August 12, 2009
230 MPG For GM Chevy Volt?

General Motors CEO Fritz Henderson and other GM brass are claiming the pluggable hybrid Chevrolet Volt will get 230 mpg.

General Motors says the electric Chevy Volt will get 230 miles a gallon in city driving, calling it a “game-changer,” the WSJ reports.

Another GM executive says the Volt will score a 230 MPG rating from the US EPA.

At GM’s Fast Lane blog, Volt co-creator Jon Lauckner said GM was confident it would have a triple-digit combined mileage rating from the Environmental Protection Agency, which measures these things. Mr. Lauckner said “These preliminary numbers are based on Volt development testing with our pre-production vehicles and the draft federal fuel economy methodology developed by EPA for [extended-range electric vehicles] like the Volt.”

One needs to make assumptions in order to reach that number. The key assumption: how far will people drive between recharges? For someone who never goes more than 40 miles between recharges the number of gallons of gasoline burnt in a year would very well be 0. That's right, no gasoline at all. Why? As long as you recharge before the battery goes dead you can get around in a Volt only on electric power.

The Volt works less well for people who take a lot of longer trips. A Toyota Prius or a VW Jetta Diesel would work better for someone who takes a lot of few hundred mile road trips. The Volt is really a commuter car for people with moderate length commutes. People with too short of commutes do not burn enough gasoline for the money saved to add up far enough to justify the extra bucks for a Volt. People who drive much longer distances will spend too little of each trip on batteries.

It is that intermediate zone for perhaps 30-50 miles per day where the Volt shines. Any readers fit this driving profile? If you do an even longer commute but can get your car charged while at work then the Volt's pay-off is much faster. People who drive 40 miles each way and can plug their car in to electric power while work are really the ideal buyers for Volts. They become even more ideal Volt drivers once oil goes back up above $120 per barrel again.

Some argue the payback on the Volt takes too long. But that also depends on some assumptions. Most notably, it depends on future prices of gasoline. If the world production of oil peaks in 2020 or even more so in 2015 then the Volt will pay back its higher price a lot sooner.

People who just a few years ago were plopping down $50k for an SUV can (if they are still in upper tax brackets) afford $40k for a PHEV car. Therefore those people can keep cruising down the road even if gasoline hits $20 per gallon.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 August 12 12:37 AM  Energy Electric Cars

David Govett said at August 12, 2009 9:27 AM:

You seem to have forgotten that a significant portion of America's personal wealth was wiped out by the current recession. It's dubious whether people will spend $40K for this dollop of a car.

Greg said at August 12, 2009 10:04 AM:

I wonder why a car whose ideal use is for commuting, and which is not particularly suitable for anything else, is built as a 5-seater sedan. Since when have we started carpooling for going to work? And, in case I missed it and we do carpool 5 people in one car, giving each passenger 120 MPG, do we really care about more fuel savings - btw, at a cost of 100% premium in the price of the car?

Nick G said at August 12, 2009 10:11 AM:


The $40 price is for early adopters - there's a very long list of people waiting for this.


GM wants this to be a no-compromise vehicle, something a one-car family won't be afraid to buy. The first Honda Insight was a two-seater with 60MPG, and it sold very badly.

Greg said at August 12, 2009 10:45 AM:

Nick G,

The first Honda Insight was introduced into a market with low gasoline prices, so it made no sense to overpay for the technology that didn't save money.
By the time the prices rose, there was Prius which was a much better choice overall.
Besides, both these vehicles made sense beyond commuting, i.e. they weren't niche products, unlike Volt.

A no-compromise vehicle with a 300 mile overall range? Well, well...

I'll be very much surprised if it flies.

Especially since at $40K price, it begins saving money at gas price of $10/gal, compared to new Prius or new Insight - which do not have range limitations.

Nick G said at August 12, 2009 11:09 AM:

By the time the prices rose, there was Prius which was a much better choice overall.

And why was the Prius a much better choice overall? Because it seated more, had more interior room, and better finishes/options. Same comparison.

they weren't niche products, unlike Volt.

