Chevy Volt - What Were They Thinking?

I was interested in the chevy volt. 94 MPG wow. It’s a tempting car with gas prices rising nonstop. Then I saw the sticker price, around 42K.

I did some math and was stunned to see that I would have to drive this car for about 5 years before I saw a penny savings over the cost of buying a regular car at $20K.
And that is assuming gas goes to 5 bucks a gallon. I’m a heavy driver averaging 25,000 miles a year also. By then, I would have gone past the estimated battery life of 100K so I might even end up losing money on the thing! Plus, car payments would be at least $1,000 a month.

Granted, there is a tax credit, but I’m leary of tax credits as you often have to pay them back sometime.

No thanks, Chevy.

Why would a one-time tax credit every have to be paid back?

As to the cost - yeah, it’s too high. Early adoption of new technology always is. You would have to make a personal decision as to whether the incremental value is worth it to you.

Unfortunately for GM, most car-buyers seem to be deciding it isn’t worth it. Of course, eventually gas will be even more expensive and the calculus will change.

I also couldn’t really get your math to work out - what MPG was the $20k car getting? If it’s reasonable you’d probably actually take quite a bit longer to break even at $5 a gallon and 25k miles per year.

And that’s why all electric vehicles haven’t gone big in the US (or anywhere else). It’s not some big CT by the oil barons and Big Auto™. It’s simple economics. Gas just doesn’t cost enough, even in Europe or Japan let alone in the US.


I think “oil barons” have had an effect, xtisme. If oil companies were regulated as heavily as electric companies, and at the same time, I’d be interested to see how things evolved differently. I don’t think there’s a massive conspiracy or anything, but the landscape is biased heavily towards gasoline and not electricity.

I looked at buying an electric car, but the math doesn’t pencil out. Have seen several studies that show significant savings based on “average” electricity rates. Problem is, charging up my car is going to cost a lot more since I’m paying for it at marginal usage rates. In CA, that marginal rate (@ 100-200% of my baseline allocation) comes to ~25 cents per KWH. The full cost is nearly 33 cents after including a city-imposed tax of nearly ~8 cents per KWH. Driving the Volt for 40 miles per day on average would cost me $2.64 (8 KWHs) vs. ~$4 for a similar gas-powered car. Sure, I’d save $500 annually, but I’m not recouping the $15-20k premium I paid for the car until it’s well past it’s useful life.

Given replacement battery costs aren’t really coming down too fast, you’ll never come out ahead, period.

Agreed. Since I won’t be putting 600k miles on the car that money is good as gone. I should also add, my math included a rather generous assumption about the charging efficiency of a Volt’s battery. I’ve seen other estimates that indicate you’d need as much as 14KWH of charge to go 40 miles (which obviously makes the numbers that much more dismal).

But it also comes with $20k worth of smug.

How are they regulated differently? What regulations do you think need to be put in, and why would it balance the equation wrt electric verse internal combustion using fossil fuels? Would it make the Chevy Volt not costs $42k, or would it make regular cars cost that much?

Of course it’s biased towards fossil fuels, especially gasoline…they won the market race early on, so we have over a century of built up infrastructure towards utilizing fossil fuels, we have a huge investment in fossil fueled personal transport, and tons of R&D money have been poured into making IC engines operate more efficiently, lighter and safer. None of this has anything to do with conspiracies, it has to do with reality. The only way all of that built up momentum is going to be overcome is if the rising cost of oil gets to some point where other technologies CAN compete with them. That’s because right now, and in the past they simply couldn’t…oil and oil based fuels are just cheaper and logistically support, and have been since pretty much the turn of the LAST century. Otherwise steam or hydrogen or all electric vehicles would have won the market and have dominated it ever since.

One day the fossil fueled ICE will go the way of the whale oil lamp…not because we’ll run out of oil, and not because some evil cabal of mustache twirling capitalists have finally been vanquished by the forces of goodness and light, but because the price of oil and oil based fuels will reach a point where these other technologies can start to really compete…at which point, we’ll see a gradually increasing move by the market towards whatever the new winning technology will be, which will then dominate the market until either some newer, better tech is invented or it starts to cost a lot more and something else that is waiting in the wings is able to start competing for price.

