A New Chevy Volt for $510?

I commute twenty-five miles one way to work. I’ve been driving a 2006 Hyundai Tucson getting about 23 MPG. We generally use the Tucson only for commuting. We drive another vehicle on the weekend. It cost me about $250 per month for fuel. I thought there had to be another way.

About eighteen months ago I started looking into something more fuel efficient. More vehicle models come in a hybrid variant and get much better mileage, somewhere between 40 and 60 MPG. When calculating the cost of a new vehicle and the cost savings 40 – 60 MPG would not really make much of a difference so I started looking into electric vehicles. The two that stood out were the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt. Ford also has a plugin electric with a range extender gas engine.

I ruled out the Leaf because I am still not comfortable with relying completely on electric. The Leaf’s range is roughly 80 miles. Although it would get me to work and back it wouldn’t be enough if I had an emergency and had to make a trip to the school for example. The Volt and Ford Fusion Energi have gas engines giving them a combined range comparable to a compact Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car.

The Ford Fusion Energi and the Chevy Volt are comparably sized vehicles; however the Fusion Energi only has a range of 20 miles per charge. That’s not enough for a single trip from home to work. The new Ford C-Max Energi has about a 75 mile range. However, unlike the Volt, it operates more like a hybrid with both electric and gas running in combination. The Volt will run all electric until the battery is depleted then switch automatically to gas.

I started watching forums for Volt owners. During the past eighteen months I came away with two impressions 1) Volt owners are very happy with their vehicles. This is validated by a recent Consumer Reports satisfaction survey that shows Volt with the highest consumer satisfaction rate at 92%. 2) Volt owners were having few problems with their vehicles. The few things they pointed out that a prospective owner should be aware were the lack of a spare tire and a short vehicle history and the high degree of electronics. They recommended purchasing the extended warranty.

So it was all about the money. The magic numbers are 22,740 and 6; the break even cost of operating the Tuscon over six years. 

It takes about 12 kWh to charge a Volt. My cost for electricity is 6.51 cents per kWh. We used the Tuscon for commuting. So, calculating 20 charges, one for each weekday I commute in a month multiplied by the 12 kWh to charge the Volt multiplied by the cost of electricity, 6.51 cents per kWh, the cost to charge the Volt for a month of commuting works out to roughly $15 per month. Subtract that from the $250 per month I paid for fuel for the Tuscon, the energy savings is about $235 per month.

For three months during the summer, my wife and I carpool. That saves an additional $250 per month in fuel by not driving our second vehicle for the summer, or $750. The total fuel savings for a year works out to $3570 savings per year. Also consider that the Volt’s gas engine only requires annual service instead of quarterly service. Assuming $80 for servicing for times per year, the Tucson cost $320 per year compared to $100 for the Volt for an annual savings of $220 for a total operating cost savings of $3790 per year. Over a period of 6 years that’s a saving in operating cost of $22,740. If I were able to buy the Volt for $22,740 I would break even after six years.

The Federal government is offering a $7500 tax credit for purchasing the Volt as an alterative fuel vehicle. Chevrolet offered a $1000 rebate. I received a $750 discount for being a USAA member and another $500 for being a Washington State Employee Credit Union member. In November the Volt stickered for $38,000 leaving a gap of $5510 after applying the tax credit, rebates and discounts. I couldn’t justify that cost. This month, the Volt stickered at $33,000, leaving a gap of $510. I could justify $510.

Over time there are a couple of unknown factors. Will I really be able to realize that savings? I measured and monitored my driving pattern and believe the calculations are accurate. There will also be time when we need to run short trips that will amount to an all electric savings as well. Fuel costs are not likely to go down. In fact, earlier this evening there were reports of a sudden jump in gas prices due to the violence in Iraq. It’s entirely likely I am under estimating the fuel savings. The Tucson would have also needed some repairs; a cracked windshield replacement, a damaged door handle replacement, and possibly other minor repairs. It was after all eight years old and showing some signs of wear.

 I believe it was worth the calculated risk but only time will tell for sure. The one thing I hadn’t counted on was the “Awesome Factor.” Full torque to the wheels at 0 mph gives it unbelievable acceleration, it is incredibly quiet and handles like a dream.

On a final note, Tom Estep and Thad London, the two sales representatives for Titus Will in Olympia were the two best car salesmen I’ve ever worked with. No pressure, very knowledgable and very helpful. I would highly recommend Titus Will and these two gentlemen for anyone considering buying a Volt in the Olympia, Washington area.