$33,000?!

The Chevy Volt's $33,000 price tag makes its modest fuel savings hard to justify.

Kevin Drum retorts to Dodd’s post lampooning the Chevy Volt’s woefully limited 35-mile range on battery and mere 37 MPG on gas:

No car is designed to appeal to every single person, and the Volt is no exception. It’s designed mostly to appeal to a specific kind of driver: someone who does the great bulk of their driving around town, maybe 20 or 30 miles a day at most, but occasionally needs to drive further and doesn’t want to buy a second car just for those occasions. There are lots of people like that, and for them the Volt is great. They’ll spend 98% of their time running solely on battery power and recharging at night when rates are low, and 2% of their time getting 37 mpg — which is actually pretty damn good. There are a few hybrids that do slightly better and one hybrid (the Prius) that does a lot better, and that’s about it.

If you commute a hundred miles a day, the Volt isn’t for you. If you’re a traveling salesman, it’s not for you. If you need to haul around a Boy Scout troop, it’s not for you. If you need lots of towing capacity, it’s not for you. But that’s not a problem. It’s not supposed to be for you. It’s for people who drive ten miles to work each day, run some errands on the weekend, and drive out to grandma’s house once a month.

That’s fair enough.  Alas, Kevin notes, there’s a wee problem:

Even after the government rebate, it’ll run you around $33,000 for a car that would cost less than $20,000 with a standard engine. Until the price of the car comes down, it’s going to be a tough sell for anyone who’s not dazzled by its eco-friendliness.

Even at upwards of $3 a gallon, $13,000 buys a hell of a lot of gas.  Even for someone like me, who is currently driving a relatively poor mileage vehicle (a 350Z Roadster) and fits the basic profile (I use my car as a daily commuter and errand mobile; the wife’s minivan is the long haul vehicle) it wouldn’t make sense to switch.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, Science & Technology,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dodd says:

    The Volt also pales in comparison to the Nissan Leaf for just those purposes, as highlighted in the engadget piece I linked. So, no, even for the people to whom it’s designed to appeal, the Volt is not a “great” option. No-one seems to be mentioning that….
    Nor does the Clerks reference seem to have been picked up on.

  2. Dodd,
     
    That’s a pretty obscure reference if you’re not looking for it.  I didn’t get it until you pointed it out.  “You sucked 37 d*cks?!”

  3. john personna says:

    I dumped a bunch of facts, along with a little attitude, in the other thread.
     
    My comment for this thread is that no one would sweat hybrids or electrics if they thought gas was going to be $3/gal, forever.

  4. john personna says:

    (The nice thing about driving a Prius is that miles are pretty close to free at $3, and even at $5 my yearly gas bill would be minor.
     
    The average person probably doesn’t know their current expense for one car.  12,000 miles at 20 mpg city and $3 gas equals $1800.  With $5 gas that climbs to $3000.    That’s a fair bit.  Put two or three cars in a family, and it adds up.)
     
     

  5. The problem is that the long distance commuter, the traveling salesman, the boy scout den mother, and the towing enthusiast were all force to chip in the costs of developing this car they have absolutely no use for.

  6. Tano says:

    “The Volt also pales in comparison to the Nissan Leaf for just those purposes,”
     
    Are you kidding? If you run out of juice in your Leaf, you have yourself a nice street sculpture. And you can’t exactly just hitch down to the gas station with a can, since it would take what, 8 hours or so, to fill er up, assuming you could sidle up to an outlet?

  7. michael reynolds says:

    Stormy:
     
    Those same people are forced to chip in for the latest air superiority fighter to battle the Soviets over East Germany, and a couple of wars, plus a drug war, and some tax cuts for corporations and billionaires, none of which they have much use for.
     
    But absolutely, we should draw the line at cutting edge, American technology we hope may contribute in the long run to our national security and our environment and save American jobs.  Yeah:  that’s where the problem lies.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    The Leaf is a plug-in with no fallback.  The Volt is electric-then-gas/electric.  So if you set out thinking you’ll just drive to work and back and then your Aunt Tillie dies in Kansas you can drive there.  So, Dodd, no the Leaf does not do a better job at the same thing.
     
