26 Comments

Summary:

After 12 months and 15,000 miles, was the Chevy Volt the right car for us? With our prior home solar panel investment and driving habits: yes. But it’s not a good car for everyone and there’s one thing I’d change.

Charging a Chevy Volt

It’s hard to believe that it was a year ago when we added a Chevy Volt to our garage. A key factor in that decision was that we were generating excess electricity from the 41 solar panels we put on our house in 2011. With a year of driving and the odometer just over 15,000 miles, would I change that decision? Not for a second; having a plug-in vehicle has worked out tremendously well for us, mainly because we’re the right target audience for such a car.

Volt charging at mall

Clearly it helps that we effectively pre-paid for most, if not all of our electricity with the solar panel project. You can view the real-time and historical statistics of the system here but long story short: The system generated 12.9 MWh of electricity from this time last year to the present. Even with the addition of the Volt, we’ve only paid our energy provider around $370 in the past year and that figure includes mandatory account fees of $7.08 per month.

So in our particular case, adding a plug-in car doesn’t hit our monthly cash flow for the electricity requirements; it actually helps us recoup our solar panel investment a little faster. Even if it did, I wouldn’t mind. I figure it costs us $1.20 to recharge the Volt’s battery. Let’s say I’m overly conservative on that and it’s a $1.50 to recharge the car, which we do each evening.

Charging a Chevy Volt

For that money, we can drive between 30 to 50 miles; it varies based on the weather as cold temperatures aren’t kind to batteries. Let’s split it down the middle and say it costs $1.50 in electricity to drive 40 miles. You can’t do that on gasoline. At today’s gas prices — I’ll be generous and say gas is $3 a gallon — that $1.50 only gets you 40 miles of driving if your car gets 80 miles per gallon. In most cases, it’s more cost-effective to drive on electric power.

I mentioned prior that we’re the perfect target audience for a Chevy Volt. Why is that? Because we both work from home so there’s no lengthy commute. And when we do have to drive, most of our trips fall into that range of 40 miles or less, meaning we can get around without using gas on most days.This chart shows our daily driving stats from the past year with the data indicating we take very few trips of 60 or more miles.

volt driving stats

The few very long trips were me driving from our home in Pennsylvania to our New York City Gigaom office — and in those cases, I saved some battery power to get around in the city on electricity only. Overall, 61 percent of our total miles have been on electricity; in 2014, I hope to boost that figure.

This driving pattern has helped us go for a long time between fill-ups. The average Volt owner typically fuels up every 900 miles or so. In one extreme case this summer, we went just over three months and 2,528 miles on a single tank of gas! It’s pretty amazing when you think about it, but again, our driving habits fit this type of vehicle. If you have a 50+ mile commute and no access to recharge a car at work, I wouldn’t recommend a Volt, although other electric vehicles offer more range that could work.

There is one thing I’d do differently and still may: Upgrade the charger in our garage. The Volt came with a 120V charger that plugs right into a standard electrical outlet. That’s convenient in one sense, but not ideal in another. It takes roughly 10 hours to recharge the Volt battery from zero to full with this charger. There’s an optional 240V charger available that costs around $500 and recharges a “dead” battery in just four hours.

One of three Voltec charging units.

I opted not to get that charger last year mainly because I didn’t think we’d need to recharge the car quickly. And we really don’t “need” to. However, since it’s more efficient for us to drive using electricity instead of gas, there are times when a fast charger would be helpful. We’ve done some morning driving, for example and exhausted the battery by early afternoon. Going out for dinner or evening shopping then only gives us a partially charged battery. I may spend the money for the quick charger — and the 240V upgrade to my electrical system — this coming year as a result.

I can’t reinforce this one point enough: The Chevy Volt, or any electric car for that matter, isn’t a “one size fits all” solution that works for everyone. For multiple reasons, however, it works really well for us and the only car I can see replacing the Volt is either another Volt or similar plug-in car.

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. A very good review but you may have been more conservative in your figures then you had to. You are at 61% electric miles. This puts you in the lower middle of the average. So there are more people out there where the Volt will work even better then not better. I am at 95% electric. You also said 50 + mile commuters would not be recommended. I disagree. I hope you meant 50 miles one way and 100 miles total? Even 100 miles would be worth it. The first 40+ miles are basically free. Then 60 miles can be done on 1.5 gallons. 1.5 gallons of gas to go 100 miles is still very good. Plus you did not take into consideration how great the Volt drives making the deal at 1.5 gallons for 100 miles even better. It costs me $1.15 to fully charge my Volt. I can drive 40 miles on $1 of electricity. Comparing to gas if you have the few cars that get 40 mpg city in real life, then you are paying $3.30 to go 40 miles. 3 times more efficient. I call that significant. In reality the average car on the road gets 24 mpg city like my spare gas car. So it is more like 5 times more efficient.
    Btw. Get the high power charger. It charges more efficiently and your energy provider may offer off peak discounts.

  2. You say an electric vehicle is not for everyone. I say that also means a fossil fuel (only) powered car is not for everyone. And the fraction of drivers who are better off with an electric vehicle is growing. And the fraction of people who don’t drive is also growing. Both fractions are very small today. I look forward to the day when the fraction of people who drive fossil fuel (only) powered cars drops below 50%.

  3. Best way to think of it is can you deal with a car that only holds 1 to 2 gallons of gas (30 to 60 mile range) and you don’t mind spending everyday of your life “gassing up” your car.

  4. The Volt costs about $33,000. Maybe it’s the cheapskate in me, but I can buy a pretty decent used car for say three or four grand and buy a heck of a lot of gas with the savings.

