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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.

Source: Detroit News

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11 Responses

  1. Set says:

    Wow, instantly lost all respect for CR auto reviews. That kind of illogical thinking and prejudice shouldn’t be in a magazine that claims objectivity above all else.

  2. Kurt Ernst says:

    Set, I agree and have been saying that for years. As objective as CR claims to me, in my experience personal opinion plays way too big a role there.

  3. Mark Smith says:

    I think you missed the “stop and go” driving part. The Prius can do substantially better in those conditions with the ability to use the autostop effectively. I’d be willing to bet that, depending on the programming, the Volt didn’t do so well under those conditions.

    I think that their bottom line is that for the difference in cost and the maturity of the technology, the Volt doesn’t make any sense. Sadly, I’ve come to the same conclusion after running through a bunch of commute scenarios. The Volt only really makes sense in a very narrow range of driving patterns.

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Mark, GM originally targeted the Volt to just 5% – 10% of drivers, so even they admit it’s a narrow target audience.

  4. Mason says:

    I never liked CR and have never agreed with their reviews on products that I’ve personally owned, usually when reading a review that quotes CR, I just skip over it, my brain has programed itself to ignore it anymore. I always try to use sites or magazines that feature actual owners that can label specific pros and cons.

  5. JimW311 says:

    The sentiment of this post is about financial sense. In that respect, I agree it doesn’t make any sense to get a volt. Right now you can’t get a volt at MSRP. It’s basically a few thousand more than that. So I can either get TWO prii or one volt. You mean to tell me I’m going to save about 20 grand in gas with a volt VS a prius? You have got to be kidding! Sorry, I am really trying hard to understand where you are coming from but I can’t.

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Jim, you’re correct that Volts are currently selling above MSRP; worse, no one knows what the residual value of a 3 year old Volt will be. Financially, it’s a much bigger gamble than the Prius, which is a known entity.

      Negating the difference in technology between the Volt and the Prius, I see them as two different approaches to the same end: fuel efficient commuting. An Acura TSX costs more than a Honda Accord, so how do people justify spending the additional money on the Acura? It’s all about personal choice.

      I’d like to see two things in the next version of the Volt: a more fuel-efficient generator (turbo diesel, perhaps) and a higher performance “Volt SS”. I think both are entirely possible within the next five years.

  6. eddie_357 says:

    with good places like consumer search, who list reviews of ordinary people, who needs CR anyway.as for cars i can depend on Kurt’s reviews,its like he answers to a panel of interested people, every question i think of; he allready answered it!

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      eddie, thanks! I try to write car reviews that people actually want to read instead of just regurgitating data.

  7. Andacar says:

    CU has been operating on this kind of double standard for decades, so this is no surprise.

  8. Willhelm says:

    the average age of the five cars at my house is 20 years old and all are still going strong with an average mileage of 250000 kilometers, some of them in the 4 and 5 hundreds