt electric range record of 54.3 miles on a charge lasted all of 14 hours. This morning I was doing so well that I actually drove past the office to once again see how long I could fend off the dinosaurs. In the end I squeaked 54.6 miles all-electric miles out of our plug-in Chevy, turned around, and drove back to the Edmunds parking garage.

Like yesterday, I left later than I wanted to and caught traffic. And that's the secret to good range: wade out into LA traffic instead of waiting it out or trying to miss it by punching out early. You want a traffic-enforced average speed of around 30 or 35 mph on a long freeway commute with a top speed of no more than 50 mph and no really slow periods or dead stops.

Of course this means out I'm on the road for nearly two hours *each way* instead of the usual hour and fifteen minutes.

It's a real-world situation, but not a tolerable one. I'd go nuts if I did it every day. I'll resume my habit of trying to beat traffic and run with others equally eager to get where they're going, even if it does mean I'll only get 40 electric miles out of the Volt instead. I'm totally fine with burning a little gasoline to preserve my sanity and spend a bit more time kicking back with the family.

Still, I have backed up my record, so I guess it's certifiable. And the very existence of traffic signifies that there are plenty of commuters that are driving the right mode to get decent electric range out of a Volt if they tried. Ironically, single-commuter carpool stickers and the higher speeds they permit could actually reduce a Volt's electrric range.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 5,849 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: 54.3 Miles On A Full Charge

May 11, 2011

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The single-charge range record for our 2011 Chevrolet Volt has fallen. A group of us with longer commutes have been vying to be the first to crack the 50-mile mark. Now we'll have to pick another goal.

I set the bar early on just after we bought our Volt, going 45.6 miles before the engine kicked on. That stood for a few weeks until Kelly Toepke took the lead with 47.0 miles on her trip home.

Last week, Dan Frio spent a full week driving the Volt, determined to be the first to crack 50 miles. All four of his runs were good, over 45 miles apiece, but he didn't quite get there. He did succeed in besting Kelly, however, inching into the lead with a 47.2-mile best effort.

Today I was in the Volt, and I got a late start, leaving at 4:00 pm. Anything after 3:00 pm sets me up for horrible traffic, as I live over 50 miles away. I usually work an East Coast schedule to get out ahead of everyone else, but a late meeting sealed my fate.

All of this worked in my favor in terms of Volt efficiency. Traffic was slow, but there were no accidents and the freeway never quite stopped.

The predicted range indicator started off at 43 miles, which didn't bode well. I chose to drive the car in "L" the entire time to maximize regenerative braking energy recovery. As in the Nissan Leaf "Bitter End" test, I ran with the AC off and the windows cracked, though I did allow myself the luxury of the lowest fan speed.

For the first 40 miles traffic was dithering between 15 and 45 mph, and I simply went with the flow, trying to stay in lanes that were moving smoothest. The use of "L" range allowed me to bleed off speed without touching the brakes when things bunched up.

Traffic only started to ease up and begin moving at 55 mph in the faster lanes when I got within 10 miles of home, the point at which I was getting close to Frio's record. Not to be denied, I drove those last few miles at 50 mph, running along with a furniture delivery truck and a couple of semis in the right-hand lanes.

You see the result above: 54.3 miles in a real-world situation. Slow-and-go traffic is apparently good for the Volt.

Anyone for 55 miles? How about 60 miles?

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 5,781 miles

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2011 Chevy Volt: L.A. to S.F. and Back Part 2

May 04, 2011

Volt-in-SF-3.jpg

A few weeks ago I drove our long-term 2011 Chevy Volt from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back. In two days I drove the Volt 916 miles nearly all of it on the highway. And, as you can see in the photo, while I was there I took in a Giants game.

The first 30 miles of the trip was on pure electricity. Then I started burning gasoline.

I drove the Volt like I would any other car. I didn't change my driving habits and I certainly wasn't showing off my hypermiling skills. And the results show it.

The first tank full of premium carried the Volt 285.4 miles. Then the Volt took 7.866 gallons. That's an average of 36.2 mpg. Then my right foot got heavier and the Volt got thirsty.

I ran through three more tanks, averaging 30.1 mpg, 27.9 mpg and 28.6 mpg. My average for the entire trip (excluding the first 30 miles on electricity) was 30.7 mpg.

Pretty disappointing. But there are some serious grades between here and The Bay Area, which didn't help.

I should also point out that the Volt was very comfortable on the drive. It hums along nicely at speed and I found its ride and its driver's seat to my liking. But it has a short range because of its small tank, so you'll never really test your bladder when road trippin' a Volt. Heck, the third tank of fuel only lasted 207 miles.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Not Even Close

April 26, 2011

high voltage web.jpgDamn. I was pumped to make the drive home last night solely on the Volt's electrons. No one's yet been able to get 50 miles on the spooky stuff alone. I live 46-odd miles from the office, and conditions were pretty optimal. At quittin' time, the freeway was moving well. No accidents or congestion, and ambient temp was low 60s. No need for climate control. Dan Edmunds suggested driving in "L" in Normal mode. "Stay off the brakes as much as possible and just flow."

Piece of cake.

Figured I'd even have enough battery left to pit at the local In-N-Out and planned to bring back a bag of soggy fries for Magrath, my own small Everest totem for being the first to scale 50 e-miles (I'd never consider such a rude gesture towards current record holder Kelly, whose Girl Scout confections help the afternoons pass in a foot-tapping frenzy).

Not even close. Battery checked out just after 41 miles.

Volt_03_web.jpg

Now, a disclaimer. The battery charge appeared full. The transformer-lookin' icon in the display was full green. But no one knows exactly when the Volt last went off the cable. Does the Volt's charge slightly dissipate if it sits uncharged for a short period? I don't have last week's car sign-outs handy, but I believe the Volt sat in the garage untethered this past weekend and all day yesterday.

That's my excuse. I got shorted, man. Dealt an undercharged battery. And it's my own fault for not plugging in the Volt earlier in the afternoon just to be sure. Lesson learned.

I share many of our collective sentiments about the Volt. It feels like a well-built slab of copper and metal. It's comfortable and quiet. The high-cycle e-motor hum might take some getting used to, as would the delay action brakes. The info overload - dual displays and busy center stack - would require some personal editing. But you can't help but feel this is where it's all going.

For my needs, the Volt might make sense. Charge it overnight and get to the office almost entirely on electricity. Even if I couldn't find a way to charge during the day and had to get home on gas, I've effectively reduced my fuel bill by half. What percentage of that gets made up in higher electric bills, I don't know. Haven't done the math. But as the technology takes root and solutions like stand-alone solar chargers become practical and affordable, hard to see how you wouldn't start coming out ahead.