    Electrics and hybrids really only make sense as fleet vehicles, and even then I think it’s iffy.

    1. Bruce, you could say that with practically any vehicle you’d compare that $4k used car with.

      Now compare a comparable car, features, size and specs, to the Volt, and you’ll start realizing why the Volt is a good choice.

    2. Sir,

      The Volt is not built like a tin can, nor does it ride or drive like one. The experience is more befitting a vehicle in it’s price class – and to some, more so. The vehicle it replaced for us is an older Volvo S80 (today’s starting price – $39,900) which still has a few useful years remaining. We sought something similar in safety and driving experience.

      I’ve done as you suggest several times. We’ve paid cash (or low payments) for used cars that we hold for years or until the maintenance exceeds their value. But there again, with a warranty of 3 years or 36K on everything (that includes a FREE loaner), OnStar FREE for 3 years, eight years or 100K mile warranty on the battery, scheduled oil changes only once every 24 months; and the list goes on; Those items cancel out a LOT of expense in ownership vs that of a lesser vehicle.

      Then, when you add in that each mile costs me under 3 cents while on battery (~9 cents/mile while burning gas), we’ve shifted the driving of our remaining gas-powered vehicle to our Volt whenever possible because it make economic sense – thus reducing its wear and tear on that one. That’s probably why we’ve put nearly 21K miles on ours vs. the 15K of the author.

  5. Don’t forget that there is a federal tax credit for the installation of an L2 charger in your garage. You can get credit for up to 30% of the installation costs!

    @Bruce
    My Volt (absolutely fully loaded with every possible option) will cost me $25,000 after federal and state tax credits (Colorado). I save $2000/month in fossil fuel costs. You can do the math from there…

    1. If gas is $4/gallon, you’re burning 500 gallons of fuel a month.
      If a typical sedan gets 25 mpg, then you’d have to be driving 12,500 miles per month, or well over 400 miles per day, every day of the year.

      I don’t know anyone who drives even close to that kind of mileage, except maybe fleet vehicles like taxis or couriers.

    2. Yeah, but the credit expires this year and any potential renewal is tied up in the usual DC gridlock.

  6. I love the car and love the fossil fuel savings. I test drove a Tesla and it was nice but not worth 2x price. I am very surprised that Chevy isn’t selling more of these cars. I think they have totally missed the right marketing strategy. It a great high tech car almost as good as a Tesla for less than half the price and no range anxiety.

    1. Have you driven the Tesla? No comparison.

      1. I have and it was better but not that much better. The biggest difference was going 0 to 60 in 5 seconds. Pretty amazing feeling but I don’t have many opportunities to use it. nd the 17 inch computer screen that doesn’t turn off would be a huge distraction for me. Minor item but the Volt gives me tire pressure in each tire whereas the Tesla just has an idiot light. I also like knowing I have a backup gas engine.

        Here is a good head to head comparison – http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1084138_tesla-model-s-vs-chevy-volt-owner-compares-electric-cars

  7. Nice article. But may I caution you about an upgraded charging station? Depending on your solar power station’s battery capacity, a more rapid discharge to charge your Volt may impact your home battery pack longevity…

    Would suggest you limit the discharge rate to 1c or less.

    Now if this 240V station has selectable charge rates, then it may be worthwhile, so you can vary charge rate depending on need.

    And at 61 miles, would someone like you, but without the home solar bank, be even better off with an Accord Hybrid, which gets 50 mpg now?

    1. Total Mileage: 20,800

      EV Miles: 12,271
      Total Charging kWh: 3330.04
      kWh/100 miles: 27.1404
      MPGe: 97.9138

      Gas Miles: 8,529
      Gallons: 222.4
      MPGcs: 38.35

      Combined MPG: 93.5252
      At our current electric rate here in San Antonio, of 9.7 cents/kWh (all taxes and fees included) that works out to $0.0263/ mile while powered by electricity from the battery.

      What’s coming out of your wallet per mile?

      Proud Volt owner.

  8. Please consider this link:

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/unclean-at-any-speed

    Concluding paragraph:
    “Upon closer consideration, moving from petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric cars begins to look more and more like shifting from one brand of cigarettes to another. We wouldn’t expect doctors to endorse such a thing. Should environmentally minded people really revere electric cars? Perhaps we should look beyond the shiny gadgets now being offered and revisit some less sexy but potent options—smog reduction, bike lanes, energy taxes, and land-use changes to start. Let’s not be seduced by high-tech illusions.”

  9. For me after one year of ownership which began 16 November, 2012:

    Actual usage for 12,271 battery-powered miles driven in 2013 Volt.

    Month kW-hr @ 9.7 cents/kWh (CPSEnergy rate in San Antonio, Texas)
    12-Oct 245.53 $23.82
    12-Sep 322.65 $31.30
    12-Aug 424.16 $41.14
    12-Jul 246.57 $23.92
    12-Jun 372.83 $36.16
    12-May 287.64 $27.90
    12-Apr 262.38 $25.45
    12-Mar 290.01 $28.13
    12-Feb 265.93 $25.80
    12-Jan 216.41 $20.99
    12-Dec 273.35 $26.51
    12-Nov 45.52 $4.42 (half month)
    13-Nov 77.42 $7.51 (half month)
    Totals 3330.4 $323.05

    See other post for elecgtric and gas miles driven.

    1. Just noticed my error. Everything should be 2013 except for the single 12- Nov. Also sorry about the formatting that was lost (tab between the columns).

  10. @JJ
    Most people with residential PV don’t have batteries. Their solar system is grid tied. So no worries on the discharge rate.

Comments have been disabled for this post