The Volt isn't a niche product. Randall was trying to identify the zone where it makes the most sense cost-wise, but the Volt isn't limited to that niche.

A no-compromise vehicle with a 300 mile overall range?

Most people don't want to drive more than 5 hours without a stop (at which time one fills the gas-tank). The Volt started with a larger gas tank, and the Volt developers decided that the extra range wasn't that important to people. I suspect they're right.

at $40K price

1) that prices isn't set, yet. My suspicion: it will be a little less for PR reasons.

2) That's before the $7,500 tax credit. If it's priced at $37,499, it's net price is under $30K. The average new-car price is $28K, so that's pretty close.

Greg said at August 12, 2009 12:07 PM:

See, Nick, the government may give a $30K tax credit for the purchase, instead of $7.5K, and we can all pretend that it now makes economic sense to buy Volt. But it is just a way to escape reality for a while.
Yet, I don't have a problem with GM setting an artificially low price initially as they need to gather experience with manufacturing and servicing the product.

As for 300 mi range, I am not quite sure what I am supposed to do once I reach it. Is it just a gasoline refueling, or I need to refuel AND recharge? If it's only refueling, then I concede the product is not niche.
And that also refutes my argument about 5-seater.

Nick G said at August 12, 2009 1:36 PM:


As far as cost goes, the Volt won't cost any more than a Prius with a larger battery: a Prius has both an electric and an ICE drivetrain. The larger battery will cost less than $5K in roughly 5 years, and a Prius costs about $24K, so we're talking about less than $29K once the Volt hits large production volumes.

Is it just a gasoline refueling

Yes. That's what's great about a serial PHEV (aka ErEV). No compromises, just the advantages of an electric drive train (runs on electricity most of the time, better acceleration, lower maintenance, etc).

Randall Parker said at August 12, 2009 8:01 PM:


I do not think the $40k price is as high as it appears. Why? I expect the Volt to last much longer. I expect a pure electric car to last even longer.

Also, it is certainly not too high for the all the people you see cruising around in Cadillac Escalades, Land Rovers, and Lincoln Navigators. Nor is it too high for people cruising Lexuses or Mercedes full size sedans.

Also, this is the price for a 5 seater. If you want to keep commuting post-Peak you can use something smaller and cheaper.

But battery price drops could make all these high prices very temporary. Nick G is confident about battery price drops. I'm still looking for strong evidence on this. I'd like to know why we should expect big price drops.

Jerry Martinson said at August 13, 2009 2:24 AM:

Funny to hear the tense of the verb 'is' applied to the "$40k Volt". This is still in its infancy and is essentially marketing vaporware. Yes PHEVs are getting closer and closer just like each day is another day closer to the victory in the war on terror.

On the 230MPG claim, I think it is deceptive for the EPA/FTC to allow this. I think it would be better to classify PHEVs as PHEV20's or PHEV40's with the postfix number claiming the # of miles (or km) that you would typically get all electric off of a topped off charge (although this would likely decline fast as the battery ages or there's temperature changes). Then perhaps a city/highway when in pure gas mode.

Luke said at August 13, 2009 7:39 AM:

While I understand how they are getting the claim of 230MPG, I really do think it is false advertising. If I have a Volt with a full charge and one gallon of gas can I go 230 miles in a single trip? I'm sure the answer is no. In fact I'm sure I cant do it with 2 gallons of gas which is implied with the triple digit mileage. I really with the EPA testers would go through their normal testing with a full charge and a full tank of gas, but then continue the testing until the car is completely out of fuel. At that point I think the miles driven divided by the gallons of gas consumed would be a reasonable estimate.

Nick G said at August 13, 2009 10:12 AM:

But battery price drops could make all these high prices very temporary.

Well, first, we should be clear that most of that $40K is not due to the battery. A simple EV, without a battery, should sell for less than a comparable ICE vehicle. There are basic sedans out there priced for $15K, so a basic EV should be less than $15K.

Now, GM says the ICE backup on the Volt costs about $2k, and their battery supplier says the battery cells cost right now about $5,600. So, with 25% markup the basic pricing should be around $24,500. The rest of the Volt 1st-gen pricing is due to R&D, low-volumes and upper-market options.

