The Chevy Volt - 1 Year Verdict

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by Lord Blackadder, Jan 23, 2012.

  1. Lord Blackadder, Jan 23, 2012
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2012

    Lord Blackadder macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #1
    This is more an attempt at a thought provoking ramble than a cogent argument, so you've been warned. ;)

    Volt a Flop?
    GM sold just under 7,700 Volts in 2011 - well short of the stated goal of 10,000 units. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that Chevy dealers don't want to take on their allotments of Volts. There is also the battery fire recall issue that has been in the press for some time, though it does not seem to be a fatal issue with the design of the car.

    To add some perspective, Nissan sold 9,674 of its all-electric LEAF in 2011. This also falls short of Nissan's own 10,000-unit goal, but is so close it's hard to call that a failure.

    Why People Don't like Hybrids and Electrics

    But for that matter, is the Volt the failure that so may seem to think it is? Top Gear ripped the LEAF in their review of the car (I shudder to think what they would say about the Volt), but most of their criticisms focused on the power source (mostly coal) and the feel-good, save-the-polar bears marketing approach rather than the car itself.

    I think the same arguments explain much of the negative press the Volt is getting. Many people find the "you're saving the world" marketing approach to selling hybrids and electrics to be smug and nauseating. I know it annoys me at times. "Greenness" only gets you so far in actually selling cars. The fuel economy benefits are often seen as largely offset by the inital price of the cars and anyway a diesel is just as efficient - more efficient when cruising actually. The math behind this thinking seems infinitely arguable, but the fact is there is an argument - doubt. There is also a perception that only wealthy yuppies and celebrities can afford to buy these cars. Finally, there is a very real, serious and ongoing political battle in the U.S.over whether the subsidization of the design, production, sale and ownership of these kinds of cars is really worth the cost. This last the most complicated and perhaps the most important factor in the advent of hybrid/electric cars.

    The Counter-Argument

    Taking all these factors together, hybrids and electrics seem like a very high risk proposition.

    But then there is the Toyota Pious -er, Prius. Toyota took an arguably much bigger risk than Nissan or GM and introduced a hybrid 15 years ago. They have since sold over 3 million of them. So does the argument that the Volt is too much, too soon really hold any water? Let's not forget one further little wrinkle - the GM EV1. At the time the EV1 program was cancelled, the popular verdict was that it was an interesting dead end. History has proven that verdict to be sadly off the mark in my opinion, and there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that GM was developing, and should have contiuned to develop, a hybrid successor to the EV1 that could have come to market a decade ago. GM decided that the program would never be profitable - but Toyota has, in my opinion, emphatically proved them wrong with the Prius. People want to buy these kinds of cars - not just a few aged hippie/yuppies, but lots of other people.

    Where are Hybrids Heading?

    I consider myself an auto enthusiast, and I admit I don't think I will become a hybrid owner in the foreseeable future. But I think that hybrids and electrics make sense for certain drivers, and that the market for these cars will make more sense as our infrastructure adapts to the needs of such cars. That is a key issue though - plug-in cars are only as clean as the grid, and right now the grid is arguably dirtier than gasoline-powered cars. However, the grid has the potential to be much cleaner - much more so than gasoline-powered cars.

    So, Chevy may have been foolish to declare a 10,000-unit sales goal, but they still sold a lot of Volts. If they stick with the concept, I think it can be as big a success as the Prius. The LEAF also seems like a successful product in my eyes, and the more the market is exposed to such cars the more it will accept them. A diesel can still get similar or better fuel economy and is cheaper, more reliable and more familiar, but the potential (and, once again, on that word hinges the future of the breed) environmental and economy benefits of the hybrid/electric concept should not be ignored. Despite the technological hurdles, it is certain that hybrids and electrics will eventually become much more efficient and much cleaner than they are today.

    The Volt has been burdened by huge expectations and nasty political wrangling, so it's no surprise many are labelling it a flop. I'm not Chevy enthusiast, but I think GM ought to perservere with this design - I don't think the American auto industry can afford not to, to be honest. These cars may still be a little ahead of their time, but waiting until "their time" to get into the game is far too late, in my opinion.
     
