Monday, January 7, 2013

One Year of Volt Ownership: The Costs of Operation and Comparisons

[Attention visitors:  As this entry has received a lot of notice, a few points.  I have over 20 blog entries.  If a question you have isnt answered in this entry, it is likely in one of the numerous other entries.  I did not intend this entry to be a 30 page novel.  Just a quick summary.  If you will look at the 2012 entries, you'll find answers to a lot of questions.  Or you can just comment below and I will answer.  Please view my very first entry, Why I bought the Chevy Volt, to see my personal motivations.  They likely aren't what you expect.]

One year of Chevrolet Volt ownership was reached on January 6, 2013.  Today, January 7, 2013, marks the beginning of year two.  My previous blog entries go over a lot of my personal feelings on the car, so I am going to focus on just the numbers for this entry.

According to AAA, the average price of gas in 2012 was $3.60 a gallon, which set the record.   Below I computed my savings based on the average price of gas for 2012.  When I post these through-out the year, I use the weekly average for my numbers because keeping track of a yearly rolling average can be tricky. 

What isn't listed here in additional savings is that I had no oil changes for the year.  Throw in 3 oil changes (at around 7,500 mile intervals) that most of the comparison cars would have needed and makes the Volt even more attractive.  I also only paid for about half the electricity listed up there.  While I did use about $371 in electricity, the place I charge at work provides electricity at no cost to me (supporting their sustainability mission) and a lot of the malls and shopping centers I go to also allow me to charge for free.  I also received my level 2 charger at no cost to me, thanks to Progress Energy and being an early adopter.  While that giveaway is no longer available, new Volt owners are making this up with by often paying 3-4k below sticker price.  I paid almost sticker price for my Volt.  It is now possible to get Volts around 30k, after tax credits, at dealerships that push heavy volume Volt sales.

In retrospect, my actual numbers were pretty close to my early estimates for yearly driving assumptions and expenses.  I had initially thought I would drive 22k miles a year, but a long vacation abroad at the end of December ended up shaving about 1,000 miles off my anticipated total.

One of the more interesting observations after a year of ownership is the degree the EPA label underrates Volt performance and savings.  Many Volt owners have stated that the EPA label should be considered a floor.  In other words, in all likelihood, a Volt owner will do MUCH better than what is stated on the EPA label.  For example, the range of 35 miles for a 2011 and 2012 was generally only seen during winter months, and most owners that I have spoken to exceed 40 most of the year (including me).

So I decided to have a little fun.

I took the EPA label for a 2012 Volt then edited it to match my actual performance.  I changed their assumptions in the fine print to match my circumstances exactly, including REDUCING the 5 year price of gas average the EPA has on the label (as $3.95 a gallon) to the average gas I experienced in 2012 of $3.60.  I recomputed MPGe based on my average consumption of 31 kWh/100 miles.

Anything in GREEN is an improvement on the label.  Anything in RED was when the Volt underperformed.  The only thing in red was the combined MPG of 36 instead of the labeled 37.  My engine ran so little, often coming on for 1 or 2 miles throughout the year, that the engine was not able to warm up and gain any efficiency.  On the few trips where I traveled a long distance, the engine was averaging about 45 MPG.

Below is the original label.  The differences are pretty stark.  Without a doubt, I have some of the best electrical rates in the country, and have found ways to charge when I am at work to prevent the gas engine from ever turning on.  But this should give readers an indication of the ENORMOUS variability in calculating the costs of operating an electric car.  There is room for a lot of improvement over the EPA label.

Pictures speak louder than words.

This is how much gas the Volt used in one year
Had I driven a car getting 50 MPG, like a Prius, this is how much gas I would have used:
 Had I driven a car getting 30 MPG, like a Chevy Cruze, this is how much gas I would have used:

Had I driven a car getting 23 MPG, approximately the new car average, this is my fuel burn:
 And finally, if I elected to drive a car getting 17 MPG, I would have used this small amount of petrol:
This is one year.  Can you imagine how this is going to look in 5 years?

If anyone believes my power rate is wrong, please see the bottom of this post for an explanation.


  1. If you could have personalized your Volt like this would you have done that?

  2. This is a great breakdown, thanks!

  3. Well done.... I spent just under a penny per mile the first year total fuel and maintenance. $123, 13,400 miles...


  4. Nice summary.
    It must be nice to have cheap electricity. We pay about 14c/kwh in New Hampshire.

  5. In Toronto Ontario where i live, they are giving away electricity at night to big industry just to keep the grid up, otherwise it's between 6 and 9 cents. It's been a year since I bought my volt, guess I should make the effort to tell the world something about it, thanks for the ideas!
    I love American teck and the volt has been an awesome car to drive, even in the winter!

  6. Congratulations on your savings. I would be interested to know whether the savings justify the car's $30,000 price tag and if you would see actual savings over purchasing a comparable all-gasoline car that costs half as much as the Volt.

