Last week, I pointed out the New York Times relied on some highly questionable calculations to determine that it would take you more than 26 years to make up the difference in gas savings if you bought a Chevy Volt over a Chevy Cruze. The post has drawn a lot of interest, both here and on The Energy Collective website, as well as some reactions from people who actually own Chevy Volts.

Matty G., for instance, points out that if you drive a lot in stop-and-go traffic, the savings from an electric car are even greater (EVs don’t use any energy when stopped except to keep the radio and other accessories on):

The equation changes substantially if you do exclusively city driving. The figure given for the Cruze is the mixed number. I, on the other hand, commute 20 miles roundtrip each day in hardcore city driving conditions; stoplights, traffic, and lots of stop-and-go. In C&D’s Volt vs Cruze Eco comparison test, they got a city mpg figure of 20 for the Cruze.

Even at $4 gas, this reduces the payback period to 8.6 years. If my commute was the 35 mile EV sweet spot, payback period would be 5.2 years.

“Dr. Innovation”
says the mpg range from that I referenced is too limited (I agree), and also notes that his most recent tank of gas lasted for six months:

A few points.. the Fuelly data is misleading because it will NOT accept or compute data for anything above 200mpg. I’m the 168 and that is only because my first months had more long trips and so were , 200. My most recent tank (Oct-April) was over 400 MPG and fuelly will not show it. … Much better place for volt data is With over 800 drivers (so about 10% of all volt owners) there are only 7 with < 46.7 average MPG. The fleet average is about 120MPG computed over nearly 5 million miles. It's better than EPA because the drivers are averaging more miles on EV than the EPA predictions. My most recent tank, from 10/29/11 to 4/13 has was 3698 mi on 8.3 Gallons of Premium + 1037kWh of wind power. With total fuel costs of $91.32 that translates to 95.23 overall MPGe, 444 MPG and 40.49 MPF$ or $.0246/mi. Compared to a Lexus hs 200h, .09/mile, my payback was instantaneous and I'm saving 1000s per year. Compared to a BMW 3series, my payback is already past. Compared to a Cruze it is not computable as I would never buy one.

Jim Hopf
also says the Volt/Cruze comparison isn’t apples-to-apples:

Comparisons of the Volt to the Cruze are just (right wing) nonsense. The two are not the same. The Volt is a much nicer car, loaded with several luxury features that the Cruze does not have. Also superior performance (handling and acceleration). A Volt with an ordinary gasoline engine would cost at least ~$25,000.

The real point, missed by the article, is that we first adopters are not looking for the car to pay for itself in the strict economic sense. We realize that we will not break even. The point is to support the technology and drive tech advancements and cost reductions so that it will eventually make sense. A factor of three drop in battery costs over the next decade is predicted. At 1/3 the cost difference, the car will clearly make pure economic sense.

So while some of the distorted media narratives surrounding the Volt may be puzzling to me, a mere energy journalist with a working knowledge of high-school algebra, they seem to be endlessly baffling to the people who actually own and have day-to-day experience with the car. It’s good to hear from them.

Photo by marada via Creative Commons

Ken is the director of the Vxartnews at Fresh Energy, and has led the project from its inception as Midwest Energy News in 2009. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he held a variety of editing, production, and leadership roles, and played a key role in the newspaper's transition to digital-first publishing. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon.

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