Crazy Chevy Volt Assumptions, & Why The New Volt Commercial Emphasizes Its Gas Tank

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I recently expressed how much I disliked the most recent Chevy Volt commercial, which ran during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in some locations. I took it as an attack on 100%-electric cars, and further hyping of the ridiculous range anxiety meme. I still think the latter is true, but the perspectives of several Volt owners makes me think the former is actually wrong. From discussions with Volt owners on Twitter and posts by Volt owners elsewhere, I’ve come to understand that it’s extremely common for people to think the Volt only runs on electricity. Even worse than that misconception, check out some of the others:

The misunderstood Volt!!

Have the 2014 Volt for about 3 weeks now and get lots of questions from my clients who arrive at my office. Some of my favorites are: 1..Gee, don’t you have to go to some sort of special charging station at the dealership to get recharged? 2. You can’t go more than 50 mph, can you? 3. Don’t you think that you could run out of charge and be left stranded? Well, I pause and take a deep breath and explain how the car actually works and they are very very surprised. I guess the Volt is not a vehicle for everyone, but I think GM could have done a much better job of marketing and advertising the Volts appealing features and driving impressions. If more are not sold and I really do not see many in my state of Florida, I am not sure what the future is for the Volt. But, at this time, I am very pleased with the car and no buyer remorse.

This person is not alone. The first response on that thread is as follows:

You are finding out what we have been saying here for years!

GM management does not understand what a jewel the designers, engineers, and assembly people have created with this car!!!

We get those kind of questions all the time.

Wait till you start to take some people for a ride in your new Volt. Then they are REALLY impressed!

Enjoy your car. I still smile every time I get into mine. And it is over 28 months old now…..

Here’s another gem:

Six people in my office asked me “so what are you driving in these awful snowstorms?” and then give a surprised “really??” when I say that the Volt actually works in snow. These are college educated professionals.

Frankly, many of the other responses convey how very sad the level of EV awareness is today. Nonetheless, I recommend checking out the thread. What is currently the final comment offers an excellent way to explain the Volt to the uninitiated:

My simplest explanation is:
It costs about a buck 20 in electricity to go the first 30-40 miles, then it turns into a 40 mpg Prius.
Haven’t bought gas in a long time!

Getting to the new Chevy Volt commercial that I mentioned at the top, Jeff Cobb wrote an excellent article countering that and further explaining why so many Volt drivers were thrilled with the commercial. I think it’s worth a read, so reposting here:

New Volt commercial explains a simple concept

Has Chevrolet been outgunned? Its Volt commercials have been criticized as inadequate, but aside from that, how many critics have pumped out far more against GM and its E-REV?

GM has had to face everyone from the indifferent, uninformed, misinformed, and outright malicious.

Now Chevrolet has a new 30-second spot as it continues trying to get the message out about what the car can do.

This is not to say anyone needs to understand the mechanics of it, but even understanding that this is a car that, 1) runs for 38 miles more or less on electricity until the battery runs out, and 2) has also a gas generator that seamlessly takes over.

According to Volt media representative Michelle Malcho, who I spoke with in January, simply explaining things along these lines and other fundamental aspects of the Volt have somehow been difficult to some would-be consumers.

Would-be (adult) buyers don’t just don’t get it. Chevy’s latest advertisement avoids suggesting anything so blunt, and instead has a dad explain a simple message so that a child can understand.

Oh, and by the way, if you are a grownup and you did know either, well there you are.

But maybe it is not only consumers’ fault that as Chevrolet observes, a lot of people simply do not understand what the Volt can do for them.

Some have heard false things from other sources leading them to shy away from the Volt without even knowing if the Volt would make sense for their lives and budget.

Just one example of negative reporting. — Autoblog Green found and posted this one just recently.

In addition to Fox News, a laundry list of other critics have been very vocal against various aspects of the Volt.

The ad plays on at least one misconception that yet persists that the Volt might be a pure EV and unclear to the uninitiated is that it has the “range extender.”

As people following this space generally know, the Volt has been the subject of very little love in some circles since it launched over three years ago.