  7. The biggest issue with a comparison is that it is really difficult to find a comparable car. I would argue that there is no really comparable car. Also, just because a car is a compact and fuel efficient doesn't make it comparable. While many purchasers of electric cars are buying it because, in part, they want to significantly reduce how much gas they burn, the electric drive is a luxury item with many benefits that you just won't get in a standard compact. It has nontangible benefits that can't be economically quantified, kinda like you can't quantify a financial return on getting leather in a car, or a nav unit. But those options absolutely add value. Asking a Volt owner to compare the cost savings of a Volt to a Cruze is like asking a BMW owner to compare their cost savings to a Kia. It just doesn't compute.

    However, with that said, most people EXPECT that when they purchase an electric car, the premium that is paid for the electric drive will help pay for itself. It is actually a luxury item that will pay you back, and I can't think many of those exist. However, in my calculations, I attempt to show savings across a wide range of vehicles. For the cars that I previously owned, which were anywhere from 5-7k cheaper than the base volt POST tax credit, the payback for the Volt is VERY fast if not immediate UNDER MY DRIVING CONDITIONS. My Mini Cooper was a 25k car with decent gas mileage. Definitely a lot smaller than the Volt. Yet, the Volt, a car with an initial price tag of 40k, is about the same or a little cheaper per month (car payment + fuel costs) than owning a Mini Cooper. I have a blog entry if you will search where I show some generalized numbers. At worst case, the Volt is only marginally more expensive, and to drive the latest greatest, that is a small price to pay.

    I think what other people miss is that us early adopters are paying the premium so that others, in 3-4 years, won't have to. Economies of scale are bringing all prices down, from batteries to components. Battery prices alone have fallen over 30% in the last 3 years. In 3 years from now, I predict the argument will be moving away from 'cost recovery' as that will not longer be an issue.

  8. Replies
    1. My commute is 35 miles each way. I also charge at work.

  9. Keep in mind, that while the Prius would have use 258 lbs of gas (43*6), the electricity has to come from somewhere.

    31kWh/100mi * 19,938mi * 1 ton/2460kWh = ~2.5 tons of coal, or 5000lbs.

    1. This is not a study in emissions or efficiency. It is a study of how quickly vehicles like the Volt can diversify away from a single fuel source. My region is among the best rated in the country for emissions (per Union of Concerned Scientist), and your estimate, if you can about honestly, isnt remotely true since I get my power from a diverse group of sources.

    2. Yeah; there is no way to know exactly where your 6MWh came from, or what resources were/wouldn't have been used.
      I just wanted to point out that with a graph showing gasoline saved as a non-cost-benefit, it's easy to forget that there is also a corresponding graph of electricity/resources saved on the other side.

      For the coal estimate, I just googled power per ton of coal and used the larger of the first two similar numbers.

      I did realize that your graph is for 5 gallon cans (I thought that number seemed small), so Prius would be 43*5*6=1290lbs; and a 23mpg car would be 180*5*6=5400lbs of gasoline.

    3. Great Post
      Awesome savings
      Please continue to spread the word

      You are correct to account for the details of EV charging
      1) Please note that the Grid has EXCESS night time capacity enough to handle tens of millions of cars right now with no new power plants
      2) EV owners often go solar that produces 50 years worth of free driving

      3) Grid gets cleaner every year as does EV, ICE cars get dirtier each year less efficient.
      4) We can generate electrons in dozens of ways : geothermal steam turbines, tidal, off shore wind on shore wind, solar PV, solar concentrated, biomass, etc.

      As OP notes Gas comes from .............dead dinosaur bones and million year old algae and plants.
      The point is diversify, EV are one very good solution.


    4. Peter, IF you are going to "allege" that the electricity MAY have come from a quantity of COAL, then - we get to include the massive quantities of electricity (and other energy) used to refine crude oil into gasoline and place it in a gas station somewhere near you.

  10. Total Cost of Ownership compared to a Prius?

    1. Please see my response to Michael above. I only attempt to show the pure fueling benefits from a Volt compared to a Prius. The Prius is not a substitute for many people going to the Volt for many reasons. But I have entries in this blog that go over cost comparisons to some other cars I previously owned.

  11. Glad to find this site. We bought our Volt Jan 28, 2012 and I compare it to the Ford Taurus my husband wanted. He didn't like the Focus because the driver's seat wasn't roomy enough, but the Volt was okay. Also he didn't like the new upscaled Taurus, but wanted the old type, which we could not find, even used. He really would have liked a Jag, so I convinced him the Volt was a luxury car just like a Jag.

    I would never have considered a Prius, since we only drive about 5000 miles a year, so sticking with used cars, the last being our '98 Taurus until it would go no further (breaking my husband's heart), made more environmental+some-economic sense than a Prius.

    Having saved many $1000s over 43 years of saving finite resources for future generations (by living within 1 or 2 of work, carpooling, etc) and mitigating climate change since 1990, lowering our GHG emissions by about 50%, including going on 100% wind-generated electricity, without lowering our living standard -- I was ready last year for an EV splurge or economic sacrifice for the sake of the life of the world. So were we surprised when I did the spreadsheet comparing a hypothetical used Taurus with our new Volt. I figured the cost savings with our Volt (including its high price, lower devaluation, tax credit, maintenance, loan interest, etc) would pay for the difference within 6.5 years, and go on to save.

