I heard quite a bit about the Chevy Volt in all forms of media yesterday. The more I heard, the more I realized that commentators and pundits that I consider trustworthy were, in this case, doing a lot of heavy lifting for Chevy in the form of free marketing. I think the Volt will be a good vehicle and an interesting case in how the automotive sector might be shifting. That said, there were a number of claims that I thought needed to be cleaned up.
Let’s start with this NYT article. In the lede: GM puts Volt’s Mileage in triple digits. Well, that’s nice. GM also told Americans two years ago that the truck and SUV markets in the U.S. would keep them on top of the automotive world. How did that turn out exactly? What is the official source of mpg ratings? The E.P.A. – and they haven’t assessed the Volt’s performance yet, mostly because the methodology to do so remains in draft form. But GM is doing what GM should be doing: trying their hardest to build up expectations for the vehicle.
What are those expectations? 230 mpg in city driving. Wowsa! Doesn’t that sound awesome? Actually, it should be 230mpg* in city driving – and that asterisk should be pretty darned big! Drivers might get 230mpg if they drive less than 40 miles from charging station to charging station in laboratory-like conditions: no hills, no A/C or heat, etc.! More likely, drivers in every-day conditions could see ~100mpg performance. Now, that’s nothing to sneeze at. I think it’s a very good half-step forward. But here’s the thing: there are 100mpg cars available today. Modify a factory car today with $10K or so, and 100mpg is already well within reach. So where is the dramatic technological leap forward?
Nissan has countered that it’s upcoming hybrid, the Leaf, could get up to 367mpg. The same limitations I described for the Volt apply here, also. Nissan is also working with Better Place to manufacture and deploy all-electric vehicles, which wouldn’t need any gas whatsoever to drive! Now that’s what I call progress!