    You seem determined to promote Japanese technology, jobs and of course Japanese government support over the US equivalents.  What an interesting decision for a patriot such as yourself.  Gosh, it’s almost as if you wanted GM to fail to validate your ideology.
     
    People don’t buy cars on mileage alone.  Read the original MT piece and you’ll discover that the Volt is apparently a pretty decent ride. So comparisons such as “I can get X MPG for X dollars, why would I pay 2X dollars?” misses pretty much the entire psychology of automobiles.
     
    But let’s say that everything the Republican GM haters say is true.  So what?  This is the gnat that you strain at while the government shovels money into a thousand rat holes?  Why? Well, the answer is simple:  the GM rescue must fail for ideological reasons.  If it were to succeed then the GOP’s ideology — whatever is left of it — would be damaged.
     
    So, is it about the money?  Nah.  That’s chump change.  It’s about hoping that GM fails and its employees lose their jobs and another great American company goes bust and a union is wiped out in the process.  Because when it’s a choice of country or ideology we know where the GOP stands.
     

  9. Dodd says:

    You seem determined to promote Japanese technology, jobs and of course Japanese government support over the US equivalents.  What an interesting decision for a patriot such as yourself.  Gosh, it’s almost as if you wanted GM to fail to validate your ideology.

    Don’t you ever get bored with these endless, insipid attempts to project the caricatures of your opponents that pass for your “thinking” about them onto people who have the temerity to disagree with you? Seriously, that’s a massive amount of stupid to pull out of one remark.
     
    If GM had created a workable product that was worth owning even with the tax break and came within an AU of the hype that’s been expended on it, I’d be delighted for American industry. They didn’t. It’s strange that your (obviously ideological) preoccupation with attacking criticism of this lemon doesn’t extent to Mr. Drum, though.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    If GM had created a workable product that was worth owning even with the tax break and came within an AU of the hype that’s been expended on it, I’d be delighted for American industry.

     
    Riiiight. Which is why on your own post you blatantly mischaracterized the mileage figures — entirely ignoring the 93 — and on this thread you touted the Leaf which is not in any real sense comparable.  You twisted the facts because you really wish GM with its government money had done a bang-up job.
     
    Yep.  Plausible.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    A couple of grafs from Motor Trend:

    The Volt is no sports car, but it blows Toyota’s plug-in Prius away (9.8 seconds to 60 mph), and runs neck and neck with a 2.4-liter Malibu in acceleration and handling tests. Figure-eight performance is virtually identical at 28.4 seconds and 0.59g, and the Volt’s 119-foot stops from 60 mph are just 3 feet longer—impressive, given its 226-pound weight disadvantage and lowrolling- resistance tires. (The Prius weighs 376 pounds less than the Volt, yet it just matches its 0.78g lateral grip, trails both Chevys by 0.4 second on the figure eight, and needs 131 feet to stop from 60 mph.)
    —–
    Bottom line: If the gas/electric and plug-in sport sedans (Fisker, Tesla) and supercars (Jag, Lotus, Porsche, Ferrari) are as wellengineered as this subcompact, enthusiasts need not fear the 60-mpg future.

  12. Dodd says:

    Which is why on your own post you blatantly mischaracterized the mileage figures — entirely ignoring the 93

    I see your reading comprehension hasn’t improved any since the last time you made an idiot out of yourself attacking me based on your willfully uninformed preconceptions of what I think.

  13. anjin-san says:

    Maybe we should just let the market decide if the Volt sinks or swims. Like James, I have no plans to give up my 350z (although a raise would have me thinking about a Porsche Cayman), but I would like to see Detroit turn things around, and there are some signs it is beginning to do so.
     