    Our Green Mountain electricity is high here at 12.8c/KWH (but cheaper than dirty energy), so I figure about $1.25 per 9.6 KWH charge that takes us on average about 37 miles. I can get up to 46 miles on a charge in good weather, screen off, but "heavy-foot" gets less, and he doesn't want to hear the word "hypermiling" for the rest of his life.

    So far (almost a year) we've driven 5226 miles (4385 EV miles & 842 gasoline miles), which comes to about $232. A good used Taurus (figuring some 20 mpg) -- and if one had been available that's exactly what we would have had -- would have cost us $940 to go the same miles.

    Yay, Volt. I encourage everyone to join the Re-Volt! For the money, if not for saving life on planet earth.

  12. Thank you for this blog! We are in the market for a new car and we've waned a Volt since we first heard about it, for many reasons. The sticker price and car payments were much higher than what I was looking to spend, but a friend directed me to this blog and, given our expected electric-only usage of the car and your analysis, I am starting to think we would save more from buying a Volt, even a brand-new one than a car that was in my original price range.

    To that end, I am wondering if you have a spreadsheet that you used to make your original projections? If not, I can certainly create one but I didn't want to reinvent any wheels if I didn't have to.

    Thank you again for helping me to take a second look at a Volt!

  13. Congratulations on your first year! I really admire your efforts to reflect on your Volt ownership and to answer various questions from anyone about it. I feel no such drive nor obligation and only answer questions when asked in person. The Volt has been a life-changer for me and I am as excited about getting in it every morning as much as I was a year ago when I made the decision to adopt it. Yes, I am happy when others have the same revelation and buy an electric car, but I know that the EV stands on its own merits and it will prevail.

  14. I was wondering what your maintenance costs have been for the year? What do you know about the longevity of the Volt, does Chevy plan on keeping it around for a while? I read somewhere that sales of the Volt were not any where near what they were expected. You have me thinking about a Volt. Thanks,

  15. Petty,

    I have had no maintenance costs the first year. This is one of the other big benefits of the Volt. I won't change my oil until the end of the second year, and my brakes will likely last 100k miles before needing changing (due to the regenerative braking that almost makes braking unncessary). Most of the expensive components, including the battery, are warrantied well beyond the standard factory battery. Chevy's battery warranty is 'the' gold standard.

    Chevy sales, while missing targets, have been significantly improving. The way to look at sales is that the Volt seems to be about 6-8 months behind where they had hoped. However, they say this is OK, they are about to release a second PHEV model (the ELR) and they say they will be releasing Volt version 2 in the next 2-3 years. They are committed. I wouldnt worry about that.

  16. Great information - I'm glad to finally see a site that actually promotes the Volt on its merits rather that bashing it with misleading information (lots of that on the web and the news) It didn't take much time for me to see the value and ideal technology in the design of the Volt. I am a new Volt owner and am overly impressed with it. I kept running my numbers and was always wondering why they were so much better than the reported savings. Now I see your blog that is exactly as I calculated (I even have 6 cents /kWh power) and calculated about 2 cents per mile as my costs. I even installed a separate power meter for my Volt charger to take any guess out of the equation. GM came up with a real winner here. I promote my Volt everyday and people are amazed. I too can't wait to get in and drive it. Thanks for the honest reporting. As for carbon footprint and the Power Grid - I'm told the energy created by power plants (petroleum based)are far more efficient than any ICE (Internal combustion Engine)They can afford to control the process to a much higher standard than a much cheaper mass produced car. You couple that with the Volts 98mpg-e on electricity and it seems that the Volts worse cast power source would have much less carbon foot print than any other car on the market.

  17. EC vehicles are one-of-a-kind, especially if it comes from Chevy! According to my research, this is a money-saving car. I’ve wanted to purchase one, but I still do have this reliable pre-owned car that served me for years. Well, I would be proud to have one in my garage!
    - Kyle Schmidt

  18. I was already to buy a Volt, but then was discouraged by the lack of a full back seat, needed for 3 kids. The 2 bucket type seats in the back really bummed me out. Hopefully a Volt version 2 or a second vehicle with the same tech will address this issue...I'd love to see a family type car with this kind of performance.

  19. Your writers have capability to make understand the users, great stuff you have provided to us.
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  20. Your electric rate utilized seems to be missing the associated taxes and fees charged by the electric company This needs to be included for a proper comparison to gas which includes them.

    JEA produces a quarterly rate comparison and it shows Duke Energy serving Raleigh, NC. 1,250 kWh has a total bill of $144, which equates to 11.5 cents per kWh. This is almost double your rate of 6 cents. How did you calculate your rate of 6 cents?

  21. That is a lot of compelling evidence you have given for that car. Having a hybrid car gets more appealing the more advancements we make in technology. I'll need to weigh my personal pros and cons before making a final decision though.

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