Is The Volt America’s Most Historically Significant Car Of The Past 25 Years?

The Chevrolet Volt received an interesting accolade this week. Writing for Fox News, Marty Padgett of High Gear Media listed it in an Independence Day article titled “Patriotic acts: The most important American cars of the past 25 years.”

Noting the Volt was conceived prior to GM’s bankruptcy, following is the bulk of the write-up:

It was born into controversy: of “Government Motors,” of “killing the electric car,” of then-GM vice chairman Bob Lutz calling global warming a “crock of s—.” Lutz, who played a role in developing seven or more of the cars on this list, later changed his tune, and said that electrification was inevitable–and had a hand in the Volt’s survival through GM’s 2009 bankruptcy.

It’s been politicized as a “car designed by Congress,” and been glowingly described as a Space Shuttle for the U.S. auto industry. The Chevy Volt does have a moonshot mission: to replace the horizon of today’s cars with something that reaches further, while staying tethered to today’s expectations. It’s capable of 40 miles of pure electric driving, but carries enough gas for another 300 miles or more of extended-range power. To some that makes it superior to the electric Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus Electric, while purists disagree.

That’s the writer’s two cents, and we’ll add many would also argue that other American vehicles have had bigger impacts on the finances of their manufacturer, or that they enjoyed more successful sales, and the author does name a few other vehicles that had a great impact.

But no one can contest the fact the Volt paves the way towards a different mindset and the production of a different breed of cars in America, in the same fashion the Prius did around 15 years ago in Japan.

The author ends by saying, “Has the market spoken? The $42,000 Volt is finally selling in decent volumes, and it took home honors as the 2011 North American Car of the Year. In time, it may be seen as an engineering triumph or as a political novelty, or both – but there’s no doubt it’s the most historically significant car of the past 25 years.”

That Fox said the Volt deserves such a distinction is especially noteworthy in light of frequent past criticism from several of its commentators for the car, its maker, and politics surrounding it.

What do you think? Are things really turning around in the Volt’s favor, even at Fox, or is this only qualified praise for a vehicle that its writer says may either be an “engineering triumph” or alternately nothing more than a “political novelty?”

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  • George Parrott

    Yes, I agree totally. The technology in the Volt actually works and works seamlessly. We now have a bit over 16,000 miles on our VIN #679 Crystal Red Volt and we are averaging 108 mpg! The ride is more like our previous Audi or BMW, and the smoothness of the power when accelerating from a stoplight/sign is impressive as well.

    We are even getting 41-43 mpg when the drive switches to the gas engine, and the interior ambience is more European upscale than Chevy plebeian.

    We have owned Lexus, Audi, BMW, Acura, Infiniti, and VW as well as several Toyota Prius and a Camry Hybrid and the Volt is simply engineering at a higher level.

  • Penn State EcoCAR 2

    I don’t think the Volt will truly take off until the price comes down a bit. Let’s get a vehicle with this architecture in the $20k-30k range.

  • MarkW

    Try the last 50 years. Every other mainstream electric car, present or future owes its existence to the fact that GM put a very public stake in the ground and said now is the time for the birth of electric drive for the masses.

    Gm then stuck with it, thru banker debt, an outrageous wall of worry and words, perhaps like no other company could have, and made it work.

    Now it has both the EV technology that works and early adopter customers buying it.

    Welcome to the future!

  • Ken Fischer

    We leased a Volt in early April 2012 and have now driven it over 2,000 miles and used a TOTAL of less than 15 gallons of gas despite occasionally driving well in excess of the battery range. The car has performed flawlessly. On a typical day we drive the car 20-30 miles and never use any any gas. It has a lot of pep and is fun to drive but but it is comfortable too. I have trouble getting from away from my wife!

    We drove the car about 140 miles last Sunday. This first 47 miles were pure electric before seamlessly the gas engine took over.

    This car is the wave of the future.

