2012 Volt Drives Family Off of Oil, Saves $30,000

MrEnergyCzar

September 30, 2011 was a day I’ll never forget. It took longer than the gestation period of my child to finally take ownership of my Volt and drive it away from the dealer.

The excitement that day was punctuated by the torrential downpour that ensued during the ride home. Roads disappeared under streams of water as tree branches rustled in the wind. While driving I recalled the videos of the Volt barreling though knee-deep water on the test track and I instinctively knew which button to push to clear the windows. The Volt pushed confidently through standing water as the windows magically cleared. Upon arriving home I silently pulled into the garage and plugged into the awaiting fast charger. This moment symbolically marked the beginning of a new era: that of 100 mile-per-dollar driving.

Following, I’ll discuss how the Volt fits in my 10-year plan to wean off of oil, my review of the vehicle, people’s reactions, pros and cons, model year differences, as well as future thoughts.

Why the Volt? – Background Information

Realizing how our economic system dangerously relies on the availability and abundance of dwindling cheap liquid transport fuels, mainly oil, I began preparing my family five years ago for the inevitable consequences that this “peaking” of cheap oil will cause to society. For starters, I wasn’t going to be caught with my pants down in a gas-guzzling SUV with $6-per-gallon gasoline. I knew there were a number of efficient vehicles coming on the market, but had not determined which one would meet my needs.

After deciding to ditch the SUV I began to analyze my family’s total energy usage and make numerous modifications at home. Some of the most significant changes involved cutting my electricity use by 75 percent and purchasing a solar-powered electrical system. These changes make my home one of the few net-zero solar homes in the country, with no traditional utility bills. I chronicled these changes in detail on my Youtube channel.

In summary, my average-sized home’s energy footprint, inclusive of the SUV, uses the equivalent of 50,000 kwh annually. It takes just over 3,000 kwh of electricity to power the home; three tons of wood pellets to heat it and 1,000 gallons of gasoline for driving. My solar system was designed to power my entire home and also power a plug-in vehicle at about 6,000 miles per year.

The Volt emerged as the logical solution to help me achieve my goal of using the least amount of oil possible, while eliminating any range anxiety typically associated with electric vehicles. The Volt’s total annual energy use will be about 40 gallons of gas and about 4,700 kwh of electricity. This will reduce my home’s total annual energy footprint, inclusive of the Volt, from 50,000 kwh to 23,000 kwh. I’ll be using about 8,700 less gallons of fuel with the Volt over eight to nine years. The Prius would have required me to use about 2,500 more gallons versus the Volts 320 gallons over the same time period. That was not in line with my goal.

2012 Volt review

The Volt springs off the line in near silence. The instantaneous 273 pound-feet of torque was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. It’s hard to resist punching it from a standstill when next to fancy sport sedans or against my favorite friend, the Prius. While 0-30 mph in 3 seconds is no record, doing it in near silence sets it apart. Fortunately, flooring it regularly will not degrade or damage the 400-pound lithium-ion battery according to the experts.

The 3,800-pound Volt’s low center of gravity makes hugging corners sports-car inspiring while the multiple drive modes satisfy both the hands-off driver and the hyper miler enthusiast. Most should expect 25 to 50 miles of EV range in varying weather conditions; the former in extreme heat or cold and the latter in temperatures between 60-80 degrees F.

When the battery is depleted, the gasoline engine generator kicks in to propel the car another few hundred miles with its 9.3-gallon fuel tank. The transition is seamless and difficult to hear while driving above 50 mph. The engine can actually come on while the battery still has range left in eight different unique scenarios, but that’s another discussion.

I have already reached 50 miles of EV range on one charge; the record is around 75 miles. I have driven 1,200 miles on my first gallon just by charging at home. With gas at $3.50/gallon, the average car gets about seven miles per dollar (MPD). The Prius checks in at 14 MPD while the average Volt driver should get an incredible 20 to 30 MPD. On average, Volt drivers will fill up every 30 days. In my case, the solar surplus of 6,000 miles of electricity from home and a courtesy charger being installed at work, makes the Volt a 100 mile-per-dollar no brainer.

