Cars

Published on September 27th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan

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# Chevy Volt Case Study: Cheaper & Cleaner

Scientific American recently ran an interesting post on a Chevy Volt case study, examining whether or not the car was really cheaper and cleaner than others. Bottom line: yes and yes. But if you want more, here are the key excerpts (by the way, thanks to a CleanTechnica reader for passing this along):

“As of Wednesday, when I looked up the information, my parents had traveled 10,102 total miles in their Volt, 9,186 (90.9 percent) by electricity and 916 (9.1 percent) by gas. They had used 2,437 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 24.4 gallons of gas. They can usually get about 43 miles on a full battery; my dad’s office was 19.5 miles away from home, so he could usually get to work and back on one charge.

“For individuals, the cost per mile is an important measurement. The car came with a full tank of gas, so my parents have only bought 18.9 gallons of gas for a total of \$66.70 (my mom jots down the amount of gas and price whenever she refuels). For the other 5.5 gallons, we’ll use \$3.50 per gallon as an estimate for the typical premium gas price for the area in October 2011, giving us another \$19.25 of gas costs for a total of \$85.95. They have a 12-month fixed rate energy plan. Their rate has changed a little bit in the time that they have had the Volt, but on the more expensive plan, they paid \$0.0885 for each additional kWh. Using that price, we get \$215.67 spent on electricity. That brings us to a grand total of \$301.62 for the 10,102 miles they drove, or three cents per mile. For comparison, with an estimate of \$3.50/gallon gas, a 2012 Prius that gets 50 miles per gallon costs seven cents per mile, and my 2004 Saturn station wagon costs 14 cents per mile on a good day.

“According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, energy in Texas is 45.4 percent natural gas, 36.5 percent coal, 10 percent nuclear and 7 percent renewable, with small contributions from other sources. Using the EPA estimates on carbon emission, this energy mix means that every kilowatt-hour of electricity generates 1.336 pounds of carbon dioxide. For my parents’ electricity usage so far, that’s 3,256 pounds of CO2. The EPA estimates that each gallon of gas releases about 19.59 pounds of carbon dioxide, so the Volt has also emitted 478 pounds of carbon dioxide from gasoline for a total carbon footprint of 3,734 pounds of carbon dioxide. If they had driven the 10,102 miles using only the 37.5 mpg gas engine, the Volt would have released about 5277 pounds of carbon dioxide. A Prius would have generated 3,958 pounds of carbon dioxide over the same number of miles.

“With their typical driving, my parents pay less per mile than they would in a traditional hybrid or gas-powered car. They also emit less carbon dioxide. Overall, they are happy with the car, and we had a lot of fun running the numbers together. Thanks, Mom and Dad!”

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is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he's the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

Got my Volt on March 23rd 2012, still haven’t opened the gas door lol. And it hauls a\$\$, love this thing.

• JL

Oops that should read brake, not break (unfortunate slip when discussing new technology?

• JL

Having traded in my Boxster for a Volt I can attest to the smooth and surprisingly quick accelleration off the line. Driving electric is fun as well as forward thinking in so many other ways. Yea it doesnt break or corner like a boxster but that extra battery weight down low does help create a substancial feel to the overall experience.
I think the more interesting debate is whether e only (Tesla, Leaf) or e plus extended range (Fisker, Volt) is the better solution. In the end it may just vary by owner….but a lot of money has been bet on each theory.

• Bob_Wallace

Near term, PHEVs like the Volt are going to be the best solution for many. That’s what I would need and will likely buy once there’s a “modest sized” 4wd available. The soon-coming full-sized Chevy PHEV pickups are too large for my taste.

Get EV range up to 200 miles or so and get enough rapid charge points installed and I think PHEVs will fade away. It’s got to be cheaper to build batteries than to build internal combustion engines.

And affordable 200 mile range 4wd EV and I’m there. I’ve already got the money saved up.

• Bob_Wallace

1. Have you ever seen anyone depreciate the engine, cooling system, exhaust system and fuel system when calculating the cost of driving a gasmobile? You’re inventing a new math.

2. Increased EVs and PHEVs on the grid assist the incorporation of more wind turbines. One can as easily argue that marginal increases in electricity consumption cut overall CO2 emissions. More wind at night to charge EVs means more wind during the day which offsets coal
and natural gas use.

And given that people who buy EVs and PHEVs are more likely to put solar panels on their roofs argues even harder that those marginal increases in electricity drive down CO2 as the solar is most likely to offset natural gas peakers and be replaced by nighttime wind.

3. One million Volts on the road would mean that 1/250th or 0.4% of all cars would be PHEVs. That wouldn’t reduce our oil use very much, perhaps only 0.3%. But it’s really hard to get to 10 or 100 million on the road until you first get 1 million in place.

