2013 Chevrolet VOLT – 1 Year Cost Of Ownership Review

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I recently connected with the author of the piece below. Finding out that he was a Volt driver in Atlanta, and interesting city that is doing quite well on the electric vehicle front, I decided to ask him for a review of the vehicle… as I often do when people indicate they own an EV. This article is an example of the type of piece our readers love — numbers, charts, comparison with gasmobiles, and more. If you’re an EV/PHEV owner and feel like writing up your own review of your LEAF, VOLT, Model S, Ford Energi, etc, please reach out in the comments below and I can get that published! It would be great to have a category full of owner reviews. For now, enjoy Jeff’s super extensive piece! (And don’t feel like you have to match this depth or level of detail if you are an EV/PHEV owner but aren’t prepared to write such a thorough post.)

By Jeffrey B. Cohen


I took my first step into PHEV ownership on August 17, 2012 when I took delivery of a new 2013 Chevrolet VOLT (Silver Topaz/Black Premium). My 46 mile round trip commute between Alpharetta and Marietta GA was eating up $65.00/week in premium fuel in my 2011 Infiniti M37. As I was debating my alternatives, the executive in charge of my company’s fleet told me that he’d been driving a 2012 VOLT for several months and was incredibly impressed with the vehicle. What got my attention were his comments on build quality, the incredibly quiet ride, and the electric vehicle range; on some days he got almost all the way home (60 miles) on a charge! That got my attention. But at over $43,000 MSRP (before GM reduced by $5,000 near the end of the model year), I was not attracted by the high cost of acquisition (almost $600/month). So, being a former GM ‘car guy’* I waited for the deal.

With a slew of unsold 2012’s and new 2013’s coming onto their lots, sales of the VOLT were sluggish in the summer of 2012. But thanks to a great lease program offered by Ally Financial, a 74% residual rate on a 2 year 15,000 mile/year lease with just $2700 down and about $340 in GM Card earnings put me behind the wheel of a new 2013 VOLT for less than $349/month. That’s the typical payment most consumers are willing to make on a gas-powered vehicle.

Acquisition cost is the key driver in total ownership cost as the numbers below will soon tell. I chose to lease my first PHEV so that I could ‘try’ without a long-term commitment to the VOLT.

It’s in my garage, now what?

I did two things in pretty short order: I changed my residential electric rate plan to Georgia Power’s terrific ‘time of use’ plan or PEV rate. By charging my VOLT (with the GM supplied 110V charger) between 11 PM and 7 AM, my cost/kWh was only 1.9 cents compared with 20 cents between 7AM and 7 PM. The savings for my whole house INCLUDING charging the VOLT is $363 versus staying on the residential plan. My cost/kWh is $.104, which is used in my calculations which follow. After six weeks, I got in touch with (the now defunct) Ecotality and ordered an Lv2 home charger which was installed in the middle of October 2012 at a cost of $629.00 (after $400 in rebates including installation of the 240V line). The Lv2 charger gave me the freedom to fully charge my VOLT between 11 PM and 7 AM and do quick recharges during weekend use. My employer was kind enough to install an 110V external outlet at my office so I could park in the back and plug in all day. I include the cost of that energy in my total cost calculations.

OnStar to the Rescue

I worked at OnStar during the early days (1998-2000). We had just launched the 1999 Cadillac Escalade with OnStar factory standard. It was a huge accomplishment. I have been fond of OnStar ever since and have had the system in every GM vehicle, including the VOLT. I signed up for OnStar diagnostics, downloaded the OnStar App for my iPhone to ‘pre-condition’ the cabin while the VOLT was plugged in (in order to reduce the electric load during use). But after a few months, I became intrigued by the monthly diagnostic reports. While it was great to know that my tires had the right pressure and my systems were all fine, what became the treasure trove of data for ownership were the vehicle usage reports. They became the key to helping me put the entire cost of ownership of my VOLT into clearer focus (along with my monthly GA Power bills).

What follows is the ‘tale of the tape’ to better understand the true ownership cost of a typically driven Chevrolet Volt 1.0.

So, how many EV miles do I drive?

According to OnStar, I’ve driven 14,004 total miles between November 2012 and October 2013 (first full year of ownership with Lv2 home charger) and, amazingly, 92.4% are EV miles (12,937) and only 7.6% are gas miles (1,067). My commute was almost 100% EV miles given I could plug in at work. My frequent trips to the Atlanta airport (42 miles from home) drove the gasoline miles. Fortunately, Park N Fly Plus installed an EVGO charging station about 6 months ago and since July I am averaging 97.5% EV miles!

chevy volt owner review

I love the OnStar “Driver Challenge” iPhone app. I currently rank #6 in the state of Georgia and #168 nationwide in 2013 EV miles driven. Nothing like a little competition to drive up the EV miles! My lifetime MPG is 384. My e-MPG is in line with the window sticker: 93.

What does it really cost to own a VOLT? So far, $.45 cents per mile.