My grandfather owned a service station for most of his working life, first for Standard Oil, then Chevron. Four bays, three lifts, and the old air hose that rang a bell when a car pulled in. Clean the windows, check the oil, pump the gas. Old-school full service. As a kid hanging around, one of the coolest tricks I learned was how to roll a shop rag and zap somebody on the thigh, leaving a welt.

My uncle owns it now. The bays are long gone, just a few pump islands and a mini-mart in their place. Sign of the times. The old Don has long passed, but I can't help wishing I could get his take on all this eee-lectric discomabobble.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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2011 Chevy Volt: Crap Games, Great Drives

April 11, 2011

ChevyVoltinLosAngelesofAnaheim.jpg

As I drove down to Los Angeles of Anaheim for the second straight day to watch my Blue Jays lose yet again (could be worse, cough, Red Sox, cough, Devil Rays), I came to a realization about the Volt. Of all my possible expectations for GM's newfangled motor car, the one I wasn't anticipating was how capable it is on the freeway.

The electric drive range was long gone before I even set out for LA of A on Saturday evening, which meant I'd be in hybrid mode the rest of the way. No worries, though, as the Volt does an excellent job of highway cruising. If you need to pass someone quickly, there's plenty of electric-generated torque for a quick acceleration boost. The engine is only rarely noticeable (it's often tough to tell if it's running at all), and when it is, the noise is comparable to that of a more muted CVT-equipped car.

I'd be interested to see how it handles the hilly drive to Vegas, but color me surprised that the Volt handles the highway as well as it does city. I like this car more and more I drive it. Oh, and I achieved 34.5 mpg along the way.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 4,139 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Going from Leaf to Volt

March 31, 2011

Chevy Volt.jpg

Like it or not, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt is frequently compared to the Nissan Leaf, mainly because they are the only two mainstream electrified cars on the market now. I drove the Leaf home Tuesday night and had the Volt the following night so the differences really jumped out at me. By the way, the price is one of the few aspects of the cars that you really can't compare. On the basis of the roughly $43,000 price tag, the Volt is simply not a real world consideration for anyone except the early adopter.

Here are a few quick impressions of the Volt and the Leaf:

Seats/Comfort/Interior: The overall feel of sitting in these two cars is very different. Both have comfortable seats (I think the Leaf would be a better fit for a large person). The Leaf feels open and airy while the Volt is more insulated with high door sills and poor visibility.

Interior room: The Volt seats four people only -- no way you're squeezing five souls in there. The Leaf is built to carry five and the rear legroom is definitely better. The Volt's rear seats fold flat so you could slide in long items. The Leaf's rear seats also fold down but because of battery storage this does not produce a flat cargo area.

Noise: The Volt has the edge here -- it is spooky quiet. If you have the radio and fan off, you can hear yourself breathing. Both cars have a slight whistling sound as they accelerate.
Power delivery: The Volt feels responsive with strong linear power delivery while the actual numbers show it goes 0-60 mph in 8.53 seconds. The Leaf is actually faster with an unofficial 0-60 time of about 7 seconds.

Range: Our Volt is delivering about 37 miles in all-electric mode. After that, there is always a letdown when the gas engine kicks on. Still, there is no range anxiety as you drive the Volt. I'm finding that for my driving patterns, 37 miles only gets me there -- not there and back. And once the gas engine fires up it's just another gas-burning car. The extra 40 miles of range that the Leaf delivers opens a lot more possibilities for me. I can get home and back to the office charger without topping up. I can get to downtown Los Angeles and back to my home on a single charge. So, with careful planning, the Leaf affords an uninterrupted all-electric experience.

Summary: I really enjoy driving the Volt. When I suppress thoughts about the unrealistic price I can really enjoy driving nearly 40 miles on $1.95 of electricity. But given the lower entry cost of the Leaf, the ability to hold an extra passenger and access to the car pool lanes, the Leaf offers advantages that are impossible to ignore.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Sucker Punched While Charging

March 28, 2011

Volt Sucker Punch.jpg I had our Chevrolet Volt for the weekend and by Saturday evening, I had used up all its EV range. I had a lot of driving to do on Sunday and I felt a little irresponsible driving it on gas for the rest of the weekend. Half the fun of this car is driving it on electricity and seeing how far you can go. Since I was planning to see a movie that night, I came up with a plan to stay all electric.

I arrived at the Edmunds offices at around 7pm. I put the Volt on the charger then took the bus into downtown Santa Monica. It was a 15 minute bus ride at one dollar per passenger. I arrived at the movie theater in time to see an 8 p.m. showing of "Sucker Punch".

I caught the bus back to the office and was sitting in the car by 11:05pm. The Volt's charge meter said it would be ready by 11:15pm. I had planned to wait it out, but it actually reached its full charge five minutes early.

As I took the Volt home that night, I wondered if other Volt owners would take such elaborate steps to make sure they drove the car on electricity as much as possible. The best thing about the Volt versus a true EV however, is that I really didn’t have to charge it that night. But it did feel good to conserve fuel and drive the Volt only on electricity.

As for Sucker Punch, anytime you have Dragons, Samurai's with chain guns, Robots and attractive women all in the same movie, it's an automatic two thumbs up from me.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 3,550 miles.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Case Study, Ron Montoya

March 25, 2011

2011_Volt_1600_chargepoint_card.jpg

Unlike other cars, the case for the "dual-fuel" 2011 Chevrolet Volt depends greatly on an individual driver's situation. Length of commute, driving conditions, driving style -- the amount of electric-only driving and the need for gasoline depends greatly on these factors.

For this reason we can't use the overall average consumption approach we use for single-fuel pure gasoline cars. I'm including the Toyota Prius here because it uses exactly zero electricity from outside sources--there is no plug through which the battery can be pre-charged.

With those cars, total miles divided by total gallons works great, and we can co-mingle long commute data with short commute scenarios and still get a good randomized result that we can compare to the EPA's combined MPG estimates. There are differences in individual circumstances, of course, but it has been that way so long that we're all able to relate averages to our own situation.

But that doesn't quite work for the Volt. Someone who lives 2 miles from work will have a very different opinion from someone who lives 50 miles away. The former may not use any gasoline while the latter may use a lot. The differences are much larger here.

So we're doing something different with our Volt. We're going to collect "case study" data from different individuals. We'll choose the subjects carefully so each has a different sort of commute and we'll break out their results separately from the mooshed-together averages. Each will keep the Volt for a solid week. We'll do this once a month.

Case study #1

Subject: Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate

Commute distance: 5.9 miles each way

Commute type: 90% congested freeway, 10% surface streets

Utility company: LA Department of Water and Power (LA DWP)

Before we get to Ron's case study, here are the overall figures for all of the Volt's miles so far. We're using the following current national average prices here: 11.7 cents per kWh, $3.829 for super unleaded, $3.561 for regular unleaded.

