By on July 27, 2010

The Chevrolet Volt began life as a marketing concept: “what if,” GM’s finest minds asked themselves, “we could sell a car that could go 40 miles without burning any gasoline?” That goal was achievable (although how easily and regularly remains to be seen), but it came at a cost: if you check out GM’s just-released standard equipment sheet (click on “standard equipment”), you’ll find that the Volt’s gasoline range extender requires premium fuel. What’s strange about this is that the Volt’s 1.4 liter range extender is hardly an overstressed buzz-bomb, making only 80 hp at the crank and 74 hp at the generator. Why then does it need premium? Considering that the Volt would have struggled to pay off its premium over the Toyota Prius anyway, the decision to require premium fuel makes no sense at all.

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43 Comments on “Chevy Volt: 40 Miles Without A Drop Of… Premium Gasoline?...”

  • avatar

    This car is doomed. GM had a great opportunity to create a hybrid that changed the game. Instead it looks like they have created a car that few will buy. Its almost as it GM did not really want the car to be a success. By creating it they could say they gave it a try. IN the end what would have sold this car is prize and value.Time will tell but I am not betting on it.

    • 0 avatar

      Next to the Nissan Leaf it looks like a bargain. Also, unlike pure electrics, it has a gasoline backup so you don’t get stranded when the juice runs out. For a $350/month lease its the closest thing to a realistic alternative energy commuter solution I have yet seen.

    • 0 avatar

      @ carguy – I don’t know the details of the Volt lease agreements, but if the agreement allows only 10k miles per year like many leases, that doesn’t really help out people who have long commutes. I’d be surprised if the economics of leasing work out for most commuters.

    • 0 avatar


      The car is not designed and marketed toward people with long commutes.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Typo? Or maybe because they figure the fuel will be in the tank a lot longer than say one of those gas guzzling Prius’s……LOL

  • avatar

    Actually, this doesn’t surprise me. A generator application is more like that of an aircraft engine (high duty cycle) than an automobile engine (low duty cycle). Under those conditions, the engine is generating a lot more heat and I would expect preignition to be more likely.

  • avatar

    Simple by using premium they can advance the timing and improve the fuel economy and then can quote better mileage in gas only mode!

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Marine engines are also what I would consider “high duty cycle” and the majority of those don’t require premium fuel. Improved fuel economy in the generator mode could be the reason. Still I suspect most Volt owners will be 2 car families who will run the car on the batteries 95% of the time.

    • 0 avatar

      If the Volt marketing model is for a second urban commuter then the Volt will fail. You can by almost three Yaris/Versa/Accents for the after tax rebate price of a Volt. At an effective price of $30k the Volt is a primary car not an urban runabout unless you are in the top 1% of income. Of course people who make that kind of money already know this and/or don’t care about the price of gas.

  • avatar

    First of all, who cares if the fuel costs $0.30 more per gallon when you are using hardly any of it? Most people will lease, not buy; the lease will probably limit mileage to 1000 miles/month, or 33 miles per day, meaning gas is used sparingly unless driving long distances at once and then parking it for a long time.

    Second, I wonder if this has to do with storage of E10. As any boat owner will know, E10 (standard fuel in most states now, I believe) doesn’t sit well long-term…it separates and congeals and clogs fuel filters and . If the fuel is barely being used, then it may sit for a long time, and cause issues. Is it possible that premium fuel has better detergents or other additives that better control separation?

    • 0 avatar

      I doubt it’s a shelf-life issue… at least not a shelf-life issue that pertains to ethanol.

      Around here, especially in winter, premium is going to contain an oxygenate. Considering the amount of corn grown in this state, I’d hazard the guess that it’s usually ethanol.

    • 0 avatar

      @NN – “Premium” is a marketing term used to indicate high octane gasoline and that is the only difference. There are no additional detergents, conditioners or other additives in “Premium” gasoline that aren’t also present in lower octane fuels from a given fuel marketer.

  • avatar

    I posted this under the pricing thread, but am reposting it here:

    Just a guess on the premium fuel requirement:

    With the expectation that typical users (commuters) will run on EV mode most of the time, it is possible that the fuel could remain in the tank for some time (I recall Bob Lutz’s hyperbolic boast that Volts would be traded in with the same tank of gas they were delivered with).

    While Maximum Bob’s example is extreme (and unlikely), the possibility of having much older gas in the tank than a typical car runs is a distinct possibility. Indeed, if you don’t have gas in the car for a long time, you are probably not using the Volt correctly.

    The engine probably runs fine on regular unleaded, but premium fuel was specified because it presumably has a longer shelf life, and as it ages is will eventually “degrade” into lower octane gas.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think premium has a longer shelf life, and I’m not sure octane degrades like that.

      It does seem weird to require premium, seems more like a typo.

    • 0 avatar

      Premium fuel degrades at the same rate as lower octane rated grades of gasoline. There are no benefits to using premium fuel except for those directly related to combustion. If your car’s manufacturer does not specify high octane “premium” fuel, using premium fuel simply increases the cost of operating the car.