Does that make sense?

Nick G is confident about battery price drops. I'm still looking for strong evidence on this.

Here's a good discussion for this (and a lot of the rest information here):

"From a historical perspective over the past 17-18 years the cost has come down by a factor of 15x. In the next 5-10 years we should be able to come down by an incremental 2-4x and we will have to do that to accelerate the penetration of the technology."


Mercy Vetsel said at August 13, 2009 10:52 AM:

Nick G,

"[The Volt] battery supplier says the battery cells cost right now about $5,600."

Do you have a source? Following your link below, CPI states the cost is $8000 ($1000 per usable kwh) for a battery the size of the 40-mile Volt battery.

"All four of these items together justify a 2.5x premium for the AT [automotive] application (or approximately $ 1,000/available kWh) compared to the $350/stated kWh of a CE [consumer electronics] system, CPI says."

I previously calculated that gasoline needs to be about $8/gallon for a mass produced Volt-like vehicle to be economically viable based on the price of the battery. At $8000 for a battery with a seven year life and a 7% finance rate, a Volt battery costs 12 cents a mile (whether it is used or not) in a car that's driven 12,000 miles per year.

So obviously 12 cents a mile is a lot to pay for a battery that only takes you 40 miles, so I'd like to find evidence that this price will drop. The 12 cents doesn't even include the cost of electricity and at $2.00/gallon (pre-tax), a 40 mpg car costs five cents per mile to fuel.


Nick G said at August 13, 2009 11:00 AM:


This is still in its infancy and is essentially marketing vaporware

Well, they're building several per day. That's not vaporware. A lot of credible people (including the director of "Who Killed the Electric Car") agree that GM is completely serious about building and selling the Volt; and that they're on track for the November 2010 sale date, and have been all along.


That's not how people drive. Most people take a lot of short trips, and only very occasionally take a trip that uses a whole tank of gas.

Nick G said at August 13, 2009 11:15 AM:

CPI states the cost is $8000

Yes, for a cost of $500 per KWH (8,000 / 16 KWH). They also say that $350 of that is for the cells, so $350 x 16 KWH is $5,600. The other $2,400 is for the power electronics and battery management system - that's a cost that will mostly go away with very large volume production.

battery with a seven year life and a 7% finance rate

The Volt battery is warranteed for 10 years and 150,000 miles. They're only using a Depth of Charge of 50% to ensure that, which is very, very conservative. Most others, like the Nissan Leaf are using something like 80%, and the Tesla is using 100%. Further, the battery will provide 40 mile range at the end of that period, and will continue to function (at gradually falling range) for many years after that.

If we take the $5,600 and amortize it over 10 years at 7% we get a cost of about $800 per year. $800/12,000 gives us 6.7 cents per mile. Add in 1-4 cents for electricity (4 miles per KWH, and 4-16 cents per KWH), and you get 7.7-10.7 cents per mile. Gas is currently at about $2.70/gallon, so that's equivalent to 25 to 35 MPG. That's not bad, for a vehicle whose base price without the battery would only be $17,000.

Nick G said at August 13, 2009 1:49 PM:


I tried that link, and got "Permission denied
You don't have permission to access the requested content."

Engineer-Poet said at August 13, 2009 5:31 PM:

It won't be accessible to the public until it's published.  I'm told that this is scheduled for tomorrow.

Nick G said at August 13, 2009 6:01 PM:


You might want to look at my series of articles on the Volt at:

Randall Parker said at August 13, 2009 7:11 PM:

Nick G,

The Volt is not an EV. It is a PHEV. So without the battery it costs more than ICE. It has the gasoline engine, transmission, gasoline tank. Plus, it has electric motor(s), regenerative braking, and other extra stuff.

PHEV is more expensive than HEV for a few reasons:

- Bigger battery capacity.
- Electric drive train that can go to higher speeds with more horsepower.
- Electrical circuitry for external recharging.

So the Volt is naturally more expensive.


Why use $2 per gallon to compare? We briefly saw prices that low this winter. But look at the price of oil over the last 5 years. $2 per gallon might not ever get hit again.

