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July 16, 2011  –  New Canaan, CT 

Karl Chevrolet's VOLT-1From time to time, we have customers who come into our showroom wanting to compare the Chevy Volt to the Toyota Prius.  It is a natural comparison given that the Prius has been regarded by many to be the most fuel efficient car on the market.  But now that EV’s like the Volt and the Nissan Leaf have arrived on the market, consumers have more choices and much more to consider.

In simple terms, each of these vehicles are similar and yet very different.  They are similar in that they each provide exceptional economy in terms of operating costs – but they each do so differently.  Allow me to explain.

  • Toyota Prius:  a gasoline powered hybrid vehicle.  The Prius uses a 1.31 kW-hr Nickel Metal Hydride battery to assist its 1.8 liter 98-hp gasoline engine to make it more fuel efficient than a conventional gas powered vehicle.
  • Nissan Leaf:  a pure electric vehicle. The Leaf is always powered by its 24.0 kW-hr Lithium Ion battery.  Once this battery is depleted (about 70 miles), the car is dead until it can be recharged.  Thus a consumer must think before leaving on any type of extended travel.
  • Chevy Volt:  an extended range electric vehicle.  The Volt is only powered by its 16.0 kW-hr Lithium Ion battery for about the first 40 miles of driving.  After about 40 miles, an on-board 1.4 liter 84-hp gasoline engine generator automatically starts and produces electricity to keep you going until you reach your destination, stop to refuel the generator, or stop to recharge.

So for an average driver doing about 30 to 40 miles per day, any of these vehicles will deliver excellent efficiency.  With the Prius, you will use just under a gallon of gas to drive 40 miles; say about $4.00 worth.  With the Leaf, you will use about 10kwh of electricity; say about $1.50 using Connecticut Electric rates.  And with the Volt, you would also use about the same 10kwh of electricity.  So both the Leaf and the Volt would cost about $1.50 to drive 40 miles, while the Prius would cost about $4.00.

But what if you needed to drive 90 miles one day?  Let’s take another look.  The Prius continues to get great fuel economy, costing you about $8.00 in gasoline to drive 90 miles.  The pure electric Nissan Leaf would have to be left home in the garage that day, as it could not make it 90 miles without an overnight charge.  On the other hand, the Chevy Volt will easily take you on your 90 mile journey.  With the Volt, the first 40 miles on pure battery power ($1.50 in electricity) and the last 50 miles in extended range mode (at about 40mpg, at $4.00/gallon your gas cost would be about $5.00).  So the Volt takes you 90 miles for about $6.50, while the Prius costs about $8.00 for gas, and the Leaf doesn’t make the journey.

A 2011 Chevy Volt gets a charge at Karl Chevrolet in New Canaan CTThe true genius of the Volt is realized by those driver’s whose typical day involves about 40 miles of driving.  To be able to drive for days, weeks and even months without stopping for gas is truly empowering.  And electric rates have been much more stable that gasoline prices at the pump.

Heard enough to say “I WANT A CHEVY VOLT!” …. check out KARL Chevrolet’s current inventory, or call us to review your needs and place an order.

To get an idea of a real life comparison between the Toyota Prius and the Chevy Volt, I’d like to share a review written by William Destler, the President of the Rochester Institute of Technology.  Bill has driven several Toyota Prius models over the past eight years and recently took delivery of a new Chevy Volt.  While not a direct comparison of brand new vehicles, his perspective on the differences between both vehicles is an excellent one.  

By William Destler, President, Rochester Institute of Technology

As an owner of both a 2008 Toyota Prius and a 2011 Chevy Volt, I thought I’d compare the two in a friendly way so that prospective buyers might understand why I think the Volt is a superior design.

Let me start by saying that I was a Prius fan from the beginning and I still am. I have owned 2002, 2005, and 2008 model year Prii, and they have all delivered efficient, reliable service. I have every reason to believe that the new Prius models including the plug-in Prius will be equally attractive to potential buyers.

So first, let’s compare them in terms of efficiency and cost of operation. My 2008 Prius has essentially the same EPA mpg ratings as the new 2011 models, so I suspect my experience is pretty typical for most Prius owners. I get about 48 mpg average in the summer and about 38-40 mpg in the cold Rochester, NY, winters. I have gotten over 50 mpg frequently, but I think my averages are about right.

File Photos of a 2011 Chevrolet Volt and a 2008 Toyota Prius2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2008 Toyota Prius.

I have owned my Chevy Volt since March, 2011, and because we had a terribly cold spring in Rochester, the temperature during the first two weeks I owned the car was in the 20’s (Fahrenheit). My all-electric range has varied from about 25-30 miles in the coldest weather to about 50 miles when the temperature is between 65-75 degrees. At temperatures of 80-95 degrees, I get about 45 miles of range with the air conditioning on.

