Chevy volt battery range
Some while back, I tossed in a (little noticed) comment at the end of a post that we’d obtained a Chevy Volt. We picked up a used 2012 Volt with under 30k miles, and have been using it quite a bit, because, well, it’s our car.
Since it’s my blog and I can post what I want, I’ve decided to talk about the Volt for a while. I think it’s the “sweet spot” for electric transportation at this point in time, I think it’s rather significantly more environmentally friendly than a pure BEV for most use cases, and I think that, for most people, it’s a really, really good car and highly worth considering if you’re interested in cheap, (slightly) environmentally friendly car transportation. Plus, they depreciate like mad (just like all other electric cars), so you can get one cheaper than you might think!
The Chevy Volt
If you’re not familiar with the Volt, you may be in the process of confusing it with the Bolt. which is also a Chevy product. And some marketing people at Chevy should be strung up for that bit of cutesy confusion, because it doesn’t help anyone. It’s confusion for the sake of confusion as far as I’m concerned.
The Bolt is a pure electric car (EV). The Volt, on the other hand, is a “plug in hybrid,” a “series hybrid,” a “range extended electric vehicle,” or… probably half a dozen terms I’ve seen over the years. It’s somewhere between a pure electric car and a hybrid. but, in reality, it’s far better than either!
The Gen 1 Volt (2011-2015) has a 30-40 mile battery only range in the summer. plus a decent little gasoline engine and a useful gas tank (9 gallons) that can run it down the highway pretty much as long as you can find a gas station every few hundred miles. The Gen 2 (2016-2019) upgrades to about a 50 mile battery only range, a larger gas engine, and a different transmission design, but works out to the same thing. some battery range and then a gasoline engine for longer travel.
This means that you plug the car in at night (or during the day) to charge the main battery. When you set off, you run in a pure electric mode for the battery range. 20-60 miles, depending on which version you have and the outside temperature. Once the battery runs out, the gas motor kicks on, and you can drive it across the country on gas. Or, more commonly, make it home without having to find somewhere to charge.
But, on the flip side, it uses a far smaller battery pack than pure battery electrics. and it makes far better use of that pack!
BEV, PHEV, Hybrid, ICE… Oh My!
If you’re familiar with electric vehicles, hybrids, and such, you can just skip this section.
If not, I’ll explain a few of the various terms in common use you might run across, and what they mean.
We’ll start with what everyone is familiar with: ICE. That means “Internal Combustion Engine.” It refers to pretty much every vehicle that doesn’t have a battery pack for propulsion (a “traction battery”). The phrase “Getting ICE’d” does not mean getting killed, in the context of electric vehicles. It means someone with a non-electric vehicle parking in a charging station. Don’t do that.
Presumably, if you’re the type of person who thinks a steam car is genuinely cool, you might hear the term ECE. External Combustion Engine. As someone who thinks steam cars are awesome and yet doesn’t own one, well… I’ve not actually run across this term. But you might!
A “Hybrid” is a car that uses both a gasoline engine and a battery pack for propulsion. and doesn’t allow you a way to recharge that pack (from the factory. I know people have added external charges to some of them). The Honda Insight and Toyota Prius are the most commonly seen versions of this sort of vehicle. When you decelerate, the car can recover the kinetic energy into a battery pack, and can use that energy to accelerate away from a stoplight. It improves fuel economy, and the Prius, in particular, uses some creative valve timing on the gasoline engine to improve efficiency more, at the cost of power production. A typical hybrid has a battery pack in the 1kWh range. It’s not designed to propel the car down the road for long, just to store braking energy and use it for acceleration (though some will allow use for a bit of low speed driving).
Beyond that, you have PHEVs. Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicles. The Volt sits in this category, as do things like the BMW i3 with the range extender, the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, the Prius Prime, and scattered other vehicles. This is similar to a hybrid, except that it has a far larger battery pack. and, importantly, a charge port. Most PHEVs have a battery pack in the 10-15kWh range, which means they can drive 30-50 miles on battery. Beyond that, there’s a gasoline engine that kicks in and allows you to drive until the gas tank is empty. Details vary wildly. the BMW i3 has a tiny little peanut gas tank and a scooter engine for the range extender. The Gen 1 Volt has a smaller gasoline engine than the electric motor, which means mountains can be tricky (if you don’t use “mountain mode” for hard climbs). The Gen 2 Volt has a large enough gas engine to run the whole vehicle on gas. The plug in Prius is similar. And, for what it’s worth, I’d consider electric bikes to fit in here as well. you can still ride with the pedals if the battery pack is drained!