Utility factor: 47% (47% of total miles in battery EV mode)

Miles driven: 3,000.2 - 1399.6 electricity, 1600.6 gasoline

Average electric range: 37.6 (from full battery charges only)

Fuel used: 491.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 47.7 gallons of premium gasoline

Apparent MPG: *62.9 mpg (total miles/gasoline burned, ignoring electricity consumed)

Actual gasoline consumption during gasoline engine operation: 33.6 mpg

Electricity consumption on battery power: 35.1 kWh every 100 miles

Overall cost per mile: 8.0 cents

Prius cost per mile: 7.1 cents (@ 50 mpg EPA combined)

*Remember, the Apparent MPG figure is a bogus factor from an overall cost and environmental impact standpoint, but we're including it for those who are primarily interested in reducing the amount of oil-derived gasoline they use. The electricity used in place of gasoline comes from somewhere and has its own cost, but certain potential Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf customers seem happy to ignore this. Rightly or wrongly, the Apparent MPG is simply and exclusively associated with gasoline consumption or the lack thereof.

On with the show...

It must be said that Ron is a renter and cannot charge the Volt at home. So he plugged it in at work instead. Almost all Volt owners will charge at home -- few workplaces have a charger like ours, but by charging at just one end of his commute we're still able to simulate the real-world costs of real-world people. To that end, we're using his home electric rates to simulate what an actual homeowner in his situation would have paid.

Here are Ron's figures, measured over a full week and using his utility cost (14.76 cents per kWh, including all taxes and fees) and California's current average gasoline prices ($4.189 for premium and $ 3.993 for regular).

Utility factor: 89% (89% of Ron's total miles were driven on outside electricity)

Total miles driven: 194.1 - 172.9 electricity, 21.2 gasoline

Average electric range: 42.0 (from full battery charges - partial charges excluded)

Fuel used: 54.1 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 0.75 gallons of premium gasoline

Apparent MPG: *259.8 mpg (total miles/gasoline burned, ignoring electricity)

Actual gasoline consumption during gasoline engine operation: 28.4 mpg

Electricity consumption on battery power: 31.3 kWh every 100 miles

Overall cost per mile: 5.7 cents

Prius cost per mile: 8.0 cents (@ 50 mpg EPA combined)

Things to take away from this...

A Volt running at a 47% Utility Factor is 13% more expensive to operate than a Prius on a cost per mile basis, even at national average prices.

Ron's short commute allows him to drive on outside electricity 89% of the time, so for him the Volt is a full 28% cheaper to operate than a Prius.

Ron's performance on gasoline fell short of the EPA estimate (28.4 mpg versus a rated 37)

That said, Ron will use only 3 gallons of gas per month

Ron's electricity consumption beat the EPA estimate (31.3 kWh per 100 miles versus 36)

Ron household used 242 kWh last month. A full month of Volt use will add 232 more kWh per month, essentially doubling electric bill. A portion of the Volt's additional electric load will therefore be charged at the LADWP's higher "tier 2" rate. But in his case that rate is only 1.5 cents higher than tier 1 and the overall cost per mile won't change much. In winter there's no price difference at all between tiers 1 and 2.

Moral of the story: Purchase price aside, the Volt pays off handsomely for Ron and his 5.9-mile commute because he can run on electricity much of the time and his electricity is fairly cheap.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

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2011 Chevy Volt: The Fight For 50

March 23, 2011

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50 miles. That's what GM says, under ideal conditions, is the maximum range for the 2011 Chevy Volt under electric power.

Challenge accepted!

I was going to, by any means necessary, hit 50 miles on our Volt on battery alone. Here's what happened...

Attempt 1: Pacific Coast Highway North. Night. Late.

PCH seems like an odd place to do this, but here's what it offers: A REALLY long distance with virtually no traffic and a low-enough speed limit to not get crushed by angry drivers. Very little chance of hitting stops at that time of night.

Here's why it's bad: Cold -- 50 that night. Hills (which can be negated, mostly, by coasting up them.)

Here's how it went down: Hopped in a fully charged Volt and went immediately to the highway --- no stops so far, sweet. I'd done about 5 miles and the trip computer was still estimating my journey at 35 miles on electricity -- 0% decrease. I ignored cruise control and used a steady foot and hovered somewhere around 40-45. No HVAC. No stereo. Nothing charging. No heated seats. Miserable.

Lots of very boring "driving" later, the meter read 20 miles to empty with 39 miles under my belt. Score. I treated myself to a few minutes of the radio. (You can only hum Mephiskapheles' Bumblebee tuna song for so long) Five minutes won't hurt, right?

WRONG! The meter started dropping frantically...20...18...16..15...all in less than 2 miles! Damn. I thought the Volt would accept NPR. Quick, turn that off. Nothing...still dropping...dropping...dropping. I'm at 42.1 miles when the switchover happens.

And that's when I realized what went wrong. When I hit the radio on I brushed ever-so-lightly across the insane, over-complicated and annoying touch-panel CLIMATE button and turned the thing on. I can't get those stupid buttons to work when I want them to, but the minute I don't, all of a sudden my touch works.

Fine. Whatever. Back to the office to charge it. I'll try again in the AM.

So the next day rolled around and, opting for a warmer option, I decided to take the 405 south. Middle of the day would be slow but not stopped and there are no hills. Fine.

Heat OFF. Radio off. Seat heaters off. Go!

I found the first 20-year-old pickup I could with 94 mattresses in the back going 15 under the truck speed, glued myself to his bumper and set forth for the OC. Optimum weather and almost optimum speed. This should do it.

46.2 miles of tedium later, the battery died, I swore and tried to figure out what I could do just south of Irvine to blow off some steam. Plug in my iPod, turn around and drive home was the only option. At least the Volt's a nice place to spend time-- good ride, good seats, quiet enough.

But 46.2 must be the new record, right? Nope. Dan Edmunds got 46.6. I texted him to see what he did. "Just drove it home. Listened to a podcast. Probably used climate control."

"I hate you." was all I could reply.

So try as I might...and I will try again...I wasn't able to hit 50 miles on the Volt's battery. But then again, I've never been able to match GM's claimed numbers.

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor, Inside Line

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(A Short Term) 2011 Chevy Volt: Cold Shoulder

March 14, 2011

IMG_0315.jpg

(Bill Visnic is Senior Editor for AutoObserver and lives in West Virginia. You wanted to know what the Volt was like in colder climates. Here's his take. -mm)

I live plenty far away from Edmunds.com's Santa Monica office and I don’t spend much time in HQ's long-term vehicles, so it was a pleasant coincidence when GM had enough faith in the Volt to send one over for a dead-of-the-winter week and the car was identical to our long-termer, right down to the nice-but-not-$1,000-nice Viridian Joule paint job.