  14. anjin-san says:

    Same old Dodd. Not a lot of personality, and what little there is tends to be unpleasant.
     
    edmunds.com > Still, there is no denying the Volt’s technological promise. Most importantly, it has the ability to keep on going when its battery runs down (say, on a road trip), whereas an all-electric vehicle like Nissan’s Leaf does not. If you want an intriguing yet practical taste of a greener automotive future, the 2011 Chevy Volt might be just what the General ordered.
     
    LA Times > With its Volt, Chevy has made an EV for the masses that is alluring from all angles — inside, outside and under the hood. The Volt doesn’t redeem GM from its past reclamation and crushing of the EV1, but it’s a bold and impressive step into the future.
     
    digitaltrends.com  > Overall, we really liked driving the Volt. It’s like a Chevy Cruze with a much smarter brain. For those who drive short distances, it is brilliant now. For the future scenario when there are charging stations at every intersection, it can become more brilliant. For those in-between, it works well as a small hatchback that drives on electric power when you take the kids to school and back. And, in the end, we won’t even squabble too much on the price. For the $41,000 base price (before a $7,500 tax credit for driving an EV), you are getting a very economical car that could get 120 MPG for short drives
     
    us news & world report > Test drivers report that the Volt is easy to live with, cheap to charge (about 80 cents worth of electricity is all it take to get a full charge and about 50 miles of travel) and, unlike electric cars, worry-free when it comes to its range.  Even better, the Volt, unlike most hybrids, is actually fun to drive, with ample power and sporty handling, even if the ride is occasionally unrefined.
     
    There is plenty more. I have to concur that pronouncing the Volt DOA smacks of a political agenda.

     

  15. Herb says:

    Don’t you ever get bored with these endless, insipid attempts to project the caricatures of your opponents that pass for your “thinking” about them onto people who have the temerity to disagree with you?
     

    Don’t you ever get bored telling people “you don’t know what I’m thinking” after you write a post outlining what your thinking?
     
    Ya know, for a guy who writes from an (often obvious) ideological POV, it really is humorous that you take so much umbrage when someone notices that your writing has an ideological POV.
     
    That you keep referencing “the hype” is clue #1 that you’re reacting to something other than the technical specs or economic value of the Volt.

  16. john personna says:

    I was down on Dodd, because I thought he overstated the case in the other thread.  That may or may not simply have been his film homage.
     
    I’m negative on the Volt because I don’t think it’s positioning is well considered.  I think you really are better off having multiple cars, and a Leaf.  For me, the perfect garage would have a Leaf for commutes, and a 4×4 F150 for anyplace that couldn’t get me.
     
    That might be the best engineering solution, since you don’t drag a gas engine around for in-town driving, and you don’t bother with the electric expense on the big truck.
     
    But to make it real, is there anyone here who is seriously considering the Volt at $33K?  What is your driving mix?  Would you consider it at the full and  unsubsidized $41k?

  17. john personna says:

    anjin-san, when I was tracking these things a few years ago, the average new car in America cost $26.5K
     
    A car for the masses, by definition, has to come in well below that.

  18. john personna says:

    Maybe I should note that without t he subsidy, the Volt is $41K, and for that price you can buy a Leaf and a pretty good beater 4×4

  19. Herb says:

    “But to make it real, is there anyone here who is seriously considering the Volt at $33K? What is your driving mix? Would you consider it at the full and unsubsidized $41k?”

    No. Both prices are out of my range and I’m not what they call an “early adopter.” My truck only has 115K miles on it and I’m gonna ride it till it dies. Plus it’s a flex-fuel vehicle, so I have the option to use ethanol though I won’t because no one has ethanol and my fuel-injectors don’t like it. Green guilt assuaged.

    As for the Volt, I think this car is designed for a certain demographic. People who can afford it. Early adopter types. Businesses with high fuel costs. (Businesses love them some tax breaks.) And maybe…just maybe, some of those hated environmentalists.

    It may suck as a product, but there is definitely a market for it and there are a lot of sucky products on the market.