I invited several co-workers, friends and acquaintances to get behind the wheel and experience the electric drive feeling first hand. All those who accepted loved the Volt and were surprised by the futuristic interior, quick acceleration and silent operation. Two declined to drive or even get in however. One felt the federal tax credit dollars would be better spent by oil companies drilling for more oil. The other got angry over something to do with the government telling him what car he has to drive.

On a deeper level, I sense that many people dislike the Volt because we were raised to believe we need to consume more to be happy. The Volt goes against this societal norm. The Volt is the next iteration of the motor car on a shrinking planet. Whether it’s the lighter weight chrome-like polished wheels, fuel-efficient tires, low co-efficient drag, reduced air-intake grill, energy efficient premium Bose stereo system, lighter hand-powered seats, no exposed exhaust pipe or the air-pump with built in tire sealant in place of a spare tire, the mark has been hit.

After the $7,500 tax credit, a fully loaded Volt comes in around $37,000 or about $7,000 more than the average new car. You’ll get leather heated seats, navigation, a 30 GB hard drive to store thousands of songs, DVD player, CD, FM, AM, XM (three months) and the unique ability to pause and rewind live radio. Throw in top safety rating in its class, eight airbags, traction control, three years full On-star, keyless exit/entry, 8 years/ 100,000 mile battery and related component warranty, ability to experience pure electric car like driving most of the time but with no range anxiety, mpg numbers people dream about, a Volt app for your I-Phone or Android phone, and dare I say it, it supports American jobs.

The Negatives

The additional $7,000 for a Volt (after federal incentives) compared to an average internally combusted automobile is often seen as too much extra to pay up front to save $10,000 – $40,000 on gas over nine years because our culture desires instant payback and savings. This assumes gas prices do not increase.

Other perceived negatives are it only has four seats and is a compact. Also you need an accessible outlet to charge it and it is front wheel drive. It is harder to maintain your weekly chit chat with your local gas station clerk and it takes premium gasoline. On a more serious note, it can take a very long time to obtain one as they’re producing around 700 per week and are on their target to sell only 16,000 this year and 60,000 next year. Lastly, while some have found it a positive conversation starter, I’ve more often found it to draw undue attention.

Model year differences

Unlike the 2011 which has keyless entry on the driver’s door only, the 2012 Volt comes with keyless entry with door access buttons on all doors and passive auto locking. You get three years of OnStar instead of five and the base price is lower due to de-contenting. There are now seven color choices. The 2012 is now EPA-rated 94 MPGe instead of 93 MPGe. The center display shows kilowatt hours used while the battery discharges and the navigation instructions also appear in the driver display.

There is now easier-to-read lettering and backlighting on the center display buttons and gear shift lettering. You can now turn off traction control manually and the taillights have white reflectors in them.

Future thoughts

Politics, jobs, resource wars, overpopulation and misconceptions aside, I think extended-range electric vehicles like the Volt fill the needs for most until pure EVs have either widespread charging infrastructure or longer battery range. As my teenager moves toward driving age, I feel better knowing that when she gets her first job she won’t have to put half her paycheck in the gas tank to fund far away oil dictators. Her boyfriend just better have an outdoor accessible outlet.

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GM-Volt.com


  • MrEnergyCzar

    I want to personally thank Jeff Cobb for his great editing skills to make this article easier and more enjoyable to read….

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Baird

    Well done article in general. Of course there’s lots more to say about the whole energy equation but perhaps the least recognized/ understood by the public is the issue of “externalized costs” IE those costs associated with fossil fuel energy production not priced into what we pay. The most well understood and destructive example are the health and environmental damages resulting from coal generated electrical power. If the true costs of all coal use were factored into the price it would be an order of magnitude more expensive than it currently is.

  • Tom K

    Welcome to the world of EVs. I’ve had my LEAF 6 months now with nearly 11,000 miles. My 10 year plan is to use zero oil….

  • MrEnergyCzar

    To Tom K: That’s great with your LEAF. I couldn’t function with the range anxiety as I only have one car.