Did I mention it's the dead of the winter here in West Virginia?

So although the Volt is an indisputably impressive piece of engineering and often quite rewarding to drive, the Prime Directive -- driving on electricity as much as possible -- is singularly degraded when it's cold and the terrain is inhospitably hilly. The geography, amenable to bighorn sheep, never changes here near Pittsburgh. For five months each and every year, it also becomes immoderately chilly, sometimes downright arctic.

In the photo of the Volt's electro-gauges, you'll see what I started with each morning after a complete night of 120-volt charging when the Volt sat outside in 20- and 30-degree temps: a 27-mile battery range.

Some thoughts on the reality of 27 miles:

IMG_0526.jpg It might suit some, but I can't imagine it satisfying many suburban commuters. And it just ain't enough for moderate around-town errand running. Here’s what we sometimes forget about "range:" 27 miles means 13 miles out and 13 miles back.

A couple of times, I drove about in the morning, depleting a good portion of battery, then returned home to recharge before some evening runs. Uh-uh. Stick it on the 120-volt charger for the afternoon and you boost range maybe five or six miles. Better than nuthin,' as EV drivers are destined to say, but hours in the driveway for a charge that barely gets you out to the Interstate somehow is supremely disappointing.

Given the above, forget the notion of "destination charging." Maybe it's one thing if you have a place at work to recharge and can plug in the Volt for a solid eight hours, but to go somewhere and haul out the 120-volt charger for a couple hours of juice isn’t worth the effort.

Some of this changes, obviously, if you've got the 240-volt charging rig. But that's expense on top of an already expensive car, markedly extending the payback period (as if anybody buying a Volt is really worried about payback times). Bring on some quick-charge infrastructure, particularly for cold-weather markets.

Note the photo is the charge port after the Volt recharged in the driveway during a nighttime snow and ice storm. The satisfyingly robust charger "nozzle" was disengaged in the morning with no hassle, the high-grade plastics of the nozzle and onboard receptacle refusing to allow the ice to stick or otherwise foul up anything. But I did have to deliver several whacks to the door and swab out the receptacle area before the door would close and latch.

Until battery technology can improve a best-case battery range of 40 miles that degrades to a real-world 25 miles, I'm forced to see the as Volt something less of a wonder in the winter.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Five Things I Like

March 11, 2011

Volt getting gas.jpg I drove the Volt for just over a week and it made a great impression on me. I loved its high- tech feel, quiet ride and the interesting looks I got from Prius owners trying to figure out what I was driving. Our director of vehicle testing, Dan Edmunds, wants each week-long tour of duty in the Volt to end with a trip to the gas station. The Volt wet its whistle with less than a gallon of premium fuel. The total cost was $3.17.

After eight days with the car, here are a few things I liked about it, not ranked in any particular order:

1. Sport Mode: Activating this mode increases the responsiveness of the throttle and gets the car up to speed much quicker. It does drain the charge faster, but it is nice to have if you want more pickup.

2. No Range Anxiety: This isn’t an issue in the Volt. Instead you'll find yourself getting range envy -- you want to see how far you can go on an electric charge.

3. Phone and iPod Interface: I like the ability to use either the touch screen or the designated button on the dash. It is very easy to find the song or phone number of the person you want to call.

4. LCD Screens: It may seem gimmicky to some, but I really like how these screens boot up and display information. It looks like the kind of "future car" we all imagined when we were kids.

5. Good Commuter Car: Dan will have more concrete data later, but my 12-mile round-trip commute is perfect for the Volt. The only time I went past the EV range was on the weekend and when I traveled to visit relatives.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 3,060 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: My Pac-Man Tied for Second

March 04, 2011

Volt E Range.jpg Last night I took the Chevrolet Volt to my mother-in-law's house. She lives in the San Fernando Valley, about 21 miles away from where I live. I had already used up six miles of electric charge to drive home from the Edmunds office. In order to get to the Valley, you have to drive up a fairly steep hill. I saw the electric range meter fall quickly as I climbed, and figured I would have a record-low electric-only range when the charge was finally depleted. It turned out to be quite the opposite.

On my way home, the electric range read 16 miles. I wanted to make the charge last, so I drove in the slow lane, going 50-60 mph. By the time I got to the top of the hill (at Skirball Center Drive, for those familiar with the area), the Volt's display said I only had two miles of electric range left. But these would be the longest two miles I had ever driven.

I was now going downhill and was able to coast at 50-55mph without giving any throttle at all. It was nighttime, so there was hardly any traffic. I was almost at my exit and the range was still pegged at 2 miles. I didn’t set out to break the range record that day, but as I passed the 42 mile mark, I thought to myself "I might be able to make a run at this thing!"

In a desperate attempt to conserve energy, I turned off the seat heaters that my wife was using and kept driving as consistently as possible. I exited the 10 Freeway on the Robertson offramp. This is about 10 miles from when the electric range first showed only two miles left. As I continued to drive on the street, the meter fell to one mile and soon after that the gas engine kicked in.

The Volt's display showed that I had driven 45.5 miles on electricity only. This is less than a mile short of the 46.4 record set by Dan Edmunds, but I did tie with Karl Brauer for second place. Looking back I should’ve stayed on the freeway to keep the momentum. But regardless, it was a good run.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @2,932 miles.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: "Fuel" Economy Update 2

March 02, 2011

2011_chevrolet_volt_det_ft_11081010_717.jpg

Welcome to the second update of our 2011 Chevrolet Volt's fuel economy -- errr, electricity consumption. Well, it's both, actually.

The Volt's cost and consumption story is complex, so I'm trying something a bit different with this particular monthly summary. It's a work in progress.

Because you asked for it, I've added cost per mile calculations using national average prices for gasoline and electricity. You'll also see the cost per mile with California average gasoline and electricity prices, though the price many editors pay at home is far higher than this.

Some of you expressed an interest in seeing the "apparent" mpg, looking at gasoline used over all miles driven and ignoring electricity. It's a bogus figure from an overall cost and consumption perspective, but it has a use if all you care about is reducing our dependence on gasoline that's derived from oil. I hesitate to say imported oil, because some of it is domestic, but you get the idea.

Before we get to that, here is the consumption and range breakdown, with gasoline consumption figured over the gasoline-driven miles and electricity consumption figured over the battery electric miles.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Best

Worst

Average

Electricity (*kWh/100 mi)

26.2

52.0

35.6

Electric Range (miles)

46.4

25.8

36.6

Gasoline (mpg)

39.0

29.8

33.7

* Remember, smaller is better with the kWh-per-100 miles unit

Here is how these compare to EPA consumption and range estimates.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Best

Worst

Average

EPA

Electricity (kWh/100 mi)

26.2

52.0

35.6

36

Electric Range (miles)

46.4

25.8

36.6

35

Gasoline (mpg)

39.0

29.8

33.7

37

That's right, our Volt is beating the EPA's estimates for range and electricity comsumption but is falling short of the expected gasoline consumption.