So, what makes up $.45/mile? The biggest piece of the ‘pie’ is the monthly lease payment at 30 cents/mile, accounting for just over two-thirds (67%) of the cost/mile; followed by insurance (15%); the Lv2 charger (11% which will decline as EV miles rise); and ‘fuel’ at 7% of total ownership cost! I kept detailed records on my 2006 Infiniti M35, which came to $.73/mile ‘all in.’ I am saving 40% per mile with the VOLT!

volt ownership cost

OK What are the Real Numbers?

So far, I’ve spent $6,300 to drive 14,004 miles, or $.45/mile: $4,200 for lease payments, $1,000 for insurance – both of which are normal costs for mid-market ICE vehicle. The savings are clearly made up in fuel ($465 gas & electric) and maintenance ($25).

Chevy Volt costs

Let’s take a closer look at the ‘Fuel’ Costs.

OnStar Diagnostics reports 3,127 kWh were used to drive 12,937 EV miles. I’ve tracked my monthly home electric utility bill since switching to the PEV rate at $.104/kWh deriving total EV miles driven at a cost of just $325. If you add in the Lv2 charger ($629), my EV fuel cost is $954 ($.07/mile). Gasoline ($139) is for post delivery purchases, excluding the ‘free’ tank of gas from Chevrolet.

chevy volt vs gas

Amazingly, I have reduced my fuel consumption cost by 75% in total or $1,366! That’s equal to almost four months’ lease payments! Add in the residential electric savings ($363) and that’s 5 months free lease payments. IF you include costs avoided, the VOLT total cost of ownership is $4,562 or $.326/mile.

Summary of Ownership Experience

The 2013 Chevrolet VOLT is the best vehicle I have ever owned! That’s a big statement from someone who worked in the auto industry, and has driven and owned so many vehicles. Yes it has some things I hope VOLT 2.0 addresses (inefficient heater core which sucks the life out of the battery, loosening up some of the 40% battery reserve to extend range to 50-75 miles per charge). But for my particular driving purposes it is nearly perfect: a metro Atlanta commute; limited need to carry backseat passengers; and plenty of room for luggage, groceries, and Costco trips. This is a well designed, well built (shout out to GM D’HAM Vehicle Assembly Plant), and nicely appointed vehicle which is just very rewarding to drive. You simply cannot underestimate the psychic satisfaction of the driving experience of a Chevrolet VOLT until you own one.

The single biggest challenge to PHEV/EV ownership in metro Atlanta is the paucity of EV charging stations. After 3 years of LEAF/VOLT/TESLA vehicles on the crowded roads of the 7 million population city, we are woefully shy of charging stations. But that is changing day by day. I created @AtlantaEV to help bring more attention to this issue. I appreciate the follow and your ideas to build EV installations.

So, what happens when my lease is up in August 2014? My plan today is to buy an end of model year 2014 VOLT using my GM Card earnings (currently $1,000 on the VOLT) and the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit (while we still have one). “If you can find a better car, buy it.” I challenge you to include the VOLT on your shopping list. You will not be disappointed.

©Jeffrey B. Cohen, All Rights Reserved

* I was employed by General Motors between 1996 and mid-2000. I worked at GMC Truck as the mid-size SUV Brand Manager (Jimmy/Envoy) and at OnStar as head of Sales, Service and Marketing. I have no affiliation with GM or any other vehicle manufacturer and am not a paid or compensated spokesperson for the automotive, energy, electric charging or related industry. The views and data in this paper are my own.

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29 thoughts on “2013 Chevrolet VOLT – 1 Year Cost Of Ownership Review

  • @Jeff, last sentence before summary, your number is off by 2 orders of magnitude. You meant $0.326/mile instead of $32.6/mile.

    • This will remain until the article is edited.

      “IF you include costs avoided, the VOLT total cost of ownership is $4,562, or $32.6/mile.”

    • Thanks Amy. Correction to be made today.

  • I am leasing a 2013 Volt and a 2012 Leaf. The Leaf is a great car but the Volt is so much better. I’ve also worked in the automotive industry. It’s nice to see an American designed and built car that wins numerous auto industry awards and deserves every one of them.

  • Leasing is a horrible idea. Also why would you buy a brand new Volt. Brand cars depreciate like crazy. If you are truly concerned with the lowest cost of ownership why didn’t you buy a used 2012 Volt? I’ve seen some 2012 volts for sale online listed at $18k with only 50k miles on them. This is list price so you know the dealer will drop it a another $1-$2k. Now your down to $16k out the door which you could easily afford the monthly payment in gas savings alone. I honestly can’t wait until the Tesla Model E comes out as it will make the used Volts drop in value so I can pick one up for a steal!

    • With fuel savings, leasing is cheaper then usual.

      And when the term is up, you upgrade to a longer ranged new car.

      • Were I spending money on a daily commute I’d really be tempted to go with a EV/PHEV lease.

        Sell my current ride, put the money along with the fuel savings away toward a post-lease purchase. Get the advantage of driving on electricity now and not commit until longer range EVs were available.

        The LEAF at $199 would be very tempting.