Critics have confused or blurred the positive benefits while playing up the negative sides.

A simple message: Chevrolet’s latest commercial

At the same time, the Volt enjoys a fan base who say they drive an average 900 miles between filling up its 9-gallon tank – 100 mpg average with the battery helping boost the average, and electricity costs a fraction of gas.

And, yes the Volt takes premium gas, but staying in the EV zone for the most part means the gas need not be burned.

The idea according to those who do like the car is it’s a right-sized battery to do the average daily driving distance studies showed a good three-quarters of Americans need.

If they want to go visit grandma several states away, or otherwise take a longer trip, they may still get mpg in the mid 30s or better in real-world highway driving. The EPA rates it at 37 mpg combined on gas only, not factoring the battery assist.


You probably heard about the sinkhole that swallowed eight classic Corvettes alive and whichGM is now fixing? Security camera footage follows:

Random entertainment:

Also, as we are so immersed in today’s automotive world, here is 1957 footage from The Old Motor of a bygone era for your general interest:

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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33 thoughts on “Crazy Chevy Volt Assumptions, & Why The New Volt Commercial Emphasizes Its Gas Tank

  • I have a 2012 Leaf and a 2013 Volt.

    I’ve heard a lot of misconceptions about electric cars but the one about electric cars not performing well on snowy roads is the exact opposite of the truth. An electric motor reacts instantly to changes in current and this makes an electric motor perfect for use with traction control.

    This is my first winter with the Volt and the traction control works like MAGIC! The Volt did so well in the the snow I cautioned myself not to become overconfident and drive too fast!

    • Just called the desk clerk for my wife joining me in Mass-a Doubletree.”You want to plug in a car?”They do give you a cookie however.Maybe BJs next door has a plug-they have solar panels.

  • Lauren Fix, auto expert? Pull the other one!

  • Have a new Volt. Living in NE Ontario the distances are long. All electric gets me back and forth to work daily. Gas kicks in when we go long distances such as a 5 hr drive to medical appointments. My gas bill is less than 1/4 what it was with my Toyota matrix. Miss the AWD but so far the traction has been great.

    • When you Volt’s original tires are done, the Michelin Primacy MXV4’s are good in bad weather….

      • Thanks Mr. EC. My Volt’s coming up on 2 awesome yrs + 40k miles (92% battery-electric!) so will be in the tire market this spring. So you would say these tires are noticeable better than the stock ones, without much negative effect on range? And will they hold up to ~42+ psi inflation like the stock ones do?

        • I keep them at 40 psi, the handle the snow better, they are highly rated tires, I first heard about them on the Volt forum awhile ago… they are still low rolling resistance tires…

  • Zachary: The commercial is perhaps the best one Chevy has done to date. The misconception is pervasive and very difficult for people to get out of their minds, once its in through either ignorance or propaganda. Last week I ran in to a guy filling his hummer at a gas station (I had actually run out of gas 10 miles away!) and he looked at my Volt and said, “I thought those things didn’t take any gasoline?!” He was nice enough when I explained the Volt, and even said “Very cool!” before driving away. And at work a few weeks ago, I explained to a co-worker (who I had explained the Volt’s operation to a yeasr earlier) that I took a 1000 mile trip in my Volt and got 49 mpg average. At first he looked astonished; then his faced changed and he said, “Oh yeah, I totally forgot that it can also use gasoline.” Chevy is finally tackling the big messages, and I hope it continues with a “series” debunking other misconceptions as well.

    • Well, that is what I’ve learned. Surprised me, since I remember the first Super Bowl ads for the Leaf & the Volt, and thought almost everyone realized the Volt could use gas. Good to see that GM is trying to clear things up. Would be nice if it didn’t further contribute to the range anxiety overhype in the process, but now get why Volt owners love this ad.

    • Why did the gas mpg jump up from the (normal) upper-30s to the upper-40s on the long trip? Can one expect such good mileage with non-hilly, non-windy, summer-temperature, non-stop, 55-mph interstate driving?