The ratio of battery-electric miles to total miles is called the Utility Factor in engineering circles. It sounds weird until you associate the word "utility" with electric utilities. We were breaking in our gas engine during January, so the percentage of battery-electric miles (the UF) was a bit low. We brought that up significantly this month, as you can see here. More charging means fewer visits to the gas pump, so the "apparent" mpg goes up accordingly.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Jan

Feb

Overall

Utility Factor (% EV miles)

31%

60%

44%

“Apparent” MPG (ignoring electricity)

49.2

82.0

59.8

Cost per mile (US average prices)

8.1¢

7.0¢

7.6¢

Cost per mile requires a bit of clarification. The February cost per mile fell even as gas prices went up because we spent more time running off the batteries. This works out with the current national average electricity prices, but it doesn't hold true at any electricity price, as we will see later.

For the record, the national average residential price for electricity used here is 11.7 cents per kilowatt-hour. The DOE's official figure hasn't been updated since Nov 2010, so we're using that figure in January and February. This isn't a huge problem because electricity prices don't bounce around like gasoline prices.

But gasoline prices do fluctuate--a lot. Fortunately, the statistical data is also updated quite rapidly. For February we used the current national average premium fuel price, $3.633 per gallon. Last month's national average of $3.409 was used for January. Yeah, if you didn't already know it, the Volt requires premium.

For reference, here is the theoretical cost per mile of a couple of popular Hybrids, calculated using national average prices for regular unleaded. I say theoretical because you have to match the EPA combined rating to make these numbers.

2011 Toyota Prius (50 mpg comb)

6.2¢

6.8¢

6.5¢

2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (39 mpg comb)

7.9¢

8.7¢

8.3¢

So far these figures are based on national prices, but electricity varies wildly by state--even within states or neighborhoods. It should be no surprise that California gasoline prices and electricity rates are more expensive than the national average.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Jan

Feb

Overall

Cost per mile (Ca. average prices)

8.9¢

8.2¢

8.6¢

Cost per mile (charging at my house)

10.6¢

11.8¢

11.1¢

California electricity --15.2 cents

California premium gasoline -- $3.967 now and $3.632 a month ago.

Electricity at my house -- 31 cents (SCE tiered rates, highest tier)

Note that the cost to plug in a Volt doesn't make sense at my electric rates. See how the cost per mile goes up during February, the month we plugged-in our Volt more of the time? In my specific case, the more battery I use, the more I pay. There is a tipping point for the price of electricity, and I live beyond it. I can't tell you what that point is with precision because the never-ending flux of gas prices makes it a constantly-moving target.

That's enough nerding for one day, don't you think?

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 2,865 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Free Parking, Free Juice

February 28, 2011

Two Volts and RAV4_1600.jpg
Last week, I mentioned in a blog that I would be going to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) twice in the 2011 Chevrolet Volt over the weekend. One reader, Defiant2, suggested I use the free parking near Terminal 1. After some online research, I found that there are two free parking areas for EVs but only one has the charging unit we need.

Friday night I drove through driving rain to pick up my father and used the EV parking near Terminal 6. While they had the old style chargers that didn't fit the Volt, it allowed me to park without hunting for an open spot. As I was exiting I told the attendant that EVs got free parking. She laughed pleasantly and said, "Yeah, wouldn't that be cool? That'll be $5, please." It was 1:30 a.m. and I didn't feel like arguing the point. So I paid.

120_volt_charging.jpg

Sunday morning was a different story. I pulled in next to another Volt (the only other one I've seen on the road) and waved the ChargePoint card and hooked up the charger. The only disappointment was that my sister's flight was on time and I only charged for about 20 minutes. This time, the attendant was up on the whole parking perk thing and, after a long delay, flipped the gate up. Luckily, no one was stuck behind me or they would start hating EV drivers (even more than they already do).

In other Volt news, I used the Kill A Watt monitor and found that it takes about 12 kWh to recharge the Volt. At my current rate of .15 per kWh that means it costs $1.80 for enough charge to go about 35 miles. If you compare the Volt to a similar sized car, getting 35 mpg on gas at the Los Angeles average of $3.75 per gallon, that means the Volt is less than half the cost. The difference, of course, is the entry price of the vehicle itself. We paid $43,000 (or $35,500 once the federal tax credit is applied) for the privilege of saving money on gas.

While it is nice to have the "range extender" feature of the Volt, basically a safety net that catches you, it is always disappointing to see the battery icon replaced by the gas pump icon. The whole idea of getting this car is to go electric. And yet the range is pretty limited. On Friday I made it to the airport on electricity but returned on gas. After an overnight charge, I spent all day Saturday running errands electrically. On Sunday, again, I was only half electric. This morning, I made it all the way to work on electricity only to find our chargers are blocked off for construction.

I'm hoping to get the 2011 Nissan Leaf for a week to see if its 100 mile (which in reality could only be 80 miles) fits my driving patterns better.

Philip Reed, Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 2,786 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: The New Age of Electricity?

February 25, 2011

Volt_and_ebike.jpg

Around the time we got our Volt, my father bought this electric bike and left it at my house. I thought that it made an interesting comparison to the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. When the Volt's battery is depleted it shifts to the gas engine. When the eZip bike's battery is depleted I shift over to pedaling. The message here is that electricity isn't enough to get the job done -- you need a secondary power source.

This isn't all bad. I use the electric bike way more than I thought I would. It extends the range of what I could reach by pedaling. And when I get there I'm not sweaty. In the Volt's case, I was disappointed when the battery was exhausted and it switched over to using the gas-powered engine. Still, getting all the way home and halfway back to work (37 miles) on all-electric was pretty cool.

In my first night in the Volt I liked driving it (except for the odd brake feel). I'll be in it for a week so I'm looking forward to getting to know it in more depth.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Cold Comfort

February 22, 2011

Efficiently frozen.jpg

Range anxiety is really not an issue in the Volt, since the gasoline engine kicks in when the battery has run its course. Range envy is another matter. I developed a bad case of it over the weekend.

My driving pattern over the last three days -- a 28-mile one-way freeway commute, around-town driving to the market and breakfast, the use of climate control and occasional forays into the Volt's sport mode -- got me lackluster electric-only range of around 30 miles. Nothing approaching the car's 46.4-mile best.

