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Cars PHEV comparison

Published on February 4th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor


Chevy Volt Versus Prius Plug-In Versus Ford CMAX Energi

February 4th, 2013 by  

Here’s another great post from “Volt Owner’s” Chevy Volt blog:

When considering what plug-in electric vehicle to purchase, its often difficult to make good comparisons.  Each manufacturer will generally only highlight what makes their particular model look best, and omit factors in which they don’t compare very well.  I’m going to help you in this quest to make some good comparisons, and even though I don’t compare every model out there, if you dig deep enough, you’ll be able to compare other offerings to this grouping.  I am NOT focusing on pure electrics today.  I will do that in another entry.

But first, let’s take a look at why you have to be careful using manufacturer websites to make good purchase decisions…

This is from the Prius Plug-in webpage:

From looking at this, who the hell wouldn’t want to own the Prius over the Volt?  I mean, its over $7,000 cheaper than the Volt?  Look at all that extra room!  
Examined a little more closely, the price difference between the Volt and Prius is only about $2,100 when you factor in that the Volt gets a $7,500 tax credit and the Prius only gets a $2,500 tax credit.  And with that extra $2,100, the Volt provides you with an EPA estimated electric range of 38 miles when the Prius only offers you 6-11 miles of electric range, depending on if you blend the EV mode with some gas or not (the Prius will burn gas above 62 MPH or if you accelerate too hard: the volt doesnt burn gas in either of those scenarios during your EV range).  But people purchasing electric cars don’t care about that stuff…  Its the legroom, right? 😉

I figure most people wanting to buy an electric car actually want some significant electric range, so that’s a pretty big important point to omit on your advertisement.  Many people are going to fully qualify for the tax credit, so looking at the pretax cost as a comparison is also a bit wonky.

So, let’s take a look at some comparisons, done ‘Voltowner’ style…  I am absolutely biased.  But I’ve done my best to show the differences between three cars in a similar price range, and highlight things that I believe will be important to people looking to buy electric cars.  I am making a comparison between the 2013 Chevy Volt, 2013 Prius Plug-in, and 2013 Ford CMAX Energi.  I have done my absolute level best to provide accurate information below.   If there are typos or technical inaccuracies, all you need to do is comment below and I will fix them.

I think you’ll find enormous value in the Volt, even though it’s slightly more expensive than the other 2 vehicles, but depending on your circumstances, picking one of the other two could be the best choice for you. I have colored a cell green if I deem that car to be the category winner.  The cost per mile metric is just for electric miles.  Obviously you get a lot more electric miles with a Volt than you do the competitors, so while the Volt may not be ‘as’ efficient on electricity (the difference in monetary terms in minimal), it is ‘efficient longer’ than the others that convert to burning gasoline much sooner.  I probably don’t have to tell you that gasoline is going to cost a lot more than 4 cents per mile.

PHEV comparison

* The Cost Per Mile of EV Capacity is a metric I came up with that should give you an idea of what you are paying for each mile of EV capacity.  It should be able to give you a value comparison of the ‘bang for your buck’ of EV range.

** Thermal Management Systems are important in extending the life of a high voltage battery.  The Volt wins as its thermal system is considered superior in laboratory tests for maintaining a constant temperature.

*** GM has established the gold standard of HV battery warrantees.  They actually warranty the battery for capacity loss, which is a huge protection.  The other manufacturers generally state that degradation in batteries is to be expected, but they don’t pin down an exact capacity loss which will result in a replaced battery.

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  • Remco Spruit

    Nice article. I was in the market for a new company car. Costs per mile are not interesting for me. Due to the tax regulations here, cars like the Volt (here also sold as Opel Ampera), Prius PHEV and C-Max Energi are interesting because the taxes we have to pay for using a company car privately are considerable lower than for “normal” cars. Plus lease rates are interesting because they have to meet the budget and are also an indication for the total cost of ownership. To start with the Ampera, being about 80 euro more expensive per month than the Prius and Ford it already exceeds my budget. Next, the Prius and Ford. If you dress up the Prius to match the Ford it is about 5000 euro more expensive which eats budget and adds tax. So I choose the Ford with a roof case if there is not enough cargo space to go on vacation.