  2. acidfast7 macrumors 65816

    acidfast7

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  3. Lord Blackadder thread starter macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #3
    Speaking as a car enthusiast, I agree: that is where my money would go. But since I fancy myself a car nut, I value a certain kind of car over others. And I think I am in the minority. There are other, equally valid approaches to car ownership. And when looking at the automobile and auto transportation as a system within a world of technological and social systems, the "car nut" view is a mere niche, albeit an important one.
     
  4. acidfast7 macrumors 65816

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    #4
    I wish that the US market would adopt Audi's excellent TDI options. Over here the new A3s come with a 99g CO2/km that gets 71mpg highway (63mpg mixed). We need slow transitions, not new infrastructures and that's why I find hybrids/electrics totally useless/insignificant when the initial energy investment in building a new car is considered.

    In fact, I only get 33mpg (mixed) in my A4, but I drive so little (6000km/year) that I can't justify purchasing a different car (initial investment in raw materials) to reduce my environmental footprint. I use public transport/bicycle for 90% of my travel (would go almost 100% if the high-speed rail was more economical/ran at better hours ... like Monday at 4am ... and donate the car to charity.)
     
  5. Rodimus Prime macrumors G4

    Rodimus Prime

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    #5
    I see cars like the Volt are the way of the future but it not quite there yet.

    It solves the fundamental problem of all electric car which is a very limited range for a fairly long charge time and they also solve the problem of gas engines which need to run gas and pollute a lot more. You can set the gas engine to be a generator and have it run at optimal RPM for power generation and fuel usage.

    Also as we replace gas engines another power-plant could just be plug in so to speak and would not have to change the rest of the hardware.
     
  6. acidfast7 macrumors 65816

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    #6
    But that doesn't really reduce emissions/km, that just centralizes them to a power plant. Not even considering the energy loss in storage/transport from the plant to the house doing the charging.
     
  7. Rodimus Prime macrumors G4

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    #7
    well one advantages of Centralization is that it is a lot easier to filter it and add to the fact that the power could be switch over to a greener system. Never mind the fact the fact that power plants are more efficient that car engines.

    Long term we need to go to electric cars.
     
  8. Lord Blackadder thread starter macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #8
    But we also have to consider that cars need to be replaced anyway. As older, dirtier and less efficient cars get retired, there is an energy investment involved in replacing them. So, if we build the most efficient possible car using that energy, we have made the best use of it. Selling someone a Volt versus a Cadillac CTS, for example.

    There is truth to that, especially with our current grid. But it does have the advantage that the power source is centralized - changing the efficiency of a powerplant thus increases the efficiency of every EV out there instantaneously.

    I should also add that I don't think we should think of EVs as replacing the internal combustion engine - they won't. There will always be scenarios where internal combustion engines are the right tool for the job But that doesn't mean they aren't important, and in certain segments the EV and hybrid designs have excellent potential.
     
  9. steve2112 macrumors 68040

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    #9
    Don't worry, this will be a rambling response. :)

    First, I agree with the hybrid marketing. I hate the marketing campaign for the Leaf and Prius. Ugh. I think a big problem with the Volt is the price. It's tough to swallow $40k for a Volt. Yes, I realize there are tax credits and such, but that bottom line price on the paperwork is scary. People don't think of tax credits and the link when signing on the dotted line. I also think GM needs to stick with the Volt, and maybe start spreading its tech throughout their lineup. Is it a flop? Maybe. I think one of their issues is that people don't understand the difference between how the Volt works vs. how normal hybrids work.

    Part of the problem with hybrids and electrics is that for years, they just looked weird. The early Prii looked really weird, as did the GM EV1, and Honda's first Insight (not the current 4 door model, but the two door first gen that got insane mileage). Boring design sells in the US. I think mainstream 4 door sedans getting hybrid models will help with this, though. The drawback there will be the price. The Ford Fusion hybrid, for example, is about $5k more than the SE model. You would have to buy a lot of gas to make up for that difference.

    Electrics: With pure electrics, it's a chicken and egg problem. The Leaf is rated around 70-80 miles per charge or so. I drive 40 miles one way to work, and there is nowhere to charge it at work. People won't buy without places to recharge, but nobody wants to build charging stations with no vehicles on the road.

