Header image alt text


Electric Vehicle information for Atlanta and Georgia

Chevy Volt information

My first EV was a Chevy Volt that I owned from Dec 2010 to Dec 2013, back when this wave of EVs was just starting. It was one of the first Volts in the country (in the first batch that came out of the Detroit factory) and was in fact the first Volt to arrive in my home state of Georgia. Back in 2010 I created a simple website to introduce people to the car, because it was a new, complicated kind of car that required some explaining, and I would get lots of questions about it. You can still see that barebones website at www.FirstVoltInGeorgia.com, where I have the old fact sheet that explained the car.

The Chevy Volt is a fantastic car. Period. It’s a little complicated to understand on paper, but once you do, it’s brilliant, and GM did a virtually flawless job in designing and building it.

To quote WSJ’s Dan Neil, writing about the Volt upon its launch in October 2010 :

… for the moment, we should suspend our rancor and savor a little American pride. A bunch of Midwestern engineers in bad haircuts and cheap wristwatches just out-engineered every other car company on the planet. And they did it in 29 months while the company they worked for was falling apart around them. That was downright heroic. Somebody ought to make a movie.

I believe that a range-extended EV like the Chevy Volt, or a plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV) like many other models, is the best car for someone who is completely new to EVs and nervous about taking the plunge into a pure EV.

For the first 4-5 years that the Volt was on the market, the situation in Georgia was distorted somewhat by the state tax credit. Until July 2015, Georgia offered a pretty generous tax credit of $5000 if you bought (or leased) a pure electric car. The Volt did not qualify for that state tax credit, because it can be fueled with gasoline (again, see the fact sheet above if that surprises you). So, in Georgia, Volt sales were initially somewhat depressed compared to nationally, in favor of cars like the Nissan Leaf and other pure EVs. That state tax credit ended in 2015 and the playing field was leveled again. The Volt did qualify for the federal tax credit, as do all electrified cars with a decent size battery.

The Volt is perfect for people who have a commute of 50 miles or less. It has an electric range of just 50 miles (40 miles for the older Gen 1 model), but after that the gas engine “range extender” kicks in. So for example, for a 30-mile daily commute, you would simply run on electricity only, with no gas used at all, and only on longer days would the gas engine kick in. For a 100-mile roundtrip commute, you would drive half on electric (no gas), and half on gas (at 40 MPG), and your resulting daily efficiency would be about 80 MPG. For a 150-mile roundtrip commute, you would drive a third on electric (no gas), and two thirds on gas (at 40 MPG), and your resulting daily efficiency would be about 60 MPG. That is better than any “classic” hybrid on the market, and the Volt is WAY more fun than hybrids like the Prius. If you do test drive a Volt, put it into Sport mode and floor it! You’ll immediately discover what a thrill that a silent electric drivetrain is.

Forget about charging at work or at public stations — the whole point of the Volt is that you charge at home, on a regular outlet, and have a fully charged car every morning.

There are really only two excuses to not get a Chevy Volt:
– It’s a hatchback, not a truck, so you can’t carry lots of cargo. Note though that the rear cargo area is bigger than it looks; it can carry just as much as any typical hatchback.
– For the first generation Volt, model years 2011-2015, the rear seat can hold two people, period. You can not fit five people in the car, not even three kids in the back, because there’s a hump in the middle of the seat, and there is no middle seatbelt. So if you have three kids, forget it. GM fixed this in the 2nd gen Volt.

An additional excuse used to be that the Volt was too expensive, but that was at launch in 2011, and the price came down in subsequent years.

used Chevy Volt information

The first Volts hit the market in December 2010 (as model year 2011), was overhauled for model year 2016, and was discontinued after model year 2019. During those nine years over 150,000 units were built and sold, so clearly there are a lot of them out there.

A used Volt is a screaming bargain!

First, all EVs tend to be bargains used, because their value plummets quickly. Their value isn’t dropping because there’s anything wrong with them, rather because the newer models are so much better. But there’s nothing wrong with the old Volt, which are often only just a few years old. Note that all manufacturers offer an 8 year / 100,000 mile warranty on the drivetrain in their EVs, so you really don’t have to worry about that.

The second reason, though, that used Chevy Volts are a fantastic bargain is that they were overengineered. The Volt was an incredibly important project for GM at the time it was being developed (2007-2010), a halo car basically, and they threw an enormous amount of corporate resources at it. They were also very conservative in the engineering of it, and it’s built like a tank, both its structure (crashworthiness) and in the battery (longevity). You’re getting a car that cost them way more to build than the $40,000 they were pricing it at. Yes, that does mean that GM was losing money on every Volt sold, at first, but they were willing to do so because it was a prestige endeavour for them, and helped them meet regulatory requirements in California. The point is, when you buy a used Volt, you’re getting a lot more car than you pay for, and that’s the definition of a bargain.

There are some differences in the Volt model years that you should be aware of when shopping for a used Volt.

First, the “first generation” (or “Gen 1”) Volt corresponds to model years 2011 through 2015. This is the Volt that was overengineered as described above. GM then revamped the Volt and that’s what is called the second generation or Gen 2 Volt, starting in model year 2016. The Gen 2 Volt has plenty of improvements but is more “cost stripped”, meaning it isn’t overengineered like the Gen 1. The Gen 2 is a good car but isn’t as great a bargain as the Gen 1 is.