    MrEnergyCzar

  • David

    Great video!
    The trouble with compact gas cars is that you have to accelerate very carefully for the best mileage. Your video is unclear about that. You say that the Volt can accelerate very quickly without damage, but also show on the display there is a mpg improver “ball”. So how does mpg differ with aggressive driving compared to the optimum.?

  • hybridhybrid

    lest not forget the price you have to pay once the battery is dead (which you should include in the negative side as well as the 30-35mpg once the 1st 50-60 miles is used up).

    i heard the volt Li+ battery pack will be around $8000 with an average lifespan of 100 000km (compared to the prius NiMH battery pack of $3000 with an average lifespan of 300 000km). i wonder whether federal will pay another $7500 for that. will have to wait and hear for more once the world’s first volt battery pack is dead

  • MrEnergyCzar

    You can floor the car all the time and it won’t effect mpg as long as you’re still in EV mode. The EV range just drops faster. 30 miles instead of 40 etc… If you drive 20 miles between charges its a non-mpg gallon issue. Your miles per KWH will drop. So its a Miles per KWH issue. Someone calculated each time you floor it off the line it uses an extra 100 watts.

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Gary

    A really nice article. It shows what it possible to accomplish in terms of total energy reduction with a careful plan.

    One thing that was not pointed out in the Prius to Volt comparison is that once on gasoline, the Prius gets 49 mpg and the Volt gets 37 mpg. Does not mater if most of your drives are are short, but for us is a very big factor, as we basically have short in town trips that either car does electrically, and long trips which both cars would do on gas. At the end of the year the long trips add up to quite a few more miles than the short trips, so the mpg on gas in important.

    Like Peter we have an overall program to cut our energy (and carbon) use: http://www.builditsolar.com/References/Half/Half.htm
    One side benefit that surprised me is that it saves a ton of money.

    Gary

  • Yegor

    @MrEnergyCzar,

    A really nice article.
    You accomplishments in personal energy independence are really impressive!
    Thank you for giving an example!

  • Extrarangefan

    Great article. I want to buy a volt but, living in CA, I’m waiting to see if GM will get HOV single-occupant approval from the CA government. Leaf has it and is taunting Chevrolet over it. I’ve read blogs that the ’12 Volt may be approved, but wonder if anyone has heard definitively. Having driven the ’11 model I love the way it handles, accelerates, etc., and the many tweaks Chevy made to the ’12 have resulted in an even better car.

  • David

    Don’t forget one other surprising thing about hybrids and EVs in general – brakes. When taxis were first being tested in urban (SF, NYC) environments, it turned out that regenerative braking not only recharged the battery but TRIPLED the lifetime of your brakes and rotors. How much less maintenance (water pumps, oild changes, belts, hoses, etc) is required of these cars for being so LESS dependant on the internal combustion engine?

  • JPWhite

    Great article, very well laid out and well written.

    Being a two car family my wife and I decided on the LEAF, using her Altima for journeys out of its range. It saved about 7,000 over the 2011 Volt. By my calculations the LEAF is the most cost effective alternative fuel vehicle out there, with the Volt coming in second.
    http://jpwhitenissanleaf.com/2011/03/28/nissan-leaf-scrunching-the-numbers/

    The choice between the two is a personal choice and I respect your choice, it seems you put much thought into it.

    With no south facing roofline, I have to build a garage and put solar on that to get my carbon footprint down. That’s a project for next year.

    Good luck with your Volt.

  • James Davis

    Moderator warning: At the request of the author, we’re leaving this up this time. Be advised personal attacks and insinuation are not welcome here. This nascent industry is too small to at this juncture to devolve into petty partisanship. If you want to criticize, be constructive and above board, or please keep your comments to yourself. Thanks.

    Impressively written article to try to boost the Volt sales and a bit girlish in your flowery representations of it. You should get a job with one of those late night sex talk lines; but if you were really serious about getting away from fossil fuel, that Volt setting in your driveway would be a Leaf. Just think of all the savings you would have with the Leaf over the Volt. With the Leaf, you would never have to stop at another gas station or have to take the chance of your wife catching on to your extended range stay at the station talking to your girlfriend clerk.