    Diesel: Ok, I love diesel, and I wish there were more options available. However, I just don't see it happening in the US. The cars themselves are more expensive, and the fuel is more expensive. The Golf TDI 4 door, for example, starts about $5k more than the 2.5L gas engine. It's the same as with hybrids: It's tough to justify that much extra in price, and you would have drive a lot of miles to make up that difference. When you throw in the fact that diesel here isn't subsidized and is much more expensive (15-20% or more), it gets really hard to justify.
     
  10. acidfast7 macrumors 65816

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    #10
    Long term, we need to get away from cars and live more communally. I was in LA last week and I'm still amazed at how inefficient a city of that size can be.

    I'm also not convinced that the materials required to produce an electric car can be mined/processed cleanly, such that a net reduction in pollution is observed over the usable lifespan of a car.
     
  11. Lord Blackadder thread starter macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #11
    I think one thing it's important to remember is that the Volt (like the Prius, Insight, LEAF and EV1) was never intended to be a car for everyone. It should not be judged as such. Hybrid and electric designs are still somewhat in ther infancy, even if many portions of the system are pretty technically mature. So the car isn't a failure if it seen as a niche vehicle - because it is. But the niche is growing, and that is where we hope to see changes. 15 years ago only a handful of people drove hybrids or electrics...they were seen as something for hobbyists. That has changed.

    All true, but ultimately unjustifiable IMO. How much longer will those reasons sound reasonable? The efficiency continues to go up and the price to drop, so that someday even the dieselphobic US will get on board.

    Not even more commually - just closer to where we work! Even a large city is more efficient per capita than a medium sized suburb. Suburbs are the bane of civilization when it comes to reducing our energy footprint.

    The only difference in materials are the materials in the batteries. When you remember that every internal combustion-engined car has a (toxic) lead-acid battery in it, something hybrids and electrics don't need, I think the challenge becomes surmountable. Which isn't to say it's not a big challenge, because it is.
     
  12. Macky-Mac macrumors 68030

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    #12
    it's an upscale price without an upscale car

    and for the price, that's way too limited a range.
     
  13. senseless macrumors 68000

    senseless

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    #13
    The upcoming Ford Fusion plug in hybrid could be the best of all worlds.
     

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  14. Liquorpuki macrumors 68020

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    #14
    I think this is the biggest problem - revamping infrastructure to make these cars convenient, which is not gonna happen without a ton of government subsidies (or maybe a few more oil crises). You live in an apartment, you can't charge. You go on an extended trip, you can't charge.

    I think the coal is still dirty argument is being blown out of proportion. Carbon emissions are not the same. A city's portfolio (coal, nuclear, green, etc) varies so one car might be charged off green and another might be charged off a mix of coal and green and another might be charged off a mix of nuclear, NG, and green. It's just not clear cut but the potential reduction in carbon emissions is there, especially as states refine their portfolios due to environmental pressure. And the money saved per mile is real too.

    Also both processes have energy loss. Both in ICE or Electric motors, in creating gasoline, in electricity generation/transmission. Without quantifying everything, using electricity to run a car is still cheaper even with transmission loss.

    My opinion is even though the Volt hasn't exceeded expectations, it's still a big step forward. The Volt basically one upped the Prius but $40K is steep. For comparison, the 160 mile Model S will start at $57K and that's a top of the line electric. What's funny is the Leaf outsold the Volt even though it's a more cheaply made, less practical car. Which means yeah, these cars are still niche market, and the only way they'll get out of the niche is if battery technology and infrastructure develops enough to make them viable ICE replacements.
     
  15. steve2112 macrumors 68040

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    #15
    I don't believe the Volt is a failure. I recognize it for what it is: and engineering exercise. It's a testbed for future technologies. I just wonder if GM will stay with it. As for diesels, it won't be easy. Money talks, and it will be tough to convince the average buyer to pay more for the car up front, and pay more for fuel. Given recent advancements in gas engine mileage, it's even tougher. Why buy a Jetta TDI, for example, when you can buy something like the Focus or Hyundai Elantra that gets 40 MPG vs. the Jetta's listed 42 MPG? Keep in mind the average buyer probably isn't going to be searching the internet and learning that it actually gets much better than that.