Really, can’t you come up with better reasons to dump on electrics?

• logical_thinker

Very interestingly, the 10.4 kwh li-ion battery in the new 2013 Zero S electric motorcycle is rated to last 343,000 miles before it reaches 80% capacity.

The Volt battery may last longer, given it has active thermal management and only uses the center portion of its charge state.

• jonesey

All I know about the Volt is that a friend of mine sold his Prius and bought a Volt, and he is over the moon about it. He loves his Volt. He bought it for the eco-cool factor (which was worth the extra cost, just as heated seats or a sunroof are worth the extra cost and have no financial payback), but the performance compared to the Prius has knocked his socks off. Everything else is gravy for him.

• http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

We really need to promote that somehow. Do you think your friend might want to write up a guest post on CleanTechnica?

• Carney3

It’s not just about the environment, or the individual driver wringing the most miles per penny of total cost of ownership. It’s also about our economy and national security. Oil crashes our economy and funds terror. That’s what got me interested in alt-fuel. I think advocates miss a huge potential audience of supporters by overlooking reachable conservatives like me who are REALLY motivated to de-fund terrorism.

• Bob_Wallace

Good point.

That billion we spend each day for imported oil could do wonders spent inside our boarders. Let all that good money slosh around among our businesses, create jobs, profits and tax revenues.

Add in what is likely another billion per day spent on the military, oil wars and homeland security and we’re on our way to an extra trillion working domestic miracles.

De-fund terrorism. Great talking point.

Buy your miles from American farmers’ and ranchers’ wind farms, not oil sheiks.

You want to starve a beast? Fine, starve the terrorist beast by cutting their oil revenues.

Driving with electricity will save you a lot of personal money and will help win the war against terrorism.

• Carney3

I’m not so sure, this article and other testimonials aside, that EV drivers DO come out ahead in total cost of ownership. If so, great. If not, that’s not my main concern. I’m willing to pay a bit more so as to not fund my own mortal enemies.

• Bob_Wallace

Set up a spreadsheet and work it out.

I did that for the Leaf and I’ve no doubt that over the normal lifespan of a car the full-priced (no subsidy) Leaf is cheaper to purchase and operate than a \$25k 30 MPG gasmobile.

And I made assumptions favorable to the fuel car.

Go look at Voltsstats.net which uses onstar to track realworld Volt stats by pulling data directly from the cars computer. Unlike other MPG claims People are not making this stuff up, the volt emails its owners with real stats and updates… and also txt messages you when you forget to plug it in!

• Carney3

And does that site prove that the Volt has a lower total cost of ownership than a typical gasoline-only car such as a Cruze?

• Bob_Wallace

It’s a question you could answer for yourself.

It may be that the Volt (without subsidy) is not cheaper to own/drive than a Cruze. But Volt prices will come down and oil prices will go up.

• MichaelFarese

I lease my Accord EX-L for \$330 per month (after tax). I can lease a Chevy Volt today for \$299 per month (pre-tax). So, it’s basically a wash and I never have to worry about replacing the battery. I definitely come out ahead.

• Bob_Wallace

• MichaelFarese

EXACTLY! That’s my point. All these folks saying “You have to drive it for a zillion miles before the fuel savings break even” – so clearly NOT true in my case.

I agree the MSRP is high, but if you like leasing, it’s a no-brainer!

• http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

Good point. And that’s exactly the reason that got the mother in this story to convince her husband to go Volt.

• Carney3

Interesting. Yeah, I hate myself filling up on gasoline. Almost every bad headline from overseas (tyranny, rampaging crazies, war), and here at home (bad economy) has oil at its heart.

• bill cosworth

Well with all the rebates the volt is cheaper than a Prius. People keep forgetting that the volt has state and federal rebates. Also people forget the free charge stations. So hands down down the volt is much cheaper and also don’t forget people don’t even buy the volt to save money. A all electric drive train in the volt has superior performance to a gas automobile. So driving a volt is really fun and you can beat anyone off the line at the stoplight. Try that in a hybrid.

• http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

yeah, that last bit is really what should be emphasized more…

• duh

How is spending 25,000 too much for a car cheaper? The extra cost for this vehicle will not be recovered in gas savings.

• Bob_Wallace

Well, duh.

\$40k – \$25k = \$15k. There’s no way that the Volt is a \$15k car. It’s no striped down econobox, it’s a very nice car.

The average new car price in the US is around \$31k.

At \$40k the Volt is overpriced. But that’s what happens with new technology, it comes to market at a higher price which drops as production numbers climb and companies find ways to cut costs.

• duh

Corolla S model gets 27/34 mpg – sticker is 18,230. Let’s compair apples to apples.

