The Volt: 230 mpg? Maybe we need a new rating system. (Chevrolet photo)
The media went on a feeding frenzy about the Chevrolet Volt this week, after the company announced that its forthcoming "range extender" car would get 230 mpg. GM didn't invent the numbers -- it applied the EPA's existing plug-in hybrid methodology for city driving. That's fair enough, but we need another way of evaluating cars like the Volt, which is unlike anything before on U.S. roads. In fact, let's scrap the whole "MPG" thing.
Battery-only cars like the Tesla Roadster never see a gas station. They are "emission free" in that sense, but, of course, smokestack pollution is generated to create the electricity powering them. The Volt is more complicated. It uses gas, but not to directly power the wheels. Instead, it acts as a generator (think of that Honda thingy that Uncle Morty powers up when the lights go out) to supply power for the electric motor. The first 40 miles are on batteries only, but then the gas motor turns on to keep the motor turning for 300 more miles.
Because of all this, there's no easy "mpg" equation with the gas guzzler in your driveway that just burns fuel to head down the road. The Volt's performance will depend totally on how you drive it. Say your commute is 48 miles round trip. That means that each day you travel 40 miles on batteries, and eight on the gas engine. So if the Volt gets 50 mpg burning gas, it would take something like six days to burn just one gallon of gas, and I could claim something more than 280 mpg. A 10-mile roundtrip commute would never use gas at all, and therefore the mileage is what, a kazillion mpg?
I was on Neil Cavuto's Fox Business show this week (see the video above) talking about the Chevrolet Volt. It was, as usual, a rapid-fire exchange. Cavuto owns two hybrids, he said, and likes the Volt, at least more than he does nationalized health care. But like most Americans he's on a learning curve about how it works. Here's how the conversation went down:
After I was on the show, GM figured I needed a remedial course too, and so sent me a "Fast Facts" sheet. Here are the cool bullet points:
I have no problem with any of this. The Volt is a neat car, a big technological advance. It won't be a "game changer" for GM unless they reduce the cost from near $40,000 and figure out a way to sell hundreds of thousands a year.
The EPA said last week that it hasn't tested a Volt, so it can't verify GM's 230-mpg figure, but it also said, "EPA does applaud GM's commitment to designing and building the car of the future -- an American-made car that will save families money, significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create good-paying American jobs. We're proud to see American companies and American workers leading the world in the clean energy innovations that will shape the 21st century economy."
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