  • Austin Anderson

    12000 miles our volt has been perfect. Comparable is Audi A4 or Beemer3,(my previous) but different. 148 mpg to date. Worth $42k price. A shame it’s reputation has been poisoned by politics.

  • Van

    As far as design concept, the plug in Hybrid, I think it marks the first of its kind. The reason it costs too much is because its battery to too big, and its battery costs too much per KWh of capacity.

    But it comes closer to the mark, apparently, than the Prius PHV which sells, over the last two months, about 1 car for every two Volts.

    Hopefully the Fusion Energi will split the difference, with a larger battery than the Prius, but smaller than the Volt, say around 10 KWh of storage capacity, of which 7 or so are utilized to provide an EV range around 25 miles.

    But the other shoe that must drop is the cost per KWh of capacity, down from $600 to $800 per installed KWh, to less than $300. Then a plug in with 10 KWh of battery would only cost $3000 more than the regular hybrid, thus a Prius PHV would cost about $28,000 and have a 20 mile or more range.

  • Bill

    I’ve had our Volt for two months now and love it!
    Notwithstanding the poor paint job and other quality issues with the rear glass and trim – I think Chevy hit the mark. Now let’s work on getting better quality and hiring bright field Reps. that know the product and care about it.

  • ACAgal

    We watched the development of alternatives like PHEV, and EV for years. The 2012 Volt, improved to meet CA emissions standards, met our needs beautifully. The Volt is very responsive, has a great turning radius, and it is fast. My husband finds the Volt so much fun to drive, I’ve only had one day behind the wheel since buying the car.
    We haven’t pumped gas yet. The monthly electric bill has not risen by more than the cost of one cup of Starbuck’s/month. The fuel savings will make a nice hedge against inflation. I LOVE the time savings. Getting too and from the gas station + waiting in line was so unproductive. Plugging in at the end of a drive is so much cleaner, faster, comfortable and much less stinky.
    GM built Volt right! I think the award is well deserved. Volt is a game changer.

  • John Martin

    As a Volt owner, I can’t agree more. It’s not just about the fuel economy. It’s the ride, the quality, and the ability to use U.S. fuel (electricity) instead of imported oil.

  • Black Beauty (my Volt’s name)

    Driving a Volt is like having a car when gas was less than a buck a gallon. You can relax that you are not wasting your money at the gas pump. I have had mine for 3 months and only used 4.5 gallons of gas. I have had zero warranty problems so far. I love looking at gas stations at a stop light and wonder when everyone else will get it. Yes, the Volt is expensive and should be between 30K to 35K instead of 40K to 45K but that’s the price for being early to the game. I am sure that the future variants will be improved just like the Prius. If you are remotely considering the Volt just buy it!

    At this time the fredom from the gas pump is worth the price I paid.

  • perfectapproach

    Ugh… I really dig the Volt, and especially its powertrain, but Fox News??? Do people still watch that? Fox News is the “Jwoww and Snooki” of news stations.

    “I don’t think the Volt will truly take off until the price comes down a bit. Let’s get a vehicle with this architecture in the $20k-30k range.”

    Not likely for a long time. The electric motor alone is in the $15k-$20k range. The battery is another few thousand. Companies who make BIG electric motors are gonna be raking in cash pretty soon. They’ll need a Scrooge McDuck Money Silo.

  • Modern Marvel Fan

    Volt is a huge leap forward in terms of automobile technoology. It is expensive b/c it is a well thought of and well prepared products. Leaf is a good car but it didn’t do good enough job in address the battery temperature issue in hot climate where the Volt does. Volt knows exactly what the major problem is with EVs in general and gives you a choice between gas and electric.

    My beautiful red Volt with 1112 miles and only 4 gallon of gas burned (still got the tank from the dealer).

  • Modern Marvel Fan

    The biggest misconcept about the Volt is price.

