The Amazing Chevy Volt

Hey Cool Car Fans,

ObamavoltThe Chevrolet Volt is sold as an amazing “electric car”, but it’s really just a hybrid vehicle like a Toyota Prius that has been around for years. Now before the die hard Volt fans start screaming that the Volt is totally different, let’s just look at the reality of how these two vehicles work.  The Volt and the Prius both allow you to plug them in before going for a drive and then you travel a certain distance on electricity before the batteries are exhausted.  Once you’ve run out of juice, the gasoline engine will kick in and you carry on like a familiar hybrid vehicle.

What’s the big difference between the Chevy Volt and the Toyota Prius then?  For one thing, the Chevy Volt uses a different battery pack than the Toyota Prius.  A standard non-plugin Prius has a 1.6 kW-hr, nickel-metal-hydride battery. The Volt’s battery is a whopping 10 times larger.  It’s a liquid-cooled, 16.0-kW-hr lithium-ion (chemistry by Argonne National Lab and fabrication by LG Chem).  This allows it to go up to 40 miles before the engine kicks in, which is pretty fantastic on a single charge before burning gasoline.  This allows many people to drive to work and back on virtually zero gasoline, which is the big rage about the Chevy Volt.

priusThe plugin Prius version uses a different battery that is manufactured by Panasonic for Toyota.  It is 73 percent smaller than the battery used in the Chevy Volt and it’s only a 4.4-kW-hr, actively air-cooled lithium-ion battery.  What’s the big deal between the two?  How about the price tag? I would say that is something pretty important to look at, wouldn’t you?  If you need to replace a battery pack in a Chevy Volt down the road, you’re maybe looking at about $6,000 and they spent another $4,000 on the battery pack structure and those are the costs that GM paid.  This is according to Bob Lutz, when he wrote about the vehicle in Forbes in September of 2012, after GM was accused of losing more than $40,000 per vehicle.   He stated that the raw battery is about $350 per kW-hr, which is more like $600 in reality when you start adding all the other costs associated with making the battery work, but who’s counting.  His article was funny though because he tried to claim that the cost of the vehicle was about the same as a Chevy Cruze, which it looks like a Chevy Cruze, but there isn’t a $10,000 battery pack in a Chevy Cruze.  It’s kind of like the difference between a duck and a goose.  “They both have wings, funny looking feet and seem to handle the cold water pretty good.”

chevyvolt12It was reported that GM had spent an estimated $89,000 per vehicle to produce the Volt and I’m not sure if anyone really knows what the real costs were in the Land of Oz.  The bottom line is that a ton of research and development, along with other manufacturing costs went into producing this vehicle.  What I do know is that if you ever need to replace the battery in the Prius, it’s about $2,500.  When I called a GM Dealer and asked what it costs to replace a battery in a Chevy Volt, I was told by the Service Department, “We have no idea, we haven’t had to replace one of those yet.”  I should have asked if he knew the difference between a duck and a goose.  I guess you could take that as good news and bad news.  It is good news that the battery is working, but bad news that you are driving blind.  If you ever do have to replace one that isn’t covered under their warranty – it could be very expensive.  I know that some of you are saying that it’s covered under the warranty, but you obviously have never gone into a dealership and had them tell you that “Oh yeah, that’s excluded for this reason.”, which I encounter several times a year. Forgive me if I have a slight distrust of automobile manufacturers and their warranty claims.

Which brings me to the question of whether or not the Chevy Volt is a vehicle that you should be looking to own?  I do mean own and not lease.

If the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz were to sing us a song about General Motors (The Wizard) and their Chevy Volt, it might sound something like this – “If ever there was a lease there was, a lease there was, because, because, because, because…because of the unknown things it does…” Yes, the Great and Powerful Oz has spoken that this is a vehicle you should be leasing and not looking to purchase anytime soon.

In my opinion, you do not want to own a Chevy Volt. Even if the State of Colorado is going to give you a tax credit to own one, unless you have money to burn, don’t do it.  If you do have money to burn and you really want to own one, please call me and I’ll be happy to sell you one for over retail, so that you can feel really good about owning one.  And I will feel really good about taking your money.  Seriously, you should never dream of buying this vehicle or it could turn into a nightmare down the road.  However, you should seriously consider leasing a Chevy Volt.  Right now you can lease a Chevy Volt for under $300 a month, which is totally crazy to drive a vehicle that costs an unknown large sum of money to produce.  There are people right now driving this vehicle for around $5,050 for two years that cost GM an unknown sum of money to manufacturer.

The problem though is that GM is an unpredictable company, a bit like The Wizard of Oz.  Which is why Bob Lutz can some out and say that they didn’t really lose $40,000 per vehicle because he doesn’t really know anymore than I do.  This is a company that needed $60 billion in Government assistance to keep going, so who knows if they will keep this vehicle and continue to service it long term.  After all, the Feds ordered them to kill Pontiac in order to get the money they needed and guess who got screwed on that deal?  The customers who purchased a Pontiac and watched their brand die, along with the equity they had in their vehicles.

pontiacI recently had a friend who owns a Saturn and needed a part for her vehicle and she has had it in the shop going on two weeks waiting for GM to find the part for her car that they discontinued. GM has disposed of Pontiac, Hummer, Oldsmobile, Saturn and these were complete lines of vehicles, that actually had profitable products with a large following of customers.  Why in the world would they continue to produce a vehicle that they are losing money on, each time they make a sale?  I could be wrong, but I don’t think they will keep this product long term unless sales really take off, so if you are thinking about the Chevy Volt, make sure you lease one.

Toyota on the other hand has been committed to and producing the Prius for years with a great track record for customer service and knowing that people are loyal to their brand.  They understand their hybrid customers much better than General Motors.  I wouldn’t think twice about recommending that my clients purchase a Toyota Prius and I have many clients who own the Toyota Prius and they have had great success with them.  I don’t dislike GM, but I don’t trust them when it comes to this particular vehicle.  If I were writing about the GMC Yukon, the Chevy Tahoe, Suburban, Corvette or Camaro that’s a completely different story, but the Chevy Volt is an oddball car for this car company.  It’s buyer beware, but it’s a fantastic vehicle to lease.

There are other hybrid vehicles on the market and they are becoming more popular, with quite a few more options that will be available in 2014. This technology will continue to get better, but be sure and look before you leap, know the company that you keep, as with any vehicle purchase.


John Boyd

Auto Consultant – John Boyd: The Cool Car Guy

John is an auto consultant with his license at a car dealership in Denver, Colorado. He can help you save time and money on any make or model, new or used, lease or purchase – nationwide! Call or email John about your next vehicle! or Twitter @coolcarguy