  • Car reviewer

    Pruis made in Japan will last 20 years with normal maintenance. Volt made in us from money stolen from US taxpayers will last if lucky Five years. Prius holds 5 volt seats 4 volt 35 mpg in gas mode prius 50 mpg and more. Conclusion only an idiot would purchase a volt

    • Bob_Wallace

      GM stole no money from US taxpayers.

      Take your lies back the dark place you found them.

      (Interesting how you guys attack an American car company that provides jobs for Americans while supporting a Japanese car company.)

    • luvmy911

      Dude, two Prius owners I know have had their battery pack fail and be replaced within 100k miles. My Honda Civic battery pack failed at 138k miles and was replaced (fortunately) under warranty. Made in Japan doesn’t mean anything as all your camrys and accords are actually Made in USA.

      • Stu Smith

        I am a Chevy Volt owner here in Florida. We just had our 1 year anniversary. We have put on over 15,000 trouble free miles. Lifetime average is 124mpg. Our last month was over 250mpg. We get a range of 43-48 miles which is fine for us here on the Gulf Coast, rarely do we put on more than 45 miles a day. We use the 110 volt charger at night are do just fine. When we switch to gas it is seemless, a little more noisely since the engine has kicked in. Love the car, 4 seats is just fine. Back seats fold down a big plus. We get more comments on how good the car looks then when we had a Caddilac. Car has had one oil change and tire rotated. New not been in the shop for a repair. Can’t ask anymore than that. Would compare my car with any Prius made, no comparison!
        Stu Smith Florida

    • nuanced

      I am the original owner of a 2002 classic Prius with 169,000 miles. No major problems and original hybrid battery. Still getting 46 mpg on long Interstate highway trips. Check engine light tells me it is time to replace the catalytic converter ($1500 repair) which is why I am looking to replace otherwise I would hang onto it. I want my next vehicle to be a plug-in. I am seriously considering the Volt or CMAX because the electric range is shorter on the Prius. I have no political ideology hangups. I just go with the facts. I certainly do not consider myself an idiot. For shorter trips the blended plug-in and gas mileages are comparable. For the longer trips it looks like the Prius and C-Max have the edge on the Volt. What will be very important for me is the driving experience and reliability since I expect to live with the new purchase for at least 10 years.

    • BOB

      As many people, you donot know math. I own a volt and ford c-max energi. First off the volt I have gets 45 to 50 MILES on a charge. A charge cost me .85 cents to charge up my volt. It cost $3.69 for your prius to go 50 miles.so do the math.So I can go 180 to 200 miles on $3.69 of electric change on my volt. I also owned a 2012 prius v that got 55mpg in town. Now own ford c-max energi. Which cost .60 cents to charge to go 27 to 29 miles so do the math 6 charges for $3.60 160 to 170 miles for what one gallon of gas that you go 50 miles. By the way the c-max energi is a much smoother riding better engneered hybrid system then prius every had.you donot have to play with gas peltal to be in hybrid mode to 39 mph. I can go in hybrid up to 62 mph in ford.85 mph in only electric on the ford. So to help you to understand. ford and volt make a better engineered, better interior, better riding, more mpg.The prius is not in the game . DO THE MATH.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Lay off the allcaps shouting.

  • rdwrt

    The Ford CMAX Energi seems to be a good compromise 🙂 And seems to be a also a good family car for longer road trips.

  • MiserMe

    Somebody please add the ford fusion plugin into this mix

  • The Volt is a good car to drive and is punchy when you hit the accelerator. The Prius is much less so and handles terribly. The 40 miles electric range of the Volt makes it more of a range-extended EV vs a plug-in hybrid. It’s possible to drive every day for a long time and never use gas in the Chevy Volt vs. the Plug-in Prius which will use a little.

    It actually looks desirable vs. the Prius’s looks which are boring to ugly. The Prius has more interior room and cargo space, but the stigma of driving a Prius as well as the frustration I would get when I hit the accelerator, makes me not even consider it; And what’s with the measly EV range?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Less electric range means less batteries which means the ability to sell for less. If someone has a daily RT commute within the Prius range then it’s a cheaper option than the Volt and as fully functional.