So for my commute to Santa Monica this morning, I was determined to better my performance. I read the Volt's onboard energy efficiency tips before heading out. The car is most efficient at speeds below 50 mph. I couldn't drive 50 on the 405 without being honked into oblivion, but I kept my speed at 62 or so for most of the drive. The car's climate-control system is most efficient in fan-only mode, and Chevrolet recommends using the Volt's heated seats rather than running the heater itself. Done. It was just 47 degrees outside, but I skipped the heater and turned up the fanny-warming driver's seat.

As you can see from the Volt's energy-information screen at the top of this entry, I was doing pretty well -- driving efficiently and making the most (or least) of the climate-control system.

The result: much better range. I arrived at Edmunds' office with 13 miles to spare, meaning I was on track to get 41 miles of electric-only range from the car. The collateral damage: I had no sensation in my fingertips. The next time I drive the Volt on a wintry morning, I'm either bringing along gloves or resigning myself to losing the range war.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @ 2,530 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Theory to Practice

February 21, 2011

volt powerplant.jpg

Until now, my relationship with our Volt has been that of a person who has pored over cookbooks but has never set foot in a kitchen. I've either written, edited or collaborated on five stories recently for Edmunds about electric vehicle power costs, battery operation and that popular EV topic, "range anxiety." But I've spent virtually no time driving an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle. I was looking forward to applying theory to reality.

On my drive home Friday, abysmal stop-and-go freeway traffic gave me plenty of time to (safely) put the Volt's energy usage and energy efficiency display screens through their paces. I kept an eye on the spinning green leaf ball called the "driver efficiency gauge." It turns a sickly yellow, like a dying houseplant, if you brake or accelerate too aggressively, so I avoided doing either.

Another display on the Volt confirmed I was using an energy-efficient driving style, but I think I lost points with my too-cozy climate setting. The nature of the traffic probably didn’t help, either. Whatever the reason, by the time the car flipped from electric to gas operation, I had only managed to get 29.5 miles of electric range -- a far cry from the car’s best of 46.5 miles.

The next issue was charging, which I suspected that it was going to be a challenge. I live in an old house with a garage that does not have a 120V AC outlet close at hand. The nearest one is in an adjacent laundry room. I’d managed to charge a plug-in Prius few months ago by running the cord through the car’s open windows to get that last foot of cord reach. No such luck with the Volt, however.

I could have driven on gasoline only, and did so on Saturday. But where’s the fun in that? I consulted with our director of vehicle testing, Dan Edmunds, and the Volt’s owner’s manual, which cautions against using an extension cord and then tells you how to safely do it. I bought a GFCI-protected power strip ($27), attached it to a properly rated (12-14 gage, outdoor-use) extension cord, connected that to our kilowatt-hour reader and then to the Volt’s charging cord. It was not a pretty array, but all the lights went green and charging commenced. More than 10 hours later, a blinking green light on the Volt’s dash told me it was ready to go.

The Volt took in 13.36 kWh of electricity. We have a low-power household that rarely strays out of Southern California Edison’s Tier 1, where the charge is 13 cents per kWh. But just in case, I estimated a rate in the next tier: 15 cents per kWh. Based on that, the Volt cost about $2 to charge, and that's not too bad. Today’s goal is to see if I can eke out better range.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @ 2,451 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Maximum Motorized Motivation

February 09, 2011

Volt 45.5 on Electric.jpg

After yesterday's post I might not come off as the biggest fan of our Long Term 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Some might even think I've "got it in" for the car and am attempting to portray only its worst-case scenarios.

Well read on my fellow cynics.

In this post I'm going to take you on a journey, literally, from my house to my workspace, located exactly 50.4 miles away. When I entered the Chevrolet Volt for this particular commute the battery was fully charged and read 35 miles of range. I was somewhat dismayed at this number because the car had previously read 40 and 38 miles after being fully charged a few weeks earlier.

Was the battery already showing signs of reduced charge capacity? "Probably not," I told myself. More likely the car's reduced battery range during my previous driving conditions had taught the computer to assume the worst.

So I left my house and traveled at speeds between 20 and 45 mph, with plenty of stop-and-go conditions, for the first 5 miles of my drive. Under these circumstances the battery range didn't drop to 34 miles until I was 5.5 miles into my commute.

"Hmm, I wonder how much I could stretch out the range if I put some serious effort into it?"

It's worth mentioning my commute route this day, unlike my previous drive into work, was along the relatively flat Pacific Coast Highway. At this point in the drive I decided to be very prudent with throttle application and hold my speed along the open stretches of PCH at around 55 mph (the official speed limit).

Driving at that speed effectively turned the Volt into a rolling chicane and had everything from diesel work trucks to the occasional Toyota Prius blasting past me. But I maintained discipline and even let the Volt slow down to the mid-40s on the slight uphill portions of PCH.

I knew I was making progress when my travel distance was at 21 miles and my remaining battery range read 22 miles. Don't forget that over half of my commute on this route (20-plus miles) has ZERO stop signs or stop lights. That means minimal opportunities for brake regeneration, though it also means no coming to a stop and having to get going again.

I didn't get back into heavy traffic unitl the battery range was down to 7 miles and my distance traveled was at 35 miles. This left me with 15 miles to go before reaching work, meaning I wouldn't quite make it on battery alone.

But I did eek out 45.5 miles on pure electricity before the Volt's engine started up, which is a far cry better than the 25.8 miles I'd managed on my previous commute using the 101 freeway and climbing the steep Canejo Grade. Even at the criminal energy rates charged in California, spending $4.16 to go 45.5 miles isn't a bad deal.

But here's the question: Could I conceivably get from my house to Edmunds.com without using any gasoline? I've heard rumors of people going up to 58 miles on the Volt's battery, so theoretically it's possible.

What if I added some personal incentive to the goal? What if I said I have to try to get to Edmunds.com on pure electricity, and whatever distance I fall short I have to cover on foot? In other words, when the engine starts I immediately pull over, park, and start walking.

If nothing else it could make for an interesting blog post.

Karl Brauer, Edmunds.com Editor at Large

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Dollars and Sense?

February 08, 2011

Volt 25.8 on Electric.jpg

I spent four days in a row driving our long-term 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and I honestly feel like I could write a small novel on the experience. Instead, I'll focus on the major lessons learned.

The first 24 hours were a lesson in frustration, as I managed to pull the worst range from the battery (as seen above) while simultaneously getting the most expensive electric bill I've ever received.

Volt Battery Charger.jpgIt all started with plugging the Volt into my 110v garage outlet after draining the battery on my commute home. The battery had run out after 35.4 miles, falling a bit short of the 37.8 I'd gotten on the same commute home the last time I drove the Volt.

Okay, no biggie. I plugged it in as soon as I parked in the garage and it was fully charged the next morning. However, my route into work wasn't along the relatively flat Pacific Coast Highway (which I use about 90 percent of the time), but instead along the 101 Freeway down to Malibu Canyon Road, then out to PCH. I used this route because I was leaving early enough to avoid traffic and (if you leave early enough) it's faster than the coast.