As of the time I write this, I have driven the Volt 4,192 miles of which 3,397 were in all-electric mode. I have used 20.8 gallons of gas, so my Volt-calculated mpg is at 201 (cost of electricity not included) and my average mpg in charge sustaining mode (when the Volt uses gasoline) is 38 mpg. I got 41 mpg on a recent long trip, but I think the average is reduced when gas is used on shorter trips.

Let’s assume that the Prius is also driven 4,192 miles and gets 46 mpg average. At $3.60/gallon of gasoline the operating cost per mile is $.078/mile. Assuming the national average cost of electricity at $.11/kWh, and using my OnStar reported electricity consumption in the Volt of 33 kWh/100 miles (several other sources have reported similar numbers), the operating cost per mile of my Volt including the cost of electricity and gasoline has been $.047/mile. So if your use is like mine, the Volt gets about 76 MPGe (all costs in) and is a much more efficient choice than the Prius, which was heretofore the most efficient car on the market. In fact, a Prius is only 60 percent as efficient as a Volt under these operating conditions.

A few caveats: Because I park my Volt inside a garage, battery temperature regulation needs are minimized, and those who park their Volts outside during a cold winter or hot summer and keep them plugged in will probably see a higher average electricity consumption/mile. In fact, during the cold month of March here in Rochester, my average electricity consumption for the Volt was 35 kWh/100 miles. On the other hand, if one charges at night, electricity costs/kWh can be substantially less than $.11/kWh, in which case the Volt fares even better against the Prius. And if the cost of gasoline goes above $4/gallon, the Volt does even better in the comparison. Of course, if you live in an area where the cost/kWh of electricity is considerably higher than the national average, the Volt and the Prius become more comparable in terms of operating cost/mile. But be careful here – electricity cost/kWh is not obtained by simply dividing your electric bill by the number of kWh you have used during the billing month. Since there is a substantial connection fee independent of kWh used, the cost you should use is the cost of adding additional kWh’s to your current bill, which is much less on a per/kWh basis.

2011 Chevrolet Volt Interior2011 Volt Interior.

In terms of usable space inside each vehicle, the edge goes clearly to the Prius. There is both more room per passenger and room for more passengers (5 vs. 4 in the Volt). The trunk is also a bit bigger in the Prius.

In terms of ride and handling, the edge clearly goes to the Volt. The Volt is quieter, handles better, is quicker, and is more comfortable on long trips (at least to my 64-year-old back). Interestingly, the big, heavy Volt battery running down the bottom center of the car seems to virtually glue the car to the road, and traction in snow is really quite good.

In terms of cost, a comparably equipped Prius costs about $4,000 less than a Volt after the tax credit. You would have to drive the Volt like I do for about 129,000 miles to make up the difference if you were trying to justify the additional cost on the basis of energy cost savings (assuming the cost of both gasoline and electricity remain at current levels).

In terms of raw energy consumption, the Volt as I use it is clearly superior, and for those who care about environmental concerns and the consumption of non-renewable energy resources, this may be the deciding factor. In terms of the amount of imported oil consumed, the Volt is even better, since most of the energy it consumes comes from electricity generated from American sources.

If I ask myself, “If I charge the Volt only once a day, how far would I have to drive the Volt each day to reduce its average MPGe to that of a Prius,” the answer is more than 140 miles per day. I think the percentage of Americans who drive more than 140 miles per day is very small. For that reason, it always pains me to hear reviewers say that the Volt may be a good choice for some drivers.

In terms of reliability, the Volt is a new design so there is no record of service reliability over the life of the car. To date, Volts appear to be very reliable, but only time will tell. The Prius has proven to be very reliable, so it has to get the edge in this area.

2008 Toyota Prius Interior2008 Prius interior.

Occupant crash safety tests have resulted in high scores for both vehicles, but the Volt has scored better overall. The Volt recently received 5 stars in the new, more stringent, government crash test program. A 2010 Prius earned 4 out of 5 stars in the less stringent tests conducted in prior years.

Fit and finish is an area I would usually concede to Toyota, who set new standards in this area for years, but the Volt is surprisingly well made. In fact, the Volt is one of the tightest cars I have ever driven, with a kind of solid body feel that provides real security to its occupants. I’ll call this area a wash.

One final note – a plug-in version of the Prius has been announced, with an all-electric range reported to be about 13 miles (although the Prius will still use its gas engine any time it needs real power, and all the time at highway speeds). The Volt’s battery is warranted for 8 years or 100,000 miles, by which time it is expected to have been reduced in capacity to about 80 percent of its initial value. If that is true, an 8-year-old Volt will have more than twice the range of a new plug-in Prius. For those worried about resale value down the road, this is a pretty interesting fact.

My conclusion: if you have to have seating for 5, the Prius is a very sensible choice. Otherwise, go for the Volt. You won’t regret it. 

As always, here at KARL Chevrolet we encourage you to form your own opinion and we invite you to stop in for a test drive in the ground breaking Chevy Volt.  We think you will be impressed!