Finally, at the far end, you have BEVs. Battery Electric Vehicles, or just EVs. There’s no gas motor anywhere in these cars. Just a large battery pack, an electric motor, and… well, that’s it. If you’re out of battery pack charge, push. Or hope you’re on a mountain top and can use regenerative braking on the way down. This includes all the Teslas, the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Bolt, and quite a few others.
The Volt is an EV
Most people drive the Chevy Volt as an EV. It has a real-world EV range of 38-40 miles before the engine kicks in. Unlike a typical battery electric vehicle (BEV), you can drive the Volt as an EV until the battery is exhausted, knowing that you can get to the next charge station on the gasoline engine. Obviously, you can’t do that in a BEV, or you end up pushing it.
Unless you’ve owned an EV, you don’t realize this dilemma. For example, John Rowell learned this the hard way once when he wanted to charge at our house. (We’re on Plugshare.) Unfortunately, in Rowell’s case our charge station is up a slight hill. He ran out of juice literally in our drive way and he couldn’t quite push his Mitsubishi iMiev up our drive. Our neighbor had to tow him into place. With the Volt we can cruise up the drive way after running the battery to zero.
We are now a two EV family: Evie I (Leaf), Evie II (the Volt). We driven the Leaf for two full years and I’ve written extensively about the experience. See EV Trip Reports.
In practice, we drive our Leaf 50-60 miles before charging with 20-30 miles left on the range indicator. We drive the Volt to empty at 40 miles. The net result isn’t much different. We charge the Volt more often, but not that much more than the Leaf.
As noted, most miles on the Volt are EV miles. Our car has 36,000 miles on the odometer and the running tally was 92 miles per gallon during the three year period when it was on lease. This is similar to how other Volt owners have used the car. Stats on the Volt show that, on average, the car is driven as an EV two-thirds of the time, giving the fleet an average efficiency of nearly 110 miles per gallon. That’s impressive no matter how you look at it.
Volt is a Premium Drive
We are still forming our impressions, but our first take is that the Volt is a much more high-end car than Nissan’s Leaf, certainly the base model Leaf we drive. The Volt is the “fanciest” or most expensive car we’ve ever owned. We probably wouldn’t have bought the 2013 Volt new as its original sticker price was outside our comfort zone. It’s affordable to us because we could buy it used. (2017 Volts are substantially less than were the 2013 models.)
The Volt is solid and well made. It was assembled by UAW 22 in Hamtramck, Michigan. (Our Leaf and its battery pack were built in Tennessee in a non-union shop.) The Volt is quiet even on the gasoline engine. It rides smooth and solid. The doors close with a reassuring thump that you’d expect in a high-end car.
My new take: The Volt is a Tesla for the rest of us. Sure, on road trips you drive the Volt as a gasser, but most of the time you drive it around town as an EV. That’s how we use it.
We took a mini vacation in the Volt up the East Side of the Sierra Nevada—a trip that’s just not possible today in the Leaf. We put the Volt through its paces, driving it up to nearly 10,000 feet five different times. We drove it in all different modes: normal, mountain, and hold. It worked fine either way.
The EPA rating on the gasoline engine is 37 mpg. We measured our Volt at 39-41 mpg on the gasoline engine for the trip of 660 miles. Not as good as our previous Prius, but more than good enough when coupled with the EV.
Some Criticism Still Valid
Some of my early criticism of GM and its design choices remain. Bagdikian liked the sports-car feel of the car. He liked the “cockpit.” I don’t. GM’s Bob Lutz aimed the Volt toward the sports car crowd and I think that was a mistake. His design put me off. The cramped interior doesn’t sit well with an aging baby boomer looking for a car that makes entry and exit easy. And let’s face it; it was boomers that drove acceptance of the Prius and Nissan’s Leaf as well. Lutz missed the market that both can afford a Volt and who might want an EV with a range extending engine.
GM’s choice for a T-shaped traction battery is understandable for when the car was conceived—there weren’t a lot of options then. The T-shape dictates the cramped interior, and the need for a gas tank and gasoline engine dictate the overall size of the car and its heavier weight relative to Nissan’s Leaf.
Most EVs, such as the Leaf and Tesla’s Model S, went to the skateboard platform and that’s clearly a better choice for a spacious interior. GM’s has also moved to the skateboard platform for its forthcoming Bolt BEV. GM stayed with the T-shaped pack for second generation Volt and will probably stick with it through the product’s life cycle.