      • In a nutshell, plug it in when and where you can (but don’t be inconvenienced). My Volt gets 42-43 mpg highway (60-70 mph) when run strictly as a gasoline-electric hybrid, even in poor weather or hills, those don’t really matter so much how you use the climate controls (when running on battery; on hybrid mode just switch to Fan and you’ll rarely need more than 10%) and your driving style/speed (aggressive & 75+ mph bad, gentle & 65 mph max good:). The 49 mpg over the 1000 mile trip was achieved by simply plugging in the car where I already planned to stop anyhow. New England to PA, overnight in the hotel (Level 1, regular outlet. Next night at the hotel in MD; and finally near a restaurant on the way home in Harrisburg, PA. Never inconvenienced beyond what I already do at home each night, never “waited to charge”, only paid ~35 cents for the electricity on the road (that was at the L2 charger) The hotels offered the plug as a value-added customer incentive. So on “long trips” just plug it in (or not) to get mileage that makes you happy, from upper-30s to 70 mpg+! (I also got 70 mpg on a 420 mile trip last summer) Just plug it in!

        • PS to clarify for the “nitpickers” out there, my Volt achieved an overall efficiency of 46 MPGe on the ~1000 mile trip; likely a few mpg better than my other car, a 2008 Toyota Prius would do in similar driving conditions; and the Volt is a much more enjoyable and safer car for my family to travel in. 🙂

          • I make that 400 mile PA to New England trip too. But I do it in one long day, not as an overnight. Is it conceivable that I’d be able to “plug in” at a McD (which is my typical stop on such a trip)? Or are outlets only found (at this stage of the renewable game) at premium hotels and/or out-of-the-way specialty L2 chargers?
            I’m all for “beating the system.” But I don’t want to have to work THAT hard at beating it, if you know what I mean.

          • Hey, I like McD! ha ha
            Anyway, I spot-checked a half-dozen charger sites along the I-80/I-84 corridor to New England from PA. They’re all Nissan dealerships. Where does that leave a Volt owner? Or are we all brothers in this strange new world?

          • Or try the free or mobile app and use the Trip Planner feature:
            It can show you where L2 spots are (which is really what you need; a regular outlet won’t do much for you if it’s a 400 mile one day trip) And along the way within a mile or two from the main road near a restaurant you actually WANT to eat at – which for me was the Coeltas Irish Pub in Harrisburg, PA. 🙂 Also, try and the mobile app, as it can actually tell you for Chargepoint branded stations if the station is currently in use or not.

          • The McD’s here in Silicon Valley near me has a L2 charging station…

  • I try to always stay within the EV range of my Volt. I am currently using around 1 gallon per year and drive over 20,000 EV miles.

    Granted, most people do not drive their Volt this way, but it does show what is possible in the Volt. I’ve driven almost 45,000 miles and have used 14 gallons. Most of that when my tank went stale and had to burn off 9.1 gallons.

    • My experience as well, though I use 3 gallons a year. I drive a lot less, hitting 19K soon, but 14.8 gallons since June ’11, most at the end of the first year…

      • Plug1n and Volt Owners

        Please take the time to drive your car on gasoline long enough to empty the tank twice a year. Modern gas quickly brakes down, and can cost serious $$$ if it clogs up the fuel system. Don’t trust the feature which burns the fuel when it gets old, take a long trip or fail to charge it, so that if you bought bad gas, you don’t keep it long enough to cause trouble, and the environment and your car will thank you.

        • Why should we listen to your advice, rather than the GM engineers that actually studied the effect of age on gasoline? They concluded that 1 year in a pressurized tank was safe. My manual recommends Top Tier gasoline which is a cut above your ordinary gas in terms of additives and quality control, so I’m going to listen to the experts in this matter, thanks.

  • Wow inverter fluid.

  • I found this article, kind of funny. I’m taking an Energy and Consumption class, and we just finished watch the 2006 documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” A lot of the points being made here are the same ones that were made back when GM, who owns Chevy, made their first electric car the EV1. Needless to say, they didn’t advertise the car barley at all, and eventual killed the project and all the electric cars were sent to scrap yards.