    • I once thought the same way about leasing, but I have a 2013 Volt for $350 a month, and am so glad I can upgrade to the next generation, and be able to enjoy newer innovations and range, while not have to worry about battery degradation or any other repairs (so far not one visit to the dealer in 18 months). $18k for a 2012 sounds like a killer deal…

    • “Leasing is a horrible idea.”

      To whom?

      I’ve almost always leased my cars. I’m always driving the latest and greatest in technology, fuel efficiency and safety. Especially in the case of the Volt, which carries such new technology, due to see great advances in version 2.0 (hoping GM doesn’t disappoint us there…).

      Granted, I take excellent care of my cars, so the most I’ve paid when returning a lease was $100. Also, I know how much I ride (which is less and less nowadays), so I don’t blow up my mileage limit.

      I think the main mistake when people consider financing is to classify a car as an asset. It is not. It is an expense. And a big one at that. Especially after a few years of use. And it doesn’t get any better, since you are spending money to keep it running, while losing market value.

      But hey, to each its own. If you enjoy driving older, less efficient technology, and you know how to save money doing it, you definitely have to right to do so. Just make sure next time you start your post with “TO ME, lease is a horrible idea.” 🙂

    • I agree that leasing is a horrible idea, for most people, including me. That $2,700 “down” payment or capitalized cost reduction or whatever you want to call it is sunk cost you never get back. Over 2 years that’s another $112 a month you will never see again. Didn’t see that in the spread sheet nor the Tax, title and license, (which why you have to pay on a lease is beyond me). So I guess the fairies pay all these additional costs. Add in the 15,000 mile per year limit, ( I drive 10,000 more than that) and a lease is a deal breaker for me.

  • I’d love to see the Volt with an External inverter for being able to provide power during emergencies and i’d like to see an L-3 fast charger on it. Being able to drive a longer trip and get some fast power would be a real game changer. You’d still need the gas for more rural areas but, if you could go say 90 miles, burn a little gas, stop for a coffee, get a fast charge, and then hit the road till lunch? you may end up driving all day on just 2-3 gallons of gas.

  • Thanks for all of the interesting info & details!

  • Chevy Wheels and tires for sale online at our oemwheelplus web store with free shipping facility. we have online web store on wheels,rims and tires

  • Great summary. However there is one mistake in your calculation methodology. The number of kWh you used is the amount from the car’s battery. You need to use the amount it took from the wall to create that amount of stored energy. Typically it’s about 20-30% from efficiency losses during charging. So you’re actually buying more electricity than the car has to use.

    • More like a 10% loss while charging.

      • Actually, the real world stats vary but show it typically takes about 13 to 13.2 kW to put about 10 to 10.4 kW into the battery. It depends on whether you are using 110V @ 8A, 110V @ 12A, or 240V @ 30A. Add in “vampire” losses for things like battery management and it’s definitely well above 10%.

          • Nice citation. Problem is, people who’ve actually had Volts for 2-3 years and actually measured it show more than a 10% loss. My point wasn’t to be critical of the Volt (all electronics have efficiency losses) but only to point out that the calculation methodology didn’t include the losses.

          • On one hand you’ve got a research lab collecting the data.

            On the other hand you’ve got some car owners collecting the data.

            Wonder which group is more likely to make data collection errors?

          • Bob, I have a kill-a-watt meter on my 120V charger and the actual “out-the-outlet” power is ~12-13kW on a fully empty battery @ 8amps. A tiny bit less at 12 Amps. There are many things that get the number up from the 10.5KW number. The Volt charges on DC so the converter contributes to some of the loss. Here in FL the battery gets hot while charging so the AC kicks in.

          • I’ve got a Kill-A-Watt as well. And I’ve had people tell me that they aren’t the most accurate of all devices.

            I’d tend to go with data produced in a lab that specializes in that sort of measurement. They’re almost certain to have and use the best equipment.
            As far as the AC thing, you may have identified another variable. I’d suggest you read the lab paper and see if they had anything to say about AC.

          • The 240v charger is typically regarded as being 10% more efficient than the 120v charger. The cited research lab itself demonstrated about 87-88% efficiency on a 120v charger. Considering that many (most?) people are using home-grade wiring and extension cords when using 120v charging, it’s actually perfectly reasonable to assume they’re looking closer at a 15% total loss of efficiency.

            .. but much of that’s in the cord, the wall, and then 120->240v adapter just before plugging to the car. Take those things away by using a proper 240v charger on a proper 40 AMP circuit on your house and then, yes, you should an can expect 90-91% efficiency.

  • Maybe this was answered already. In the cost calculations, where is the $2700 down payment for the lease?

  • I wonder if maintenance is more expensive because of the vehicle’s complexity. For example, brakes, transmission, suspension etc? People only seem to write about ownership during the warranty, but about afterwards? I assume that is when the cost of ownership increases dramatically when things start to break. Maybe people tend to sell hybrids before the warranty expires?

    • The Volt needs fewer brake jobs due to the regenerative braking provided by the generator. It’s transmission is also very simple.

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