    Many of my Volt owner friends paid around $38k-$41k for the car. With $7,500 federal tax credits and $1,500 California cash back, the car is only $29k-$32k net cost.

    Now, if you include the lease discount or 0% 72 month discount, that is easily $2k-$3k in interest.

    So, in effect the car only cost about $27k-$30k, well within the puchase price of the average buyer. (The recent qtr average car selling price was over $30k).

    I save on average $1k per year in gas with electricity cost factored in. After 72 month (0% deal), I will save about $6k in gas alone. That is $6k premium that I have saved. In effect, the car cost is down to $21k to $24k. Battery is warrantied for 8yr/100k (10yr/150k miles in California).

  • john iv

    I like the Volt. Although I have never driven one, I like the concept and looks of the car. I find it interesting that Fox News was the one bashing the car from the begining. Saying it was a waste of tax payer’s money to help out GM. Now that it seems to actually be selling, Fox News changes their attitude to the best car in the last 25 years. Please, stop including articles from Fox News.

  • AnalogNYC

    My previous vehicle was a 19 mpg gas guzzling minivan, so I’ve bought my share of foreign oil. Having driven my Volt for 505 miles, I’ve used 1.3 gallons of gas versus 27 gallons if I still drove my minivan. The $$ savings is real, the technology is real. Until you test drive one, it’s hard to believe. The Volt may not fit everyone’s needs now and that’s OK, it’s an individual choice. I’m not a radical environmentalist, but just knowing I use less gas, reduce polluting the air my family breathes and enjoy my time when driving my Volt is rather priceless to me.

  • van

    AnalogNYC – I could not agree with you more!!

  • clinical

    Bought my Volt end of May. 1269 EV miles out of 1507 total so far. Lifetime 220 mpg. The 6 gallons of gas used were in terrible stop-and-go traffic on a roadtrip that took 3 hrs instead of the usual 1.5 hrs (but still averaged over 35 mpg in gasoline-generator mode despite often not moving and with 4 adults in the car while using AC in Comfort mode).

    The ride is incredibly smooth, quiet, and comfortable. Plugging in is incredibly convenient.

    The price may be high but is worth it for its truly value-added game-changing technology that is so far best in class, and may be for some time to come.

  • John K.

    If Washington State U widely licenses their new tin anode Li ion battery technology, within just 2 years, PHVs, PHEVs, and BEVs will be able to go almost 3x father w/o larger or heavier or more expensive battery packs.

    IOW, a plug-in Prius, with the same battery pack as today, would have the range of the Volt. The Volt, w/o any other changes, could have 120 e-miles. Plus they will have faster recharges and can take more recharges.

    It sounds like the technology involved is well known and easily integrated to current manufacturing methods.

    This could be HUGE folks!

    WSU news release:

  • Capt. Concernicus

    NO! I cannot believe that people agree to the titles question. Without a doubt it is not. The Prius is however. LONG before the Volt was a twinkle in the GM pipeline eye the Prius set the standard of mainstream hybrids. For GM to take credit or for people to believe that the Volt is America’s most historically significant car in the last 25 year are blind to the fact that GM kept pumping out gas guzzling SUV’s while Toyota racked up Prius sales quietly in the background. And let us not forget that GM was almost a goner in late 2008 as it begged to be saved from financial destruction. GM only came up with the Volt after is saw the success of the Prius. Period.

    So the answer is quite simple. NO THE VOLT IS NOT!!

  • DB

    The Volt is far above the Prius. Ride, fit, style and economy. I tested several Prius and Volts before I fell in love with the Volt. Several Prius owners told me it was not very good in snow. Volt owners said is was great in snow. That was very important to me. Prius got 40-50mpg. My Volt has used in month of ownership 875 miles and used 2/10th of a gallon of gas and $21.13 in elect. With leather, nav sys, chrome wheels, backup camera my net cost was less than $32000. 7 years 0 % financing. Drives like a sportscar and get a lot of attention. I’m 70 years old and one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. And its fast.