    • I suspect there is about the same corporate enthusiasm for the new electric car stable as the old EV1. When the cancel it (again) they can say we tried but nobody wants our over priced and oddly advertised offering.

      If a Volt was the same price or less than a conventional gas car, they would sell a lot. Sort of reminds me of the VHS and Betamax machines for video, VHS was inferior but cheaper so gained market share. If a product is too expensive, no matter how technically superior, it will lose ground in the mass market.

      • The Volt is cheaper than some EVs/EREVs. It works for some that find the Leaf impractical.
        Stick around. EVs and EREVs are still dropping in price. They are not nearly at the same scale of production as ICEVs. Large economies of scale bring lower prices. ICEVs are now dead-end technology. This will be extremely obvious before 2020. tick-tock

      • I suspect reality has made pretty much all car manufacturers aware that the future may well be electric. Regardless of how much they might love the internal combustion engine.

        Car companies can do math. They have people who are tasked to keep thinking a few years ahead of the market. They have access to what is happening behind closed doors in battery labs.

        They know that if someone releases a battery with about twice as much capacity, adequate cycle life, and not made with exotic/expensive materials the market will switch. Either partly or totally. People are going to purchase vehicles that cost less than half as much to drive if they can.

        I think many car manufacturers don’t think it’s yet time to get heavily into EVs. That the smart strategy is to get an EV of their own on the road so that their engineers can gain experience, but to let Nissan, Tesla and GM build the market.

        As the market grows and a better battery appears they will already have an assembly line set up and can ramp up manufacturing letting them jump into the game at a serious level.

        If XYZ car company has been building EVs, even at tiny numbers, for a few years when the market starts taking off they will be able to tool up and produce multiple models as quickly as they bring out new fuel models each year.

    • That was a lifetime ago and GM got kicked in the privates by the Toyota Prius in between. The EV1 was never going to be commercially viable. It cost something like $300,000 to build one, they only had about a 100 mile range, and the batteries (lead-acid first, NiMH later) had a poor life expectancy.
      GM leap-frogged the Toyota Prius when they came out with the Volt. Toyota continues to drag their feet relative to production of EVs or EREVs.
      EVs and EREVs are not going away. If GM doesn’t compete effectively in this area then they’re dead this time.

      • The EV1 was never legal to sell to the public as per USDOT rules.

        It was just a design and marketing study, that is why they were leased.

  • The article failed to explain that the Volt is both a Serial and Parallel Hybrid.
    When the batteries and motor can sufficiently move the car, it does with the engine off.
    When the batteries are depleted but your are driving slowly, the car uses the engine to charge the batteries.
    However, when the batteries are depleted and you are traveling quickly, the engine powers the wheels directly thru the transmission like a conventional car. This is to get good fuel economy even if one uses it like a conventional car, but does make the Volt slightly more complicated.

    Regardless it’s still way better than the prius for:
    GM is not dumping toxic waste in the third world and our oceans,
    GM makes tougher more durable cars than Toyota or Honda,
    The Owners of the Volt do not behave like total DBs, if they don’t like your car.
    And yes I’ve had two cases of the Nasty Prius Owner in Your Face Syndrome.

    • Your description of the Volt drivetrain is confusing at best and completely wrong at worst. Driving slow or fast is not how the Voltec system decides when the engine power is used. It’s way more sophisticated than that.

      Technically the decision is based on power demand, where low power situations use the generator to rotate the ring gear in reverse, which lowers the RPM of the main motor to keep it in it’s most efficient RPM range, regardless of whether the gas engine is running or not. This occurs at speeds as low as 34 MPH, IIRC. It’s known as 2-motor mode.

      If the batteries are depleted then the torque of the gas engine is used to both rotate the generator to power the main motor and to provide the torque to counter-rotate the ring gear. This power-saving mode can be active up to fairly high speeds, for instance cruising at freeway speeds. The only way to know for sure that the 2-motor mode is active is to tromp the go-pedal down and see what happens. If you have been driving at a steady speed for a few minutes you will experience a slight delay before the power comes on fully. This is the transaxel stopping the ring gear and locking it to the case before allowing the main motor to produce the requested power. HTH

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