    It is too limited, but as I said, it's a true chicken and egg problem. Car companies aren't going to sink a lot of resources into improving range if nobody is buying the cars. And nobody will buy the cars if the infrastructure isn't in place.

    I love the look of the new Fusion. I was already considering the Fusion as my next car, but this may just push me to the Fusion camp. It looks like a Jag or Aston Martin. I don't even need the plugin hybrid. I would be happy with the Ecoboost. :)
     
  16. firestarter, Jan 23, 2012
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2012

    firestarter macrumors 603

    firestarter

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    #17
    Nice thread Lord Blackadder.

    Unlike you, I wouldn't call myself an auto enthusiast. I like the freedom that car ownership provides (which is why I have one, even though I got by fine for years without - as I live in about a minute's walk from a London tube station).

    I am an electric car enthusiast. I don't own one, but I would like to one day. I'm no tree hugger... I'm just an electric anything enthusiast. I understand electricity/electronics better than I do mechanical stuff, and the thought of an electric drive train really appeals. I hope that motoring goes in this direction - purely for my own personal satisfaction. I do think that we can find better things to use oil for than to just burn it, but bringing that about is a long term political process, and in the short term I have no issue with someone wanting to run a Porsche Cayenne or suchlike.

    Of the currently available electric cars the Chevy Volt electric drive train + ride extending hydrocarbon generator strikes me at the best mix of simplicity and practicality. The battery's range seems to capture a good percentage of small trips a person would take in a car, but if you want to travel further that's still possible (and still pretty frugal). I agree that for big miles at TDi would probably make more sense... it's all down to the statistics of your short/long journey mix. Sadly, the Volt is too expensive to justify by any saving in fuel - you have to want to drive electric to buy one of these.

    The Leaf strikes me as a pretty impractical car for pseuds and eco zealots. Yes, the range is OK for a lot of what people do, but it could never be an only car - and the amount of battery capacity required for that range is expensive (I'm sad that Chevy haven't managed to hit a lower price point with the Volt, given they use 1/3rd the battery). It's neat, but expensive. I worked out that the price differential between the Leaf and a similar gas powered model could easily pay for 100k miles of fuel - even at UK prices. Given that you'd have difficulty doing any sort of big miles in a car with such a limited range, it's difficult to see any scenario where you'd reach break even point.

    I pretty much hate the Prius. I don't like the idea of the complicated drive train at all - seems to be the worst of both worlds. A friend has one and I've had a play around inside - didn't like it. If I wanted a car that had a full hydrocarbon drive train, I'd go for something like an Audi or a VW Bluemotion - seem to be around as frugal but should be cheaper to maintain.

    On the general subject of powering electric vehicles, I'd just throw a few thoughts out there:
    • I'm a big fan of nuclear power, and I think we should really step up on both conventional reactor building, and new reactor design.
    • I think we need to be smart about electricity generation - about base load and about energy storage. Burning oil in a power station to charge an electric car would be dumb. Using spare base load nuclear plant capacity during the night to charge electric cars is smart and much less costly.
    • Electric cars seem to be a good answer to the question 'what can we do with irregular electricity generating resources like wind and wave power'. If there's some way to smartly and remotely manage charging, electric vehicles potentially provide a power storage solution.
    • I think we should be aspirational about growing energy production. To throw away the transport benefits we've developed just because our favourite source of fuel is running out seems regressive and stupid. We can and should find ways to generate increasing amounts of power and expand our personal freedom even further. I think electric vehicles are the main way we'll do this.
     
  17. Macky-Mac macrumors 68030

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    #18
    Part of the problem is range vs price. As a second car for a family, a $20k car with a limited range of 60 to 70 miles could be practical for round trip commuting, or running family errands locally, but at $35k to $40k the same car simply wouldn't provide enough for the price to be attractive
     
  18. Tilpots, Jan 23, 2012
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2012

    Tilpots macrumors 601

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    #19
    If/when gas heads over $5 gallon next year as predicted, not only will the electrics and hybrids been seen as the answer, the companies who make them will be heralded as visionairies. Gas is finite. It's simply a matter of time before electrics are the only option for consumer vehicles as price and availability put gas out of reach for average Joe's.