• Bob_Wallace

Go test drive a Corolla S and a Volt and get back to us. Give us a good report on quality and features.

lmaooooooooooooo

• Bob_Wallace

OK, duh.

You haven’t gotten back to us so I took it on myself to spread out some numbers.

Chevy Volt \$31,645 after \$7,500 federal subsidy. 0.36kWh mile. \$0.12/kWh electricity.

Toyota Corolla \$18,230. 30MPG combined city/highway. \$4/gallon gasoline.

Common assumptions – full financing at 4%, 5 year term. Electricity and gasoline appreciate at 4% annually. 14,000 annual miles driven.

Here’s a problem. We don’t know how much one might drive their Volt as an EV and how much as a gasmobile so I just calculated it as an EV. Since the Volt gas-only mileage is higher than the Corolla seems like this is fair.

Also I used the US average price for electricity. Most likely people would be charging with cheaper off-peak electricity so this favors the Corolla.

The result? For the first five years the Volt costs more per month simply because loan payments are higher.

Once the loans are paid off the Corolla becomes more expensive to operate. After the 9th year owning/operating expenses are about equal. Over the normal 12 year lifespan of an American car the Volt is about \$3,000 less expensive than the Corolla.

I left out all sorts of maintenance costs for the Corolla. All that oil change, spark plug, timing belt, more frequent brake rebuild stuff. So the real breakeven point is likely a year or two earlier and the lifetime savings for the Volt higher.

And, are you really willing to assume that gasoline will rise at only 4% per year?

Did I get apple-y enough for you?

• Bob_Wallace

Turns out the Volt is less expensive to own and operate over its lifetime than the lowest priced Toyota Prius hybrid.

That one surprised me.

• http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

Wow, that’s interesting.

• Bob_Wallace

Hey, duh,

Just for fun I tried what is more likely an apple to apple comparison between the Volt and the Toyota Camry.

Turns out that if you drive the Volt in EV-only mode during the first five years the two cars cost just about the same to own and operate.

Sixth year forward the Volt is a bunch cheaper to own and operate. Over a 12 year period the Volt is more than \$12,000 cheaper to own and operate. Probably over \$15k cheaper when you add in all the maintenance stuff.

The Volt is about \$3k cheaper than the Camry over 12 years even if you don’t take advantage of the federal subsidy.

Who’da thunk it?

• Richard

You honestly think the Volt’s battery will be operational after 12 yrs? Not even the original manufacturers think they will. Factor in a battery change in that 12yrs… then think… who the hell keeps a car for 12yrs?

• Bob_Wallace

Will the range be down some? Yes. GM has guaranteed 80% capacity up to 100,000 miles. After 12 years of average driving the electric range will be less but the vehicle will still operate and run on battery only for some number of miles. We don’t know what the range might be at 150k, but GM has said that the batteries are holding up better than they expected.

Now let’s go back to my back of envelop math…

” Over a 12 year period the Volt is more than \$12,000 cheaper to own and operate. Probably over \$15k cheaper when you add in all the maintenance stuff.”

The price of batteries is likely to drop significantly in the next few years. Projections are for \$160/kWh. The Volt has a 16.5kWh pack so changing it out once range dropped to 80% of original would cost about \$2600, \$3k including labor.

Subtract \$3k from the \$12k to \$15k I calculated earlier and you’re still far ahead buying a Volt.

Who keeps a car 12 years? Me. I tend to buy new and drive until the vehicle is well-used. I put 300k on one of my pickups.

And if you are a ‘buy new and replace every few years’ type person a more efficient car holds its value better. Someone will pay more for a used vehicle that will save them operating costs than for a budget-busting gas hog.

I track the energy usage of my Volt very carefully and you can see that info on my web page: http://www.arttec.net/Chevy_Volt/index.htm

Since I charge it largely from our 5.2kW solar array, the issue of whether or not the energy source is “clean” is side-stepped. We use it in gas “range extender” mode about 75-80% of the time so that is the “dirty” part of the equation.

Recently we have not put gas in the vehicle for over 1964 miles as of today. It is a great vehicle and fills our needs perfectly.

• StefanoR99

Does your 5.2kW array fully pay for your domesic electricity usage and to run the volt? Trying to work out the size of the array I will need when I take the plunge

• http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

totally awesome!

interested in doing a short write-up for CleanTechnica?

• JMin2020

Nice real world experience and numbers from the participant Zach. These figure will very dipendant upon where you live and how your electricity is produced. IE Had he lived in an area where his electricity was produced by hydro PV or Wind the overal carbon footprint can be better. The same with fuel I would imagine. But that is a whole new subject. The emerging advanced bio fuel applications may help the fuel related carbin footprint in the near future. There are some pretrty interesting techniques and rechnologies available for license and just not quite in application yet.