Worse, the Volt also has only a 3.3 kW on board charger. Again, understandable for its day and for how GM thought the car would be used. But it takes a full four hours with the 3 kW charger to fully charge the Volt. And there’s no fast charge capability at all.
GM has not addressed these limitations in its second generation Volt. They’ve increased the onboard charger to 3.6 kW but not to 6.6 kW that it really needs to be used most effectively as an EV. Nor have they added fast charging capability. GM expects that when you take the Volt on a road trip you will drive the car as a gasser.
When you’re a two EV family and it takes substantially longer to fully charge the Volt as opposed to a full BEV, such as the Leaf, the Volt ends up hogging a lot of the home charge port. That’s fine for us, we’re early adopters, but it may not be acceptable to other families.
One thing that GM did right was in its management of the battery. I was concerned that a three-year old Volt would have lost some capacity of the traction battery. Our two-year old Nissan Leaf has lost two kWh or 10% of its capacity, the equivalent of 8-10 miles of range, since we leased it.
The 2013 Volt had a usable capacity of 10.3 kWh and it still has. Of course GM allows drivers to only use a portion of that big 16.5 kWh battery hogging up the interior of the car. The large reserve GM set aside, and GM’s active thermal management of the battery pack enables them to offer a full warranty on the drive train.
Would we want more of that 16.5 kWh battery pack to actually drive on? Sure. GM made a calculated decision. I can’t say they were wrong. Would I use a hackif it was availablethat allowed us to use more of the traction battery’s capacity to drive with? You bet. Bring it on.
We’re happy with the Volt. We’re glad we dumped our aging Prius. With both the Volt and the Leaf we can also better utilize our ClipperCreek charge station that’s already paid for.
When Should You Get a Replacement Battery for Your Chevy Volt?
Ideally, you should get your car’s battery replaced every 100,000 miles. That said, you may need to replace it earlier in the event of:
- Decreased efficiency. Depending on various conditions, the capacity of the aging battery may decrease by 20% before you get to 100,000 miles.
- Degrading charge retention. The more charges, the more the battery cells have to endure. Ideally, a 120-volt receptacle with an 8 A setting should only take about 14 hours of charge time – while a 12 A setting should be quicker at 10 hours.
How Much is the Price of the Battery?
According to Slash Gear, the average cost of getting a new battery ranges from 3,400 to 34,000. These are estimated costs, and as such could vary according to battery status (new or repurposed) and generation, among many other things.
Now that you know how long the battery lasts, you may be wondering another thing: how long will this impressive plug-in hybrid last?
Simply speaking, it can serve you well for 13-20 years – granted you drive an average of 15,000 miles a year. That’s because this vehicle can run 200,000 to 300,000 miles before its powertrain and other components bug down.
And if you’re going to take the word of GM employee Erick Belmer, the Chevy Volt (particularly the 2012 model) can run for as much as 460,000 miles. In fact, his car only required repair after a whopping 400,000 miles.
This ‘longevity’ can be attributed to the battery, as well as the following aspects:
Volt has regenerative brakes, which means it is capable of transforming kinetic energy into electric energy. As a result, this mechanism reduces pad strain – eventually increasing the lifespan of your brakes.
In essence, you can use your Volt’s brakes for over 100,000 miles before they wear out.
Chevy Volt’s tires can last for up to 40,000 miles. This figure, however, may be smaller or bigger depending on:
The Volt’s transmissions will run well up to 200,000 miles of use.
According to General Motors, Chevy Volt’s spark plugs will last (but should be replaced) after 97,500 miles of usage.
How Does the Chevy Volt Compare to Other Electric Vehicles (EV)?
If you’re still thinking twice about buying a Chevy Volt, then here’s how it compares to other electric range vehicles:
vs. Kia Nora
The Volt and Kia Nora can both last for up to 200,000 miles. The only difference is the Nora’s cheaper to maintain at 426 (compared to Volt’s 557.)
vs. Honda CR-Z
The lifespan of CR-Z is lower at 150,000, though users believe it can run up to 200,000 with the right care. That said, this vehicle is cheaper to maintain for you’ll only need to shell out about 430 for repairs and whatnot.
vs. Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
According to the manufacturers, the Sonata Hybrid can run for as much as 300,000 miles without any problem.
vs. Ford C-Max
Like the Volt, Ford C-Max can run for as much as 200,000 miles. The repair/maintenance costs are almost similar, with the C-Max costing you about 550.
vs. Toyota Prius
The Prius can run for 250,000 miles, which is 50,000 above the Volt’s minimum. It also costs cheaper to repair and maintain at only 364.