BUT (and when driving a Volt, this is a big BUT), the 101 south from my house includes the very steep Canejo Grade, which means you're not only traveling at freeway speeds but freeway speeds up a long, steep hill. I figured the Volt wouldn't like this, but when I got to the top of the grade the miles I'd traveled from my home read 7.7; miles I had left on the battery...16. Ouch!

Volt Electric Bill.jpg

Sure enough, the battery died at 25.8 miles and the the Volt switched over to internal combustion. It had taken 13.41 kWh to charge the Volt, but at that point this was just a number in the logbook. The real issue for me started when I got home that day and finally started going through the stacked up mail. In it I found my record-setting electric bill and confirmed I had paid $.31 for each kWh from mid-December to mid-January.

At that rate it cost me $4.16 to fully charge the Volt the previous night, a price that got me 25.8 miles the following morning. Even my math-challenged brain can deduce the obvious: driving the Volt up freeway hills after charging it at typical Southern California energy rates is an economic disaster. Image putting $4.16 worth of (non-premium) gas in almost any economy car. You're probably going to get more than 25.8 miles out of your investment.

Now, let's address the many issues this no doubt raises:

1. Can't you charge the Volt at a cheaper rate?: Absolutely...in theory. After ranting about this issue on my Twitter feed (I was genuinely fired up when I first did the cost calculation) I got multiple reponses (including one from Chelsea Sexton of Who Killed the Electric Car fame) about alternative charging options offered by the California utility companies. I went to the government site to learn more and discovered a lot of government speak, but after wading through it I think I sort of confirmed the following:

You can get a smart charger to only charge at off-peak times
You can get a separate meter to track only electric vehicle charging

I'm not trying to be coy in my description of these alternatives, I'm just saying if you read the actual language (in the .pdf documents) you'll see it's full of government double-speak that allows for a lot variables and doesn't seem to gaurantee anything. For instance, I'm not sure the smart charger or separate meter ensures a lower rate if you otherwise still use enough electricity to hit the dreaded Tier 5 level. I think it does...I think.

2. Dude, you use a lot of electricity!: After thinking the exact same thing when seeing this bill something occurred to me a few hours later -- Christmas lights. This bill covered the period of time when I had my lights up, which was the first time I've hung Christmas lights since moving to California in 1994. Yes, it will likely be my last, too, though using ancient, family heirloom lights from (not joking) the 1970s probably didn't help matters.

But, Christmas lights aside, if you're already an energy hog before you buy a Chevy Volt, or any other electric vehicle, you're almost certainly going to be hitting the highest rates of electric billing unless you find an alternative method for charging it. If you're considering an EV, please do yourself a favor and carefully research this financial aspect of operating the vehicle, first.

All this aside, I had a decidedly more positive experience with the Volt toward the end of my four-day seat time. I'll cover that in the next post.

Karl Brauer, Edmunds.com Editor at Large

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: 2,000 Miles, Many on Electricity

February 07, 2011

Chevrolet Volt 2000 Milestone.jpg

We crossed the 2,000-mile barrier with our Long-Term 2011 Chevrolet Volt this morning. I was so focused on getting the maximum electric range I missed the official 2,000-mile rollover. But I did have a successful hyper-miling effort.

More details to come shortly, but after 4 days in the Volt I've certainly learned a lot.

Karl Brauer, Edmunds.com Editor at Large @ 2,020 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: "Fuel" Economy Update

February 01, 2011

2011_volt_1600_chargecord_damp.jpg

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is unlike any of our other long term test cars, so it doesn't quite fit into our usual Fuel Economy Update format.

It's of course a plug-in hybrid that runs on electricity for a time before switching to gasoline, and this means there are three important things to track: electricity consumption in kilowatt-hours per 100 miles (kWh/100), electric range in miles and the familiar gasoline fuel economy in mpg.

Our Coulomb charger allows us to measure how much electricity we put into the thing, and a readout on the Volt's center stack tells us how far that charge took us before the gas engine lit up. From these we can directly calculate electricity consumption, and by subtracting the electric miles from the total miles driven we can back-out our gasoline-propelled miles. From there we do the usual thing and divide gasoline miles by gallons of dino juice added to calculate gasoline mpg.

So here we go. Here's our first result, presented along with a handful of our other cars for reference.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Best

Worst

Average

Electricity (kwh/100 mi)

26.2

46.6

33.1

Electric Range (miles)

46.4

26.7

36.9

Gasoline (mpg)

39.0

31.5

34.0

'04 Toyota Prius (mpg)

63.5

26.7

40.9

'10 Ford Fusion Hybrid (mpg)

37.7

18.3

31.7

'11 Mazda 2 Touring (mpg)

36.6

21.2

31.7

Other Stats:

  • Total miles monitored: 1560
  • Gasoline miles: 1078.5
  • Electric miles: 481.5
  • Utility Factor: 31%

Things to remember, especially if you're doing math in your head:

  • Lower is better when you're looking at electricity consumption in kWh per 100 miles
  • The three normal vehicles can only be compared to the Volt's results on gasoline
  • Volt requires 91-octane premium, the others don't
  • The two electricity-related numbers are stand-alone figures. It's merely a coincidence that all three of the Volt's attributes settled into the mid thirties.

And here's how all of this compares to EPA ratings...

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Best

Worst

Average

EPA

Electricity (kwh/100 mi)

26.2

46.6

33.1

36

Electric Range (miles)

46.4

26.7

36.9

35

Gasoline (mpg)

39.0

31.5

34.0

37

'04 Toyota Prius (mpg)

63.5

26.7

40.9

46

'10 Ford Fusion Hybrid (mpg)

37.7

18.3

31.7

39

'11 Mazda 2 Touring (mpg)

36.6

21.2

31.7

32

Interestingly, our average electricity consumption and average electric range beat the EPA ratings. The same cannot be said for gasoline fuel economy, which falls a bit short. It's worth noting that no long road trips have yet been made in the Volt. Our Volt only has 1,600 miles on it. We're just getting started.

So far, our Volt's battery/electric performance seems to be much more variable than its gasoline consumption, this despite local temperatures that are mild with modest swings from high to low.

Once we have a bit more data we'll take a stab at translating these results into cost per mile. As you can imagine, that figure is tricky because it's highly dependent on local utility rates and the mix of gasoline and electric driving one does. Such factors will differ massively with individual circumstances.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 1,618 miles

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: No Charge Weekend

January 31, 2011

Volt at Beach.jpg

I had the Chevrolet Volt this weekend, but since there is no electrical socket near where I park, I had no place to charge it. And although it was a pretty low-key weekend for me, I wondered if I could make the charge last the entire time. I drove the Volt at a leisurely pace and I was able to get by without using the A/C or heater. Though the skies were a bit gloomy, the weather was in the mid to high sixties this weekend.