    • nuanced

      I’ve driven a Prius for 12 years and have never been stigmatized. In fact I am often stopped, asked questions and complimented on it. I get far more thumbs up than fingers up. Where do you find it stigmatized?

      • QKodiak

        Nearly every “car guy” that I know hates the Prius. I don’t hate the Prius though. I just find it to be boring as vanilla and soulless-on the level of Chevy Aveo. They sacrificed driving pleasure for efficiency, and that is unacceptable. One of my friends went from a top of the line BMW Z4 to a used Toyota Camry in an attempt to slow down and be more responsible. After less than a year, he’s traded it in for a 2014 Mazda 3. He couldn’t stand the Camry. That’s how I feel about the Prius. Prii would work for the majority of Americans who don’t care about cars, but for the car enthusiast, it’s heresy.

  • engnrng

    I created a spreadsheet model built around a daily commute, and 1 longer trip each month. Can look at sensitivity to daily commute, gas price, $/mi electric, etc. I used a 50 mpg Prius as baseline, looked at Volt, PiP, Ford using your helpful numbers. 25 mi 1 way but looking at savings charging round trip and charging both ways. I picked 25 miles because Volt uses very little gas if charging once a day. Charging once per leg means Volt uses no gas for commuting, Ford uses very little, PiP uses more, but better mpg. Interesting to play with the model. What is a good number to use for $/mi for electricity? I looked at $0.02/mi, $0.04/mi, $0.06/mi – of course this makes a large difference on annual savings vs the 50 mpg Prius. With $0.04/mi electric, and $4 gas, charging both ways, PiP saved $222 per year, Ford $363, Volt $445. Charging once per round trip, PiP saved $116 annually, Ford saved $95, Volt saved $249. Shows the trade-offs between electric range and gas mpg.

    • Bob_Wallace

      $/mi depends. If you’re trying to make a general statement then I’d suggest you use the US average price of electricity which is 11.47 cents per kWh for residential. And a general estimate of 0.3 kWh/mile.

      But you probably want to look at the cost to you so you should use what you would pay to charge. If you’re on a tiered rate system that could be a lot more expensive than if you have TOU (time of use) metering. And it can range from very cheap in a few states to quite expensive in some place like Hawaii.

      I’m surprised that you’re getting only $445 savings per year with the Volt. That seems a bit low to me. I’ll share my spreadsheet that I’ve used to compare mainly the LEAF against an econobox and the Prius.

      Perhaps we’ve made different assumptions. (Or I could have made a significant mistake. If you spot one please let me know.)


      • engnrng

        Thank you for the $ electric info. Looks like my $0.04/mi was right on. Be aware, though, that in California, electric prices have far exceeded the rate of reported inflation by about a factor of 2 over the last 15 years and many feel that it is accelerating. (Simple supply/demand economics. If supply declines and demand increases…) Helping to mitigate those increases are the smart meters that look at time-of-day consumption and compensate pricing at night.

        My analysis was energy costs – gas+ electric – only, Your spreadsheet looks at financing and other operational costs – much more comprehensive. I did not see on your sheet a resale value, though, to complete a cost of ownership calculation. For example, Consumer Reports in 2004 invented a flawed concept of “hybrid premium”, which they later retracted without fanfare. Their premise was that the Prius and the Corolla were equal cars and the moment they were both driven off the lot they were worth the same value, in other words the market value of the hybrid was $0 so that the initial price difference had to be paid for with fuel savings. In fact, 3 years later, the Prius had retained such a higher % of its initial purchase price compared to the Corolla that the hybrid feature was in fact “free” (except for the cost of financing) and the fuel savings were just lots of gravy. Is it possible that if one sold the Leaf vs selling the Versa at 5 years, the actual cost of ownership would greatly favor the Leaf? Also, your annual financing cost is actually a cash flow calculation, not cost. Nice job, though, and I like the 12 year assumption. Most hybrid and electric owners keep their cars far longer than conventional gas burners.

    • nuanced

      very nice. I wish more reviewer would use spreadsheets of various use scenarios,

  • Steever

    We get about 12 miles electric only on our Prius plugin so I’m not sure how you got your data

  • lapman

    Learn how to use your internet browser for zooming in (larger print). You have the power of a computer at your fingertips – use it!