What I'd like to know: for commuters going less than 50 miles a day would a pure electric car make more sense economically? Granted, you couldn't use that car for trips. But you could own a second car or rent a car for road trips.

Engineer-Poet said at August 14, 2009 6:51 AM:

The story is now at the top of the front page on TOD.

More than 10 years ago, AC Propulsion demonstrated cross-country capability with an EV.  They used a generator trailer; IIRC, it had a 650cc motorcycle engine on it.  Owning or renting a power trailer (with either a generator or more batteries) is an alternative to a conventional car for the EV owner.

Nick G said at August 14, 2009 9:23 AM:

The Volt is not an EV. It is a PHEV.

True, but breaking down the costs in this way helps understand them.

So without the battery it costs more than ICE. It has the gasoline engine

GM says the ICE adds $2k.


The Volt doesn't have a transmission, either for the electric motor (which has a much, much wider RPM range than an ICE) or the ICE (which isn't connected mechanically to the wheels).

gasoline tank...Electrical circuitry for external recharging.

That's very cheap.

Electric drive train that can go to higher speeds with more horsepower.

That's are counterbalanced by a smaller or cheaper ICE and supporting system. The 1st-gen Volt is using a very cheap high production ICE, and later will use smaller, customized components.

Bigger battery capacity.

I included that.

So the Volt is naturally more expensive.

Yes, but not dramatically more. Toyota says that the their hybrid system, the HSD, only adds $3k to the cost of a vehicle, and they plan to cut that to $1,500. You can see that an electric drivetrain, by itself, isn't expensive.

Engineer-Poet said at August 14, 2009 9:55 AM:

The other half of that equation is that an optimized sustainer engine should be quite a bit cheaper than an ICEV drivetrain (which I believe is only a bit more than $2000).  For instance, the sustainer doesn't need anything for transient response and can have its pollution-control gear designed for a specific operating point.  Two cylinders should be more than sufficient, slashing parts count and cost.  The Volt is over-engineered, probably as a sop to the engine department.

Nick G said at August 14, 2009 10:20 AM:

ICEV drivetrain (which I believe is only a bit more than $2000

Yes, that's what GM says.

The Volt is over-engineered

No question.

probably as a sop to the engine department.

Could be. Also, they're using this ICE because it's off the shelf and cheap; and they're terrified of under-engineering it in any way. Even the parts of GM that aren't convinced about EVs or ErEVs consider a successful Volt as vital for their PR.

bluemonkey said at August 14, 2009 6:31 PM:

The battery pack itself, rated at 16 kilowatts/hour, comprises more than 220 separate cells wired in series. That means the failure of any one cell disables the entire array, though some existing hybrid vehicles also have this flaw. The Volt pack is about six feet long and weighs a hefty 375 pounds.
Voltage: 320 – 350 V
100% recharge time:
110V outlet: 6 – 6.5 h
Electromotor: 45kW
GM also claims the 2011 Chevrolet Volt can run solely on electric power for 40 miles with a full battery charge. That’s in line with studies showing that most Americans drive only about 40 miles a day, so in theory at least, a Volt could go for weeks without using a drop of gas or spewing any CO2. But some analysts think the real-world electric range will be closer to 30 miles and probably less, depending on vehicle speed, ambient temperature (which affects battery performance), and whether trips include steep grades.
After how many recharge cycles (DAYS) the Battery Pack 16KW/H with 220 separate cells wired in series, weighting 375 pounds, HAS TO BE REPLACED WITH A BRAND NEW ONE?
If this car will be used as a normal hybrid car:
If the battery pack is fully charged overnight, the fuel tank filled with gasoline (gasoline pump shuts off) and the car is driven non stop 230 miles:
Going beyond Hybrid, GM and his rescuers are going down a cliff.

Engineer-Poet said at August 15, 2009 7:50 AM:

monkeybrain, most of your questions are answered already.  For instance, the battery-pack warranty will be 10 years or 150,000 miles.

On many of the rest, you beg the biggest question of all:  what are you comparing it to?

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