    There would be no range anxiety because AAA is now carrying super chargers with them along with that five gallons of gas. I was told that EVs do not use oil or gas…right there is a huge savings, and you already paid for the super charge through your insurance company that has AAA benefits…there is another savings. So flower boy, why don’t you compare your Volt to the Leaf in savings and getting away from fossil fuel faster. By the time you need a new battery, they will probably cost you about as much as your acid lead battery does now…there is another huge savings.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    That’s a funny comment James. With one car I can’t swing the range anxiety of the LEAF. The 50 tows from AAA each year would be a bit much….

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Greg

    I like you approach to become energy independent, but I have a few question. When you add the price of your solar system and the premium price of the volt is it still worth it? I all about PV systems, but if you use it as your “gas station” your regular electricity bill should increase. You gain on the gas but you probably paid $12-$15k if not more for your 3kW solar electric system. The initial investment is somewhat big for a lot of people. Also, someone mentioned the new battery pack’s price after 9 years, that will be an additional cost.

  • James Davis

    I apologize if I offended you or your web site, Mr. Energy Czar, but you know you did go a little overboard in the way you were bragging about the Volt when there are a lot better hybrids on the market that will save you a lot more money than the Volt can, and the Leaf, which you know is an all electric, would save you much more money than the Volt, not only in price but in probably everything else as well, and that range anxiety you have is not really founded since it was GM who started that silliness so they would have an excuse to sell hybrids and not electrics.

    I admire your great effort in lowering your power bill and your gasoline bill; I have been working on that my whole adult life, and I got real excited when I read that the electric car was making a comeback, and I knew that that electric car was going to save me a fortune in gas and electric, and I know that you know that the Leaf would do a much better job in doing that than the Volt ever could.

    There is no excuse why GM could not had came out with the electric car first, and it really upset me that they didn’t, and when they put that monster price tag on the Volt, that upset me even more. I know I shouldn’t voice that on a hybrid car site, but sometimes you get so fed up with all the political garbage you just can’t help but express it when you read something that sounds like someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Your article, to me, sounded like you were trying to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes with a lot of flowery talk about the Volt.

    If my comment offended you or your site, I am sorry.

  • Tom K

    “Range anxiety” took about two weeks to go away…

  • MrEnergyCzar

    Apology accepted James. We both have passion for the plug-in that works for us. I’m excited about the one that works for me. I just can’t drive to far away kid soccer games or drive clients in my car for work without range as an issue. I think we can both agree we need many more charging stations. A lot have been added the past year as I’ve been tracking them closely. GM could have been first with the pure EV but weren’t. Such is life I guess.

    Peace,

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Bonaire

    That’s an unproven stipulation. The Volt battery is warranted to 100K miles but can go much farther and has been tested to (what is reported) twice that. NiMH batteries are not lasting 300K miles – ask any Prius owner. However, the traction batteries in new Prius are now Lithium-based including in the Plug-in. High cycle lithium batteries do lessen in their capacity over time in all vehicles from Tesla down to the small size of the PiP.

    No doubt by the time a PiP or Volt owner reaches the end of life of their current-day batteries, replacements will be available for far less. Let’s assume under $5K for the Volt and $3K for the PiP Lithium set.

  • simon@syd

    I guess you have a short commute? That would help this to be the best hybrid for you. But if you have a longer commute, then the Prius might be more competitive, or better(?)

    Actually, you would have a hard time being greener than a city dweller whose mode of commuting is to walk… They are the true green heroes I suppose.

  • libertarian Don

    Great article and perspective. I’ve done napkin calculations and a Volt and solar cells are not even close to being economical under current conditions. In 2007, I was in the car market and bought a Honda Fit rather than a Prius because at $2/gal the Prius couldn’t be justified. At $4/gal the pay back period was still ~100K miles. That said reducing your energy footprint (not carbon footprint thank heavens!) is wise as the energy market is likely to become very volatile as world unravels. While I admire you for your choices, your two friends are also correct as we need to be getting energy from all possible sources in anticipation of the volatile world. A few simple actions on the part of terrorists could shut down international trade or regional powers could start flexing their new found muscles.

