000_0014Full disclosure upfront: we are big fans of the Volt.  In March 2011 we purchased the Chevrolet Volt to replace the two Prius vehicles that we’d owned the previous 10 years.  At the time, we opined that GM had hit one out of the park. This car is sweet. But let’s put aside the gratuitous praise for the moment and talk about the facts because Chevy is coming out with a “redesigned” Volt later this year for approximately $1000 less than the older versions.   Is it better?  Is it a better value?   Should customers interested in the Volt try to snap up the existing 2015 models?   These are all examined in this article.

But first, let’s briefly tout this car.  In the four years that we’ve driven the car it has performed admirably. And we are not alone.  A supermajority of Volt owners agree.   Consumer Reports indicates that 92% of owners would definitely purchase the same vehicle again –  a satisfaction level higher than any other Hybrid/EV vehicle currently on the market.    Notwithstanding some experts fixation on its shortcomings  (limited passenger space,  visibility,  cold weather effects on battery range),   the Volt rocks its drivers’ socks off in terms of drivability, fuel economy and reliability.  We believe it is the best hybrid car on the American market — superior to the Prius.

Initially, its price tag was an issue:  In 2011, the Volt cost close to $40,000 (after the federal tax credit).    Notably, the Volt has become more affordable through Chevy’s very aggressive leasing policies.   In, August 2013,  GM announced that it had cut the Volt’s selling price by $5000, so the price point becomes far more attractive.     As of June 2014,  new Volts are selling at below $33,000 (MSRP) and some dealers are offering new Volts for as low as $31,000.     With the Federal tax credit (and California offers an additional incentive) the Volt is now selling for close to what a Prius costs!  The 2016 Volt will reportedly price at $34,000.   After tax and rebate incentives, the Volt will be closer to about $25,000 — still quite competitive with other hybrids.  In comparison, the Toyota Prius Plug-In and Ford’s C-Max Energi plug-in price out at about $28,000 after incentives.   So the 2016 Volt is seemingly competitively priced.

GM has done a really wonderful job designing and manufacturing the “1st generation” Volt. The car drives solidly and, in sport mode, it feels like a bona fide sports car with g-force acceleration and road-hugging handling. Thanks to the electric motor, the car is very quiet when running off the battery. When the gasoline-driven electric generator is running (after you’ve exhausted the 40-mile battery charge) you can hear some engine noise. But you really have to listen for it. You can make up your mind about its eye appeal, but there’s no doubting the road appeal. According to Motor Trend and other web-based engineering sites, the car is an engineering marvel. For the lay-person the highest compliment one can offer is that you can’t see the technologically complexities.  For the driver, it feels like a typical hybrid automobile. It’s a bit smaller than the Prius, but a heckuva a lot more fun to drive.

Now, here’s the real kicker. If you keep your trips to below 40 miles, you can probably drive the car forever without ever using a drop of gasoline. BUT, if your trip exceeds 40 miles, you have the gasoline engine that allegedly provides about 350 total miles on a full tank (10 gallons of gasoline). So this car CAN go the distance, but if it is used for local city driving, it will literally never need a drop of gasoline. And if you use a solar photovoltaic array to produce the electricity that charges the batteries, then your car is effectively being propelled by the sun. It doesn’t get a lot more elegant than that.

We have been driving the Volt for almost four years and went over 30,000 miles. We’ve filled up the car nineteen times in over two years, largely for trips throughout Southern California, Arizona and Nevada.    It performs as beautifully on long excursions as it does on short-haul trips.   We also own a 2013 Volt and it gets slightly better electric and gas performance.

Compare to the 2016 redesign model

As we mentioned above, the sticker price is quickly dropping.  After the federal $7500 tax credit, it is selling in the mid-$20,000s.  The fuel savings alone might fully offset the premium you pay over hybrid cars If you produce your own electricity  (as we do) , the fuel savings we reaped from the Volt cut our payback for our PV to 8 years and with the lower prices, the payback is even quicker!    Second,  the Volt is one of the more affordable sports cars on the market.  This car is a lot of fun to drive and might appeal to the sports-car enthusiasts for whom no green cars currently exist.   If you are looking for a great sports car for under $30,000 (out of pocket),  the Volt is your car.

But now the “2nd generation” 2016 Volt is available.    It has been upgraded to a 18.4-kWh battery pack that stores enough electricity for 50 miles of gas-free driving. Combine the battery pack with the car’s new 1.5-liter gasoline engine, which gets 41 miles per gallon, and the Volt can now go more than 420 miles on a road trip before needing a fill-up. The interior has also been improved to allow a fifth person to sit in the car.   Chevy has effectively restyled this car;  its got a new drivetrain, power controller, battery, and everything used to connect it all together. The 2016 has a couple of other differences, including styling, control panel, and a slightly more usable backseat.  A comparison of the two models can be found here.    Unfortunately, there are a lot of hard plastics used in the interior. Chevrolet has added a higher-resolution 8-inch infotainment screen and consolidated the multitude of buttons and knobs found on the outgoing model.  

The bottom line, of course, will be the price difference between the 2016 model and its predecessor and it turns out that there isn’t a significant difference.  However, the 2016 Volt is getting rave reviews and for understandable reasons.   GM has learned a lot from its first-generation Volt, both in terms of how to market it as well as how to produce it.  The 2nd generation Volt is arguable an improved car and worth any car buyer’s attention.  It also has undergone a substantial redesign under the hood that has improved its performance.

For now, there are some very decent deals on the 2015 models.  GM just announced that effective April 14, Chevy started a new $1,500 rebate for the car, more than doubling total rebates from $1,000 to $2,500.   Lease payments have also dropped $50, to $249 per month for 39 months. The yearly mileage cap is unchanged at 10,000 miles. The amount due at signing is now just $500, down from $1,449 and, if you drive another hybrid car, you can get that $500 off through a “conquest” incentive.   SDCAN expects prices will continue to drop on 2015 Volts as summer approaches.    As of May 26th, industry observers expect to see 2015 lease deals get far more competitive and that lightly-used 2013-2014 models will become available for lease or purchase as those leases expire.

Perhaps the most compelling, and least discussed, aspect of EV cars is that it is a highly “intelligent” car that could be incorporated into the emerging smart grid.  Via networked charging ports and in-car telemetry, EVs can respond to signals from home automation and grid systems alike.   For example, EVs can act as auxiliary power for increasingly frequent storm season blackouts and participate in demand response, bringing in monthly checks for the power it provides the grid.   No other smart grid consumer product has the same raw capacity to provide environmental value in this way.

If you are more interested in going green, then a purchase of a Volt serves as a appreciative atta-boy to General Motors. The company finally came through with a groundbreaking, solidly engineered automobile for consumers who want to do right by the Earth and still have some fun.   GM took the plunge and delivered.  As we discuss above, if you lease the Volt,  it is a more attractive economic proposition.   But either way, you won’t find many better cars on the market in the near future, with the possible exception of the Toyota Fuel Cell car rumored to be available for sale in California by 2015.   In 2014,  we had four friends purchase Volts.   Each of them figured out what features they needed and colors they wanted and then scoped out the local dealer ads on the Internet.    They visited at least two dealers in the area and then chose — one purchased a car for as low as $25,000, after taxes, fees and various tax credits and state rebates.    Another one reports getting one for $26,000, out of pocket after all of the credits and rebates.   These prices are competitive, if not lower, than the Prius!   And the Volt is a FAR better car.   We’ve had the best luck finding a combination of competitive pricing and high quality service at Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet in Kearny Mesa  (7978 Balboa Ave).   So if you live in San Diego, that would be a good starting point for you.