Second, during the Gen 1 model years, every year they improved the car a bit. So, for example, the 2012 is a little better than the 2011. They made a fairly significant set of improvements starting in 2013, so it’s advisable to look for a 2013 or newer. A 2011 or 2012 is still good, but it should be priced accordingly. The 2013 model year is when the Volt finally hit its stride.

If you’ve found a particular used Volt that you are considering buying, one thing you can check is the “Lifetime MPG”, displayed in the car’s screen (ask the seller to provide a picture of it, if they haven’t already). A low number like 40 MPG (that’s super low for a Volt) means it was driven like a hybrid, with the battery drained and running in gas mode, and was rarely if ever plugged in! Which is ridiculous to do with a Volt, never plugging it in at night, but some people are … stubborn. You especially see this on fleet vehicles, where the driver didn’t own the car and didn’t really care much about it.

A high lifetime MPG like 100+ means it was plugged in every day and the battery was rarely run down to empty; the gas engine was rarely used. This means the previous owner had a short commute, and plugged it in every night, which is what the Volt is designed for! An MPG number in between these two extremes, say 60 or 80, means that the previous owner probably had a long commute and had to run on gas power every day, but also plugged the car in every night, implying a smart owner who was taking proper care of the car.

Ask the seller to provide a picture of the dashboard display after charging the car overnight. It will show you the full-charge electric range of the car, and hopefully that electric range is more than your daily commute. For a Gen 1 Volt that range should be 35-40 miles, or 30-35 in winter. If it’s significantly less than that, then the battery is a bit worn, but may still be good enough for you.

You will need to find out which option packages are installed, for example the PCM, V7X, and V7Y packages listed in this article about the 2013 Volt. If the Volt you are looking at doesn’t have a lot of options, then expect a discount.

Range analysis based on three years of actual driving

Early on in my time with the Volt, I registered with VoltStats.net, which was a site that gathered daily data from your Volt. You could then generate all sorts of interesting reports about how the car is performing — MPG trends, EV percentage, how you compare to other Volts, etc. Here is my detail page at VoltStats, showing my history starting from when I registered, 8 months after I got the car.

VoltStats offered the ability to download the data in a format that allows me to see how many miles I actually drove on each individual day. Using this data, within minutes I was able to generate a VERY interesting analysis of my driving patterns over my three years of Volt ownership. The analysis showed me that I could easily live with a pure electric car, rather than having to rely on a range-extended EV like the Volt.

I did this analysis assuming that might next car might be a pure EV with 90 miles range. That was a typical range for most of the pure EVs on the market in 2014, when I did this. EVs on the market today go much further, but for this 2014 analysis I was envisioning that my next car after the Volt might be a pure EV with 90 miles of range (as was typical at the time).

You can click the image here for more information, but here are the conclusions.

click for full resolution PDF scan

1. In over 1000 days of driving, there were only 20 days in which I drove more than 90 miles. I checked those 20 days in my calendar, and 17 of them were actually during long roadtrips out of town, which the Volt can do on gas of course. If I got a pure EV, I could do those roadtrips with a rental car. Covering those roadtrips one or twice a year with a gas rental frees me up to get a pure EV, and relieves me of having to carry around (and maintain!) a gas engine that I don’t need for 98% of my driving. In fact, some car makers like BMW offer a gas car swap program to their EV buyers — if you’re going on a long roadtrip, you can swap in your EV for a gas car for the week. [2018 update: of course, affordable EVs with 200-300 mile range have now hit the market, as have very rapid charging via a nationwide network of DC Fast Charging stations, so now you can just take your EV on that roadtrip …]

2. Only three times in three years (an average of once a year!) did I go beyond 90 miles just in around-town driving. But I could cover that situation by planning a stop at a charging station. In 2010 there was just ONE charging station in all of metro Atlanta, whereas now there are literally over a thousand charging stations around town. So just an hour stop here or there, or even just a few minutes if the EV can do DCFC, and even those long days will be taken care of. This was a problem many years ago, but not anymore.

3. Continuing that train of thought, with just a little planning I could easily achieve 200 electric miles in a day, so that now even takes care of the more moderate roadtrip days (e.g. Atlanta to Asheville, to Macon, to Chattanooga). Now we’re down to just 2-3 days a year when I’m driving a long distance roadtrip, and again those can be handled with a rental or swap.

4. Over the three years, 90% of my days were pure electric, fitting within the more limited 35-40 mile electric range of the Volt. I have a short commute, so that helped. I would go weeks at a time without burning a drop of gas. Now, there were those 10% days when I was driving past the electric range of the Volt, and for those the gas engine was necessary. But they were rare enough that I never, in three years, actually ever bought gas in Atlanta! The only time I really burned a lot of gas was when we were on a roadtrip, and we’d be out of town when it came time to fill up the tank. For three years, I constantly had “out of town” gas in the car, from the last roadtrip! The longest I went between fill-ups was 7 months, and 3500 miles, again per the stats gathered for me by VoltStats.net .

[Update 2018: again note that this last section was written in 2014, when I was deciding whether a pure EV was enough for me, after three years with the Volt and the gas engine backup. But this analysis is still useful today to illustrate the typical usage of a PHEV. – Chris]

Last updated: