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Consumer Reports Doesn’t Like Chevy’s Volt

Posted in auto industry, Car Buying, Chevrolet, Featured, News, Toyota by Kurt Ernst | March 1st, 2011 | 11 Responses |
2011 Chevy Volt

The 2011 Chevy Volt. Image: © GM Corp.

Recommendations from Consumer Reports can sell a lot of product; criticism from Consumer Reports, on the other hand, can destroy sales if consumers buy into the hype. Look at the Suzuki Samurai, whose handling Consumer Reports rated as “Not Acceptable” in July of 1988. Sales of the diminutive off-roader evaporated, literally overnight, and even the launch of an entirely new-and-improved model (the Suzuki Sidekick) never substantially improved sales. Thanks to CR, the brand and the vehicle were forever tainted. Now CR has decided that the Chevy Volt, “doesn’t really make a lot of sense” from a financial perspective. Their recommendation, of course, is to buy a Prius instead.

Consumer Reports bases their findings on winter driving in the Northeast, which experienced one of the worst winters on record. Despite an EPA “battery only” range rating of 35 miles, CR saw only 25 to 27 miles of range in cold temperature, stop and go driving. I’m assuming this is with headlights on, heat on and potentially even the seat heaters on, which represents a worst case scenario for an electric vehicle. Ironically, CR doesn’t report their fuel economy on the gasoline generator only, but CR’s David Champion does say that the Toyota Prius, “will actually get you more miles per gallon than the Volt does”. He then goes on to slam the Volt’s five hour charging time, which he refers to as “annoying”.

Let’s do some simple math, based on Champion’s 70 mile reference commute, comparing the Volt to his beloved Prius. A Prius gets a rating of 48 MPG on the highway, so that commute will use 1.46 gallons of gas. The Volt, using CR’s own numbers, travels 26 miles on batteries alone, which leaves a gasoline generator commute of 44 miles. Given the Volt’s EPA fuel economy rating of 40 MPG highway, those 44 miles will consume 1.1 gallons of gas. I’m not mathematician, but as far as I know 1.46 is greater than 1.1, isn’t it?

Now let’s play the “best case” scenario card, where you charge the Volt at work but still only get 26 miles of battery range on your winter commute. You’ll need the gas fired generator to commute 9 miles each way, for a daily total of 18 miles. At 40 MPG, 18 miles uses .45 gallons of gas, and I KNOW that’s less than 1.46 gallons. I could even throw down the “maximum best case scenario”, where the Volt (in warmer weather) does the entire 70 mile commute on a single charge, without using a drop of gasoline. Even a simple car guy like myself can understand that using zero gallons of fuel each day in the Volt is better than using 1.46 gallons of fuel in the Prius.

At a starting price of $22,410, there’s no denying that the Prius is cheaper than the $41,000 Volt, and (in fairness) that has to be factored into the equation. I see the cars as right for two different types of commuters, but both are very good in their respective categories. If you’re shopping for a fuel efficient commuter car, do yourself a favor and look at both vehicles; don’t be blindly influenced by one reviewer’s opinion.

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