How Reliable is the Chevy Volt?
According to JD Power, the 2019 model has a quality and reliability rating of 77%. The 2018 model, on the other hand, has a lower score of 69%.
The 2017 model score is higher (72%) than that of the 2018 Volt.
Surprisingly the older Volts are said to be more reliable. They are scored at:
- 89% – 2011 Volt
- 84% – 2012 Volt
- 82% – 2013 Volt (considered the best model by Motor Biscuits)
As expected, these high scores have paved the way for the Chevy Volt’s multiple honors. In fact, the car was granted the following distinctions in the past few years:
- Green Car Vision Award in 2009
- Green Car of the Year, North American Car of the Year, and World Green Car in 2011
- European Car of the Year in 2012
- Green Car of the Year in 2016
Outside these scores and recognitions, however, are some issues that plague various Volt models (as with other electric cars.) They include:
- 2012 model – electric components
- 2013 model – interior accessories
- 2017 model – steering wheel, electrical components, and engine
Although Volt production has been discontinued since 2019, you’ll be glad to know that it wasn’t because of safety issues and whatnot. GM decided to halt car sales largely because sedan sales were already in decline.
In fact, Chevrolet developed a crossover version of the Volt, showing off a concept car dubbed the CrossVolt in 2010 that was scheduled to go into production by mid-decade. But the project was scuttled by former GM CEO Dan Akerson in 2010, according to Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst at research firm Navigant.
If they had done the CrossVolt they might have had just the right vehicle for the current market, he said.
Likely driving the nail into the Volt’s coffin was the sharp plunge in fuel since the plug-in hybrid first came to market. That is a factor also blamed for the sales struggles of the once wildly popular Toyota Prius.
Despite its demise, not everyone sees the Chevrolet Volt as a failure, however. While it was a financial loser, it did what was intended, the now retired former GM Vice Chairman Lutz, told The Associated Press. We viewed it as a stepping stone to full electrics, which were totally out of reach due to the then-astronomical cost of lithium-ion batteries.
In late 2010, GM was paying almost 450,000 per kilowatt-hour for lithium-ion batteries, a hefty penalty for a vehicle that needed a 24 kWh pack — or around 24,000 per vehicle. By the time the Chevrolet Bolt EV was launched, just over two years ago, that had fallen to around 150, confirmed Mark Reuss, who now serves as both GM president and its global product development chief. So, Bolt’s 60 kWh battery pack costs the carmaker less than 10,000 and can manage 238 miles per charge.
Going forward, that downward cost spiral has convinced GM to shift away from plug-in hybrids and FOCUS on all-electric models like the Bolt and the long-range Cadillac SUV the brand previewed last month, said Katie Minter, lead spokesperson for the Detroit automaker’s electrification program.
Indeed, Mary Barra, GM’s current CEO, last March outlined what she described as a path to an all-electric future, with about 25 BEVs due to market by mid-decade.
This shift in FOCUS doesn’t mean Volt was a failure, agrees Stephanie Brinley, principle auto analyst at IHS Markit. GM learned a ton from Volt in terms of technology that they have applied to the Bolt EV and other long-range battery-electric vehicles to follow, she said.
The little plug-in also taught the company a lot about what consumers want, added spokesperson Minter, starting with the fact that they don’t want to sacrifice interior space, comfort or performance, but want their electric vehicle to drive just like a regular vehicle.
Future GM BEVs will also lift some of the innovative features first used on Volt, such as steering wheel paddles that can adjust how much energy is captured by the car’s regeneration system during braking and coasting. When turned up high, motorists can manage slowing, and even stopping the car without taking their foot off the throttle in many situations.
Expect more hybrids
While GM has decided to get out of the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle game, the technology is far from dead. If anything, there is a flood of new models coming to market. Audi plans to unveil four of them at next month’s Geneva Motor Show, alongside a new all-electric model, the Q4 e-tron. Mercedes-Benz has almost a dozen different plug-ins available worldwide. And BMW is developing a new vehicle platform that will allow it to offer conventional hybrid, plug-in hybrids or all-electric options for all future models.
Meanwhile, GM’s crosstown rival, Fiat Chrysler, announced Tuesday that it will add at least four plug-in hybrid Jeep models over the next several years.
Cheaper batteries should help those manufacturers enhance the appeal of the technology and they’re betting that many buyers will still appreciate the idea that once their batteries run down they’ll be able to keep going without the hassle of lengthy charging.
The Chevy Volt may be gone, but it helped set the stage for what is expected to be Rapid growth in the electrified vehicle market over the coming decade.
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