    Our government needs to work with the American people on expanding our energy options rather than trying to control them. We will need the extra energy as our globe cools and crop yields drop. Yes, the best science is predicting global cooling over the next few decades. Its the furnace (the sun) not the caulk (CO2) that controls mean temps in the home (on earth). North America has already seen significant cooling in the winter months with the summers flat.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    To Libertairan Don. That’s correct, solar for just the car wouldn’t work out. Using the surplus solar from your existing solar home because you powered down your usage to a level below what your home produces, does make sense. I’d rather get the miles driven than the money back from the utility for my annual surplus…. Someone who already has solar can conserve at their home which will instantly convert to electric driven miles…. Every KWH saved gets 3.5 miles driven etc…. Most don’t have that choice of course or never will.

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Charles

    PiP vs Volt commute range questions were answered here not long ago. Back a week or two there was a graph and article on this web site that showed the crossover point to be about 70 miles. The Volt was the better commuter at under 70 miles and the Prius above 70 miles. A lot of debate about mistakes in the graph, but almost everybody agreed that the crossover point was between 70 and 75 miles.

    Adding the Leaf in really complicates the issue. For me, the Leaf does not work well. I have a very bimodal driving profile. A lot of days are 25 miles or less, and a lot are close to 90. My girlfriend, on the other hand has a very good commute profile for the Leaf of about 50 miles five days a week. Both of us drive about the same miles each year, but the cars the work for us are very different.

  • Stan Smart

    When I started driving (mid-60′s) it wasn’t uncommon to rebuild transmissions at about 60,000 miles and/ or rebuild the engine, typically 8-cylinder, at about 100,000 miles … both VERY EXPENSIVE propositions! Today, nobody worries about these. My point? Within a few years “battery replacement anxiety” will also go away.

    Also note that these battery packs are made up of 100′s of individual cells. Typically, a “block” of only a few go bad in all but the most extreme situations. Also, like the early days of the automobile, there is no standardization of battery power or size. Again, this may change over time resulting in cost savings.

  • dutchinchicago

    Thank you for a great article.

    I never really seriously considered the Volt. Mainly because they killed the electrical car doing untold damage to the planet and because I do not want to carry an ICE engine around (and maintain it) all the time for the 4 times/year I need it. I guess that the leaf is carrying a lot of extra battery around that I only rarely need (although I would have never bought it with <70 mile range).

    After reading your article I feel that I should have given the Volt a closer look. Being 4 weeks away from becoming a Leaf owner I am starting to realize that there are no L3 stations anywhere in my state and that it will be affecting my road trips.

  • Duude

    Another not mentioned negative is the eventual degradation of the battery. In a few short years the battery won’t produce nearly as many gasoline-free miles. Then there’s the cost of battery replacement which could run $7500-10000 in 6 or 7 years. Hopefully, in 6 or 7 years batteries will advance at a miraculous pace. Perhaps bringing us to a battery that might have a 300 mile range, 200,000 mile duration and can be replaced for under $5000. But then I’m a dreamer.

  • dutchinchicago

    @Duude: Volt comes with an eight year battery warranty so in the unlikely scenario that you need to replacement the battery in 6 or 7 years the cost will be $0.

  • Yegor

    Please do not resist your desire of punching it from a standstill when next to fancy sport sedans or any other car – it is a good advertising and it will crash the myth that fuel efficient cars are not powerful – it will really make people think!

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @ MyEnergyCzar,

    I applaud your effort to reduce your reliance on fossil fuels.

    As an owner of a 2nd gen Prius I bought it to offset the spikes in oil/gas prices and so far it’s been very effective. I suspect that my next vehicle will be in 2016 or so. I’m very excited to see what cars will be like then. I always thought that starting around 2015 cars will have newer, more efficient alternative powerplants, longer range and would be less expensive as automakers get into their 2nd or even 3rd gen hybrids or EV’s.

    Unfortunately I’m not a fan of the Volt. That’s my personal opinion that has deeper roots regarding GM.