    My father just bought a brand new Prius because it will save him money every month between his gas and car payments. Granted, he drives a lot, but he's not the only one. As people begin to replace their current vehicles, the gas prices will push them into more efficient cars. When they see their monthly payments drop, it'll be a no brainer.
     
  19. firestarter macrumors 603

    firestarter

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    #20
    Gas is over $8 here in the UK and has been for years. Electrics still aren't cost-justifiable. They're even less cost justifiable in a country (US) with longer average commutes.

    I think you're going to see a much higher break even point than $5.
     
  20. Tilpots macrumors 601

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    #21
    Maybe, maybe not. Look at the differences in vehicle size and fuel efficiency in our countries. They're quite different. Also, our public transportation system isn't near what the UK's is. At $5 a gallon, you're going to see a major lifestyle change occur in America. I think it'll be for the "better," but it sure is gonna hurt.
     
  21. ender land macrumors 6502a

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    #22
    I'll consider buying a hybrid when I can't get a car getting 30+ mpg for 1/2 the price.
     
  22. quagmire, Jan 23, 2012
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2012

    quagmire macrumors 603

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    #23
    You also have to take into account that the Volt's battery is liquid cooled/heated vs the Leaf's air cooled battery, and the complexity of the Volt's power train with the generator, etc. It would rock though if the Volt's generator was a diesel(optional) since diesels rock at being at a constant RPM vs gas.

    Also, there is the possibility of the Japanese gov't helping out Nissan with the Leaf( like they did with the Prius).

    I am disgusted at the attitude towards the Volt. It shows off American innovation/engineering and the media jumps at anything negative( especially Fox News) because of the politics( however how false it is) surrounding it. It takes three weeks for an improperly stored crashed Volt to catch on fire and now everyone is saying the Volt is dangerous and unsafe ignoring how gas is flammable too..... :rolleyes:
     
  23. Liquorpuki macrumors 68020

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    #24
    Yeah, a lot of utilities are on board with this. In the US, time of use metering is being deployed, which varies the electric rate depending on when it's used. Off-peak at night = cheap. On-peak in the afternoon = expensive. Part of why they're doing this is to help manage electric vehicle load in the future. They want everyone to charge their cars at night, when more of that electricity is coming from cheap baseload, and not in the afternoon, when it'll be paid for by expensive peak gen. And since wind blows the most at night, a lot of wind energy either gets wasted or has to be dumped somewhere for storage. It could go directly to charging EV's instead.

    There's also some talk of EV's being used as batteries for on-peak dumping. Get charged at night and if left plugged in during the day, dump energy back into the grid. Though I'm not really sure if that's even practical.
     
  24. Lord Blackadder thread starter macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #25
    I generally agree with you, firestarter. Current hybrids make much less sense in Europe from an economy standpoint. Diesel is relatively less expensive and you are pampered with some excellent diesels.

    I know a few people with Priuses and their owners love them. But it is not a drivers' car, and I find it a bit too gimmicky, not to mention the self-righteous connotations surrounding the car. But with that being said, I still have to tip my hat to Toyota for building a hybrid that not only works, but sells. They really proved the concept in the market.

    I have to question this point though. I know a few people who are in the power generation industry and one in particular who specializes in alternative energy. He works with solar, wind, geothermal, you name it. And he is not sanguine about our future prospects. While we will find alternatives, once the oil runs low the only real alternative under our current levels of consumption is nuclear, which has its own set of issues (though I would not consider myself anti-nuclear) and is itself a non-renewable resource.

    When you take into account the growth of the world population, the rising energy demands in India and Asia, and dwindling oil supplies, the stark reality is we are going to need to find ways to significantly reduce global per-capita energy consumption.

    I'm surprised we haven't seen a diesel parallel hybrid yet. The technology is there, and such a car would have a substantial economy boost over a Prius.

    There is a lot of stupidity and fear surrounding the Volt. There shouldn't be, because hybrids, while still relatively new, are not THAT new. But the Volt, as I said before, is also a political football.

    The Volt is a little too expensive right now to really move into a higher-volume sales bracket. GM needs to figure out how to build a cheaper Volt. But the Volt is a good start, and the price will come down in time.
     

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