My total mileage for the weekend was 44 miles, 37.7 of which were on the electric charge. This is pretty consistent with Karl's numbers, except my route consisted of mostly city driving. On Friday night, I took the freeway home and was caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic for six miles. The rest of my weekend was spent running errands to the post office, Target and the grocery store. Saturday evening, I drove to the beach to take a photo of the car, but I caught more heavy traffic when I hit Pacific Coast Highway. These short trips in traffic would be less than ideal for a traditional gasoline engine, but they were a perfect fit for the Volt.

The gas engine didn't come on until my drive to work this morning. It was a seamless transition and the only giveaways were the instrument panel switching over to the blue fuel graphic and a slightly louder engine note. I was very impressed with this car and I wouldn't hesitate to take it out for another drive.

My nitpicks are minor. I noticed the same touchiness with parallel parking that Ed pointed out. The spoiler does scrape on almost everything. And the parking assist sensors in the front are a bit annoying. When you are pulling into or out of a tight space, they are constantly beeping and are a distraction from the task at hand.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 1,555 miles.

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2011 Chevy Volt: The Perfect Compromise?

January 28, 2011

P1040114.JPG

On my daily commute I get notoriously poor fuel economy. It's bumper-to-bumper traffic that jumps from 0-40-0 and 0-30-0 and 0-50-0 three times a minute and I've got a heavy foot. Poor fuel economy is the price I pay for driving how I want. I'm okay with that. When I had a Mazda3 I averaged 15 mpg on this commute. I was okay with it.

So when I got into the Volt for my normal commute for the first time, I expected it to be like the Mini E or the Plug-in Prius we had and return roughly 50% of advertised electric range.

.....I was wrong.

The first picture in this series is from my parking spot at home when I booted up (you don't start this time) plugged in my iPhone, turned on the seat heaters and AC (that's just how I roll) and hit the road. The following is the big screen version of my consumption and range before takeoff.

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: How We Measure Electricity Consumption

January 26, 2011

2011_Volt_1600_chargepoint_oa.jpg

By now you may be wondering how the heck we're measuring our 2011 Chevrolet Volt's gasoline and electricity consumption. It's complicated, but not difficult if you follow a few steps.

Step One is measuring gasoline consumption at the pump. That's easy. We already know how to do that.

Step Two is measuring electricity consumption. That's quite a bit trickier, but not too difficult with the right equipment.

Above is one of our two secret weapons: A Coulomb ChargePoint SAE J1772-compliant charger that we paid for with our own money. It can charge two ways: a) 240 volts by plugging that white SAE pistol grip charger directly into the car, or; b) 120 volts by plugging the car's own charge cord into a socket hidden beneath that ribbed hatch labeled with the numeral "1". Better still, it's possible to use both at once, as illustrated in our Volt vs. Prius plug-in comparo.

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2011 Chevy Volt: Put Me in the 'Like' Column

January 24, 2011

Chevy Volt at Track 16.jpg

Whether the Volt makes sense from a financial perspective is one that shall be determined over the course of the year as we crunch numbers from the horribly confusing fuel/energy log. But for now, I do know this: the Volt is a very enjoyable car to drive.

It starts with the power delivery. After a brief dalliance with a punchless TSX, I realized I'm a torque guy and an electric motor is a big turn on, providing a perfectly smooth wave of immediate torque when accelerating. The wild Mini E was basically torque porn, but the softcore Volt is still defined by this characteristic. Even when the battery has been depleted, the car still has an electric car throttle feel since it is powered by the motor rather than the engine (at least most of the time).

When I accelerated from a stop, the Volt drew power only from the batteries just as a regular parallel hybrid would (the batteries still draw power from regenerative braking), although it seemed to take longer for the engine to kick in than it does in a Prius. I also found this switchover to be less intrusive than in the Prius, with less noise and vibration at start-up. There is another key difference. The Volt's engine works in correlation yet independently of your foot. If you lift off the "gas," the engine can still be churning along. Oppositely, you can lay into it and the engine can take a few ticks to come on. It's a little weird, but weird is OK by me.

To be honest, though, the Prius is still pretty weird and its powertrain is still pretty nifty. Yet, those attributes don't change the fact that Toyota's ubiquitous hybrid is depressing to drive. The Volt is not. Sure, the steering is rather inert on center, but the car's low center of gravity and commendable suspension tuning make it hug on-ramp cloverleafs like a champ. The I-110/I-405 South interchange alone had me sold. I have ZERO desire to take it on a mountain road, but for running errands this weekend and blasting down to Orange County on Friday night, the Volt has the sort of solid, buttoned down feel in normal driving that made me fall in love with premium small cars like the MKIV Jetta, BMW 135i and VW GTI. If the Volt was my daily driver, I'd be thrilled.

Now, do I have nitpicks? Oh yeah -- I could've written 10 blogs today. But I have a year to get into all that. For now, you can put me solidly in the Volt's "like" column.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 1,308 miles

28.1 miles on electricity (~10 miles stop-and-go traffic, the rest open highway)
36.8 mpg (according to computer)

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2011 Chevrolet Volt: Keep It Charged Up!

January 21, 2011

Chevy Volt Display.jpg

I took my first spin in our long-term 2011 Chevrolet Volt last night. It was more than a spin really, it was a full 100-mile commute home and back. How did it do?

First, I was impressed with the 37.8 miles I traveled on pure electricity. In a world where manufacturer claims about electric range often have little to do with reality, getting 37.8 miles on a car that's supposed to go 40 miles on a charge was a pleasant surprise. Most of my driving was in stop-and-go traffic for the first 10 miles, followed by more medium speed travel (around 45 mph with occasional stop lights) for the next 15 miles, and then highway speeds for the last 12 miles of electric travel. I feel like that's a pretty realistic mix of conditions, so that 37.8 figure is an honest one in my opinion.

However, I drove the last 12 miles home, and the next 52 miles back to work, on pure gasoline (didn't plug the car in at my house for a variety of reasons). Under those circumstances the Volt averaged 32.3 mpg. Not a terrible figure, but checking our last Fuel Economy Update for the long-term fleets shows the Fusion Hybrid and Mazda 2 at about the same level, and our old 2004 Prius well above it. All for markedly less than the Volt's starting price of $41,000 (and those cars don't require premium, either).

So, to point out the obvious, if you're looking to justify the Volt's hefty MSRP: Keep it charged!

Karl Brauer, Edmunds.com Editor at Large @ 1,121 miles

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Edmunds Insurance Estimator

The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2011 Chevrolet Volt in VA is:

$100 per month*
* Explanation
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