I realized I didn’t really answer the OP:

They were betting that the time was ripe to try and bring this technology to the wider market place, and hoping that if they got enough early adopters to buy the things, that eventually they’d be able to ramp up their production and lower costs (economies of scale or some such), and/or that the injection of capital AND interest would spur new development which could lower costs. Right now, the batteries are the most expensive parts, and a lot of that cost from what I understand is due to things like rare earth elements that are used in them, and which have limited availability (a lot of it comes from China, IIRC, and they have put restrictions on how much anyone can buy…which means they can pretty much influence the price due to tweaking the supply).

Right now, from a purely economical perspective, it’s not cost effective to purchase something like a Volt, if the plan is to save money. I looked into it and did the math about 2 years ago, and basically I can buy an ICE vehicle that gets pretty good gas mileage (used) for half as much or more as something like the Volt…and in the long run I’ll save money, even if gas goes up to $5/gallon. If it goes beyond that, then it gets into some serious number crunching to see which ends up being better…but gas where I live right now is only like $3.50/gallon and doesn’t seem to be climbing a lot atm in the area (it was below $3/gallon less than half a year ago).


I’m curious about the trade in value of any electric vehicle…pure electric, hybrid or plug in hybrid…with a battery pack 75% through its usable life.
Also, lots of people depend on being able to buy a car in reasonable shape with 70,000 miles or so on them, but that wouldn’t make sense if they have to replace an expensive battery pack in the next year or so.

Some folks don’t really care about the price so much as they like being the first user in new technology. Look at all the lines in front of the apples tore when they have something new to offer.

I’d love a car that gets 94 MPG (I’m getting 47 right now), but I have less spare change, so will be one of the ones who wait for the technology to become more main stream.

I bought one two weeks ago. I was thinking of starting an “ask the Volt buyer” thread, but never got around to it.

Buying a Volt is not about trying to get your money back in fuel savings to equal a $20,000 car. It’s an upscale car, and competes with $40,000+ vehicles. And, you get $7,500 tax credit and the ability to be “smug” about very low emissions. I’m getting 103.5 mpg since I bought it.

That’s way cool! How do you like it so far?

I’d LOVE to get one, but I just don’t have the money for such an expensive vehicle right now. I generally buy used cars anyway, since it seems they depreciate so fast.


I get around 30 MPG with my camry, and I didn’t account for the cost to charge the thing. If my math is right, I use 833 gallons of fuel a year. At 5 bucks a gallon, that’s $4,165 a year spent on gas.

I’m loving it. They are expensive, but I got the dealer’s “demo” so that saved me a little. I can check on it through my iPhone (charge status, tire pressure, locked doors, etc), which is mostly useless, but fun. With the tax credit, the price is not out of line for a nice sedan with top of the line electronics, nav system, leather, etc.

I priced out one electric car and for my driveing, it hits the break even point just in time to replace the battery.

Yeah, while I am sure that some people buy a new car and then really do “drive it into the ground”, it seems like for most people a true comparison of the costs needs to consider a more finite life and realistic trade-in value. Will a used Volt depreciate faster or slower than a ICE car? Will it maintain most of its cost premium if you trade it in in five years, making the gas savings gravy? Or will problems crop up with the battery packs rendering them all effectively lemons? Probably no way of knowing at this point.

So you’ll wait for electric cars to become more… current?

Ugh. Shocking.

They were thinking “gee, it sucks how we publicly get dragged through the mud 'cos we ‘can’t innovate’ and ‘only make gas-guzzling trucks’ while everyone is lining up to lavish praise upon Toyota for the saintly Prius (even though Toyota makes a ton of money selling gas guzzling trucks too.)”

They were also thinking “we need a ‘halo’ project that shows the world GM has the technology and the skill to build advance-tech vehicles.”

And it’s $42k because it’s got a lot of stuff onboard. Stuff which costs money.