In the Chevy Volt’s early days, GM caught flak for declaring it an “extended-range electric vehicle” and not simply a plug-in hybrid, but this week the Idaho National Laboratory verified real-world drivers annually traveled 94-percent as far gas-free as did Nissan Leaf drivers.
The data was presented by INL engineers Matt Shirk and Barney Carlson to the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress.
Shirk and Carlson showed electric Vehicle Miles Traveled (eVMT) by the Volt effectively put it in the company with the Leaf as well as Ford Focus Electric, and Honda Fit EV, while returning double or triple the eVMT of plug-in hybrids.
This was documented despite the gas-electric Volt’s potential electric range being just around four miles for every ten of the EVs according to the U.S. EPA.
The INL is no ordinary source, but leads the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity for light duty vehicles. Its on-road data collection and analysis was based on data from 158,468,000 total vehicle miles by 21,600 vehicles.
In all, the study looked at eight mainstream priced plug-in cars comprised of pure battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and the extended-range Chevy Volt.
Volt drivers drove 94 percent the all-electric miles of not just the leading EV – the Leaf – but roughly 94 percent also of the Fit EV and over 95 percent of the Ford Focus Electric’s miles.
Compared to plug-in hybrids, the Volt was driven more than double the miles in EV mode than the Ford C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi, 2.7 times more than the Honda Accord PHEV, and 3.7-times more electric miles than the Toyota Prius PHEV.
On a monthly average basis, the Volt traveled on battery power alone 759.3 miles, just 48.8 miles less than the leading Nissan Leaf.
The Leaf has 84 miles EV range and the 2011-2013 Volt just 35-38 depending on model year.
Range Anxiety An Apparent Reality
How can the Volt with 41 percent the EV range of the Leaf drive 94 percent as many miles?
According to GM’s Pam Fletcher, executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles, this INL study fits with other data Matt Shirk presented previously indicating drivers need not worry about the Volt running out of power and stranding them.
With a battery electric car, she said, drivers cannot run it to the maximum e-range but with a Volt they can. Thus, the driver’s comfort zone and familiarity with local charging and logistics and other factors determine how far they’ll push their EV.
The idea with the Volt is no range anxiety, she said.
This concept of “range anxiety” has also been poo-poohed by critics as marketing verbiage but INL’s study suggests it is a real concern.
Unaccounted for in the study is the determination of individual first adopter types who have often bought the Volt on a veritable mission just to save gas, avoid emissions, and in other words, maximize its potential as a part-time pure EV.
Then again, EV drivers have been reported as resourceful as well, so perhaps that partially explains why INL would not wade into speculation over anecdotal evidence.
More certain is plug-in hybrids, like the Volt, also present no range anxiety as long as there’s gas in the tank but the Volt’s larger battery lets it travel much further without burning gas.
The plug-in hybrids ranged from 2,484 electric miles in one year for the Toyota Prius plug-in to 4,337 miles for the Fusion Energi. The EVs all scored in the 9,000-something annual mile range as did the Volt.
New Volt Pending
The 2016 Volt due September or October will exceed the present Volt’s rated all-electric range by 30-percent, or 50 miles, which could mean it stands to save more gas than any EV on the road, save Tesla models.
Beyond the Tesla Model S and Roadster, the longest-range EV sold in the U.S. is the now-discontinued, limited-market 104-mile Toyota RAV 4 EV, followed by the 93-mile Kia Soul EV which is expanding to more markets this year. The Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric when pushed with as much as 15-percent extra capacity beyond its rated 87 miles also is above the three EVs INL studied.
These limited-market EVs have incrementally more range than the Leaf, Focus Electric and Fit EV but they too have no gas backup.
EV advocates are quick to point out a cure for range anxiety however is simply knowing your surroundings. For example, being aware of where charge points are in one’s daily route and working within limits expands the comfort zone of driving a car that runs on electricity in a world set up for gas.
Resourceful EV drivers have been known to double EPA range through intraday charging and that has become part of the lifestyle for some early adopters.
As things stand in this ever-changing market, the Volt has been shown as effective at returning eVMT as present mainstream EVs, the new 2016 Volt may top everyone except Tesla, but a new standard is coming for EVs.
By October 2016, green car analyst Alan Baum projects the 200-mile Chevy Bolt may be for sale and followed soon enough by a 2017 Leaf and Tesla Model 3. With each of these new-level EVs offering around 200 miles, and maybe other models too, that could turn tables on the present leader, the Volt.
That said, the Volt does appear it deserves the “extended-range electric vehicle” moniker, it should soon exceed its own benchmark with release of the updated model and for yet a while longer, it may be the best gas saver on the road among mainstream-priced plug-in cars.