    Nissan here in Illinois had a Leaf out on display. My friend wanted to buy it, but Nissan would not sell it since Illinois is not one of the states that can sell it. Nissan said it was there to pique peoples interest. However, my friend was not happy because he likes the Leaf. So he’ll be waiting.

    @James,

    We know you won’t be happy until you can have the flux capacitor in your DeLorean. Don’t forget you’ll need 1.21 gigawatts if you’re going to do any time travelling. :-)

  • Jim Walker

    More than a bit ‘loosey goosey’ with your numbers and cost effectiveness analysis, aren’t we? And your headline claiming proposed savings of $30,000 is outrageous. Any body believing that claim is, shall we say, more than a bit gullible. You and your editors may be ‘fan boys’ of the ‘Government Motors’ Volt, but if you are going to publish, some journalistic integrity is in order. Also, your inflated savings claims come at considerable tax-payer expense ($7,500). You may feel priveleged, and therefore entitled, to this money that is ‘wrenched’ by the federal government from the pockets of others who may have actually worked for it, rather than merely being entitled to it. Therefore, since your Volt is 20% tax-payer owned, perhaps you should be a litle more humble and grateful and a little less arrogant in your interactions with said tax-payers.
    I own a 2009 Prius that, by the way, I bought and paid for myself. Over a 10 year period my Prius would be far more cost effective and save me more than your Volt, as would be easily discerned from an complete and honest cost anaylis as opposed to the sloppy and biased set of numbers you present.

  • bloggin

    Great Article! It does seem the conflict most have with the Volt/GM, actually have nothing to do with the car itself, but all their own baggage they want to blame on the car. It’s our first production plug-in hybrid. Currently with the longest EV range, besting the Prius Plug-In and the upcoming C-Max Energi, but lacking in the hybrid mpg when the engine kicks in. At about the same price as the Prius Plug-in.

    Question for the author: Are you finding that your consistent trip miles require the 40-75 mile range, or would 15 miles really meet your ev driving range on a daily basis?

  • Cody

    I would like to try and give a very clear example of Volt comparison. Let’s do this monthly to make it easier to see, then add it all up to a 5 year cost. Assuming you drive 50 miles a day (70% city) including errands, 5 days a week, with 80 more miles on the weekend. Plus 2000 trip miles a year. Also, lets assume you can plug in at work most days. fuel @4.00/gal premium & $3.75 for regular

    VOLT: commuting & wknd fuel cost= $2.40/week x 4=$9.60/month electricity=$60/month plus road trip costs about $18/month….
    =============== $88 for 1526 miles each month

    PRIUS: commuting & wknd Fuel cost = $103.00
    plus road trip costs about $12.50/month.
    =============== $115.50 for 1526 miles each month

    Savings of about $27.50 per month. Now, if your home already had solar, and were producing excess power… then you’d be looking at a savings of about $87.00/month

    So the first year …. you’ll save at least $350
    2nd year more than that…
    3rd year more than that… fuel costs rising
    4th year more than that…
    5th year more than that… fuel costs rising
    6th year more than that…
    7th year more than that…
    8nd year more than that… if gas hits $7.00/gal… then prius costs up 100% while the Volt fuel costs are up 50%. By now you have solar on your home…… so in the year 2020 your monthly costs to drive a Volt are about $30… while the Prius… gas miserly as it is… $190.00/month.
    your saving potentially $160/month or about $1900/ EVERY year.

    Oh, and it’s a lot better car… funner to drive, faster, better looking and supporting american jobs.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    To bloggin: Answer to your question. I take a few 100 mile plus trips per month but mostly drive 40 per day or less. I’ll drive in electric only mode 90% of the time. It’s those random longer trips that kill. As an only car, it would be foolish for me to get a pure EV. As a second car it would make sense.

    Thanks,

    MrEnergyCzar

  • A123

    FYI,
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/gm-volt-fire-said-to-prompt-us-probe-of-lithium-batteries/2011/11/11/gIQAi8tWDN_story.html

    I don’t think the VOLT catches fire more easily than conventional cars, or hybrid cars (like Prius).