  • c_harnett

    The Volt? No. God, no.

    It wouldn’t sell at all without the minimum of $7.5K in tax bribes. That’s not the sign of a historically significant car. It’s more of a science fair project than an actual car.

    As for what it is, it’s a Prius with a large battery. Toyota itself is moving into this space from the other direction (a far less expensive car and very little in development costs).

  • Van

    Hi Capt Con, lets think through your assertion. Is the Prius the most historically significant car of the last 25 years. Our candidates are clean diesels, direct injection cars, hybrids, plug in hybrids, and EV’s like the Leaf. Our time period, 1987 to 2012 precludes fuel injection because we had that as a mainstream feature before 1987.

    Can the Prius or the Volt take credit for the breakthrough technology of lithium batteries? Nope, but the Volt put a lithium battery into its ground breaking design so one vote for the Volt. Prius can take credit for showing an electric motor (or two) can enhance the performance of an ICE, so one vote for the Prius. Basically the hybrid doubles the mileage, from an average of 23 MPG for ICE only cars, to in the range of 46 MPG for hybrid cars. But will this doubling really end our dependence on foreign oil? Nope. Burning essentially no gas, such as a plug in hybrid with at least a 25 mile range, increases mileage by a factor over 7. And this performance can be achieved by nearly 70% of the buyers.

    Now that is why many of us believe the Volt concept is by far the most significant. If an affordable EV with a real world everyday range over 150 miles hits the market, we will revisit the decision, but as of now, the Volt concept seems to be the winner hands down.

  • Capt. Concernicus

    Hi Van,

    I’m sorry, but the Volt is not the winner hands down. Like another poster mentioned the Volt woudn’t be selling as well if it didn’t have $7,500 in rebates. The Prius consistently pulls down 60% (or more) of the hybrid market share because it’s reliable, has more utility, higher resale value, is less expensive and returns great MPG’s and that’s even in the face of more hybrids hitting the market every year.

    Someone mentioned it drives like a sports car. Really? I guess a Camry and the Accord are sports cars also because they put down the same numbers.

    Remember a plug in is only as good as long as the owner has access to a plug. City dwellers? Not really. Apartment and condo dwellers? Again not really. That eliminates a lot of people. Sure you can go to Walgreens and charge up, but who’s shopping at Walgreens for 3 or 4 hours?

    I typically spend less than $20 in gas a week in my Prius. Averaging 50.3 mpg. My prior car took about $50 a week in gas. So I save about $1,500 a year in gas. All plug in hybrids/EV’s are too expensive right now and the infrastructure isn’t there to support them except at those occassional Walgreens and what not.

    The Volt is not the hands down winner.

  • Johnny Rutherford

    I bought my wife a new Chevy Volt for christmas after seeing one on a dealer lot during a jog at night. Thru a Camry hybrid, she had driven for three years, my conscience was clear that I was doing my part for the environment. I drove a Ford Expedition at my leisure as she sacrificed to save the environment. Seems typical of a lot of couples here in Texas.

    She and the Volt technology got my attention, have taught me a lesson, given me new hope. I got rid of the Expedition and now drive the Camry hybrid that I could not get her to trade-in on the Volt transaction. You see she’s loyal to her old cars as she is conscientious .

    In Big City driving the volt has no match. Nothing close. She and the car have 5,000 more miles on them today but she has only stopped for gas three times spending a total of about $75.00. The car only carries 9 gallons. I see the pride on her face as she plugs into her 220 volt charging station in the garage, and when she sees me touting the virtues of the Volt to people who ask about it wherever we go.

    Now I don’t pretend to know what motivates a person to change. For me, it was a marriage of technology and happiness. I sure don’t mind that my change is accompanied by my families reduction in the use of foreign oil, freedom from the pump, and our part in saving the world from the effects of global warming (or not). I changed because my wife and chevy engineers got my attention. Johnny Rutherford