  20. anjin-san says:

    I was at the international auto show yesterday, checked out the leaf. Was not impressed when the pitchman said “it gives you a verbal warning when the battery is about to die so that you can safely manuver out of traffic and pull over to the side of the road”.

  21. john personna says:

    I assume there are pre-warnings, anjin.
     
    FWIW, I’ve had my Prius 5 years now.  80K miles.  Just got 49 mpg on my last tank, mixed city and highway driving.  At that rate I can burn less than a gallon on many days out.  Hard to think why I’d need to spend double for a car, to save $3/day

  22. john personna says:

    BTW, net-net in terms of oil dependence or greenhouse gases, more is saved by moving Herb to a Prius than moving me to a Volt.  And yet my move costs twice as much.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    John:
     

    I’m negative on the Volt because I don’t think it’s positioning is well considered.  I think you really are better off having multiple cars, and a Leaf.

     
    The Leaf is a car I would never buy under any circumstances.  I won’t own a car that can’t adapt to a sudden mission change.  I remember getting a call that my daughter had suffered a seizure at school and an ambulance had been called.  I hit 100 MPH to get there before the ambulance.  I want a car that is there when I need it, not a car that runs down like a toy with a failing battery.
     
    Would I buy a Volt?  The propulsion system and price wouldn’t stop me, but it’s not my cup of tea in terms of performance or style.  Give me an Audi, Infiniti, BMW, Benz or American equivalent with Volt’s technology, I’d think about it.

  24. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds

    Give me an Audi, Infiniti, BMW, Benz or American equivalent with Volt’s technology, I’d think about it.

    That’s pretty much where I am.  Hybrid technology or some other means of getting us off the need for so much oil is something we can all support.  But I’m not interested in personally investing in not-ready-for-prime-time technology, much less relying on it on a daily basis.

  25. john personna says:

    Well, at $3/gal and global warming as a fuzzy future, it’s easy to name things we want right now.
     
    It’s very human.  But, it’s why we as a nation aren’t too prepared for $5/gal, and why we probably won’t do anything about the big GW, no matter the consequences.
     
    We are our own enemies when it comes to long term risks and short term rewards.
     
    (If you had taken out another family in your crazed 100 mph blitz, it would be a different story entirely.  And you know it has happened that other way, in other places, at other times.)

  26. john personna says:

    (Do you remember when gas hit its highs, and the politicians were talking about a suspension of the federal gasoline tax?  We’ll see that again, because millions of people “want” cars they can barely afford now.)

  27. john personna says:

    BTW, I sense that part of the thing is that you guys use cars as an outlet for your maleness.  Millions do, and Lord knows I have.  But, I’ve found that a mountain bike is a much better outlet.  You actually have to train, and endure some pain, to be fast.  You don’t just go buy it.
     
    http://www.santacruzbicycles.com/superlight/
     
    You can even crash, get your bones fixed, and go back again … without taking out that family on the way to the movies.

  28. James Joyner says:

    @john personna

    I sense that part of the thing is that you guys use cars as an outlet for your maleness.  Millions do, and Lord knows I have.  But, I’ve found that a mountain bike is a much better outlet.

    Meh. I enjoy my 350Z because it’s responsive, enjoyable to drive, and has a convertible top.  It’s especially nice at the end of a long work day as a means to unwind during the commute home.  It’s not overly fuel efficient (I average something like 17 mpg) but I’m not driving 100mph and endangering people.  Aside from the law and common sense, traffic rather precludes driving particularly fast.
    A mountain bike would be an especially lousy way to get to the office, given the distance, horrendous traffic, and the fact that I wear a suit and tie to work.  It’s not a bad leisure activity, although not one in which I partake with any regularity.

  29. john personna says:

    I drove a Honda S2000 for about five years.  In California I could keep the top down pretty much year-round.  Great car, with fastest track times of any comparable roadster.  I did touch 100 more often than I should, which is one reason I hung up my spurs.
     
    But my point was that I don’t just have a mountain bike.  I’ve got a Prius plus a mountain bike.