    • thanks. Unfortunately, very few people realize this. We actually had a note in our sidebar for a long time telling people how to do so.

  • EVowner

    I think the 2 most important rows on the chart above are the Thermal battery management system and the electric only range. Thermal management is very important because these batteries are very temperature sensitive. Just ask Nissan how their Leafs (air cooled batteries) are doing in Arizona. The electric only range is important because if the Ford is indeed blended as the PiP unfortunately is, then they are both just hybrids you can plug in. Until the Volt runs out of juice (as long as the outside temp is above 26F) it is an EV and drives like one. No gas until your battery is flat. Volt owners who only drive 35-40 miles between charges and live in a temperate climate would never have to burn a drop of gas (except for Engine Maintenance and Fuel Maintenance Modes of course). This is impossible for the PiP (not even 11) and by the look of it, the Ford as well. Not to mention neither of the 2 other vehicles are built as well as the Volt. Go and test drive all three and you’ll see what I mean. Good article.

  • tinkerer

    I appreciate these charts, but they are almost impossible to read. Can you consider uploading pdfs in the future?

      • addeible

        Rewarding GM for sitting back and letting Toyota take the time to get us use to hybrid vehicles is wrong. It would be wrong even if the Volt was as good of a vehicle as a Prius was ten years ago, let alone as good as a new one. But it’s not. Besides, running up the price of the Volt with overly complex systems that do nothing more than conteract the problems caused by other overly complex systems on the car is engineering stupidity. Case in point, if you didn’t have a battery ten times as big as the Prius you would need a fancy cooling system. Beyond that, saying things like “It is way better to drive” and “You can’t even tell you’re in a hybrid” is nonsense. You shouldn’t buy a hybrid for that reason. You should buy it because it is affordable, well designed, reliable, simple, it has a short payback period, and it will last a long time. I want GM to succeed as bad as the next guy, but as an engineer I know how much better off we would be if people simply bought the best product based on concrete and viable criteria (Prius), not the one that they think they want the most (Volt).
        For the record I was not sold at all on the whole hybrid thing till I drove my girlfriends 2005 prius with 148,000 miles on it. It was quiet, and drove nice (so that will make you volt drivers happy) but more importantly it is obvious it was built to last. Never had brakes, bearings, battery, etc. replaced. Regular oil changes is the only time it has spent in a shop. You show me even one Volt with that kind of longevity and I will eat my words.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The Volt was introduced at the end of 2010, two and a half years ago. So we need to look for a Volt owner who bought one of the first ones produced and has driven about 60,000 miles a year since then.

          We’ll look around….

          In the meantime you see if you can figure out why someone might want to pay $7,000 more for a Volt with its 38 mile electric range than the Prius with its 11 mile range.

          (Hint 38 – 11 = 27. Use that to calculate the extra fuel costs for a plug-in Prius user who drives 38+ miles per day.)

          • Mark Renburke

            Here you go – here’s one (of several) now well over 100K miles. This one’s over 120K so 2/3 of the way towards 160K, and ~50k miles on the battery.
            link: insideevs.com/chevy-volt-owner-zips-past-120000-miles/
            Owner’s lifetime mpg is 65, and MPGe is 51, so bottom line, it is likely cheaper than any Prius even for this high mileage guy. Quote: “What’s not to love when oil changes come every 38,000 miles and tire rotations every 10,000 miles. That’s basically all the maintenance that’s been required on Belmer’s Volt.” PS And as you’ve probably already heard, the Volt is now priced at $34,995, or $27,495 post tax credit.

        • nuanced

          My 2002 Prius has 169,000. I have had brakes, bearings and the starter (lead acid) battery replaced but not the hybrid battery.

          • Frank J Smith

            I loved my 2005 Prius when it was the only reasonably priced partially electric car available. I wasn’t as lucky as you. My traction battery had to be replaced under warrant at 7 years and I think about 80,000 miles. I am driving a Leaf now and will probably get a Volt over the Prius in few months. Once you drive under all electric power you’ll be hooked. I am not knocking the Prius though, great little car.

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