      If Volt owners find that they don’t burn through a full tank of gas at least once per month, then I would suggest that they do not fill up the gas tank to capacity, reducing their fuel fill downward until they are taking on only enough fuel to ensure that new gas is pumped into the tank at least once per month (or more frequently if doing so gives them peace of mind).

      Alternately, owners can just top off the tank once a month.

      In a modern car’s well-sealed fuel tank, gasoline should maintain acceptable volatility for at least three months.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Premium fuel degrades at the same rate as lower octane rated grades of gasoline. There are no benefits to using premium fuel except for those directly related to combustion. If your car’s manufacturer does not specify high octane “premium” fuel, using premium fuel simply increases the cost of operating the car.

      Don’t cars with knock sensors and EFI or better automatically advance timing, thus getting some benefit from higher octane, while still being engineered to handle lower?

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      “There are no benefits to using premium fuel except for those directly related to combustion. If your car’s manufacturer does not specify high octane “premium” fuel, using premium fuel simply increases the cost of operating the car.”

      Many premium fuel blends do include better detergents and other additives which are arguably better for at least occasional usage, even if you don’t need the higher octane rating. But that’s minor, and the octane number won’t tell you anything about those other additives.

      You’re right about the rest, though. The octane rating is a measure of how susceptible the fuel is to premature combustion due to compression (versus the intentional, correctly-timed combustion by the ignition spark).

      Cars with knock sensors only advance the timing when they detect this premature combustion, since a controlled flame is better than a random uncontrolled flame. Premium fuel is simply less likely to knock, so the only way this would actually work is to retard the timing like crazy to try forcing a knock (right up to 0/TDC), then back it off if it happens. Since you could advance the timing with any fuel and start the burn earlier, that fact pretty well demonstrates that you aren’t going to pick up any extra benefits simply by advancing the timing, whether you’re running premium or not.

      There are a lot of myths about fuel octane ratings. I’ve heard people state that the fuel has more energy, or that it burns differently. All that number tells you is how likely it is to blow up under a certain degree of compression. Period. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.

  • avatar

    The fact that the engine is only required to run at a constant speeds should mean that it should require diesel and not premium gas.

    • 0 avatar

      Diesel works well, but at this small a displacement and when used as a generator rather than driving the wheels directly gas works almost as well because you can run the engine at it’s most efficient point.

      Diesel generators do work, but they’re not commonly found in applications as small as this.

  • avatar

    Given the brains at GM, it’s just as likely that they require premium in an attempt to further the Volt’s cachet as a “premium” vehicle.

  • avatar

    At the price point they are selling it, the cost of premium is a non issue. You don’t shell out that amount of coin and then bitch about the putting in premium.

    How long until the first cars get brought in for fuel problems? Maybe GM will offer discounts on Stabil?

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Laughing at the Stabil remark. I’ve kind of been wondering about that, too. My mother keeps asking me about these, since she only commutes about 4 miles to work and back, and less to the grocery store. (Most of her traveling is done by plane and rental car at the far end.)

      I’ve occasionally had cars that can burn old gas just fine after as much as two or three years, and I once saw a 1926 fire engine that hadn’t moved in 40 years fire up on whatever evil sludge was in the tank — but I still wouldn’t want to take that gamble.

  • avatar

    Quoting psarhijian from the other Volt article.

    “Many small-displacement non-luxury European cars run premium as well, and for the same reason: the only way to wring the performance needed from an engine so tiny is to use a better grade of fuel.

    It’s a non-issue: the car isn’t going to use much gas, and the price difference between the two grades isn’t huge anyways. Were this a Suburban requiring premium it’d be a different story, but a Volt really will not use much fuel.”

    It is interesting to know why this is. Really, probably not an issue if you are using electricity 95% of the time.

    • 0 avatar

      “Really, probably not an issue if you are using electricity 95% of the time…”


    • 0 avatar

      Steven02, channeling psharjinian, wrote: “Many small-displacement non-luxury European cars run premium as well, and for the same reason: the only way to wring the performance needed from an engine so tiny is to use a better grade of fuel.”

      That hardly seems likely… 80hp from 1.4L isn’t much of an accomplishment. Toyota’s 1.5L engine makes 106hp. The Fit’s 1.5L engine makes 109hp. The ’01 Insight’s 1.0L engine offered 73hp. Those all run on regular gas. I’d expect a 1.4L engine to offer 95-100hp on regular gas. Only making 80 on premium? That’s very strange.

    • 0 avatar

      Sure, a 1.4L engine could easily make more than 80 hp at its peak, but my guess is that they wanted to be able to produce as much power as possible at a lower engine speed. Imagine listening to a constant 5700 rpm every time the battery runs out, not to mention heat/wear issues.

  • avatar


    Volts MSRP is $41,000 vs. the Leafs $32,780. The Leaf is also eligible for more tax incentives then the Volt, the Leaf can be bought as low as $20,000 in some states such as California. Not to mention the Volt only has a range exteneder, AKA its still a gas fed vehicle and does not have the range the Leaf does without burning gas.

    • 0 avatar

      MSRP is important, but the Volt is pretty much coming loaded. According to, a fully optioned Volt is 44,600. Anyone know what the Leaf comes with as standard equipment?

      Also, the Volt has a lease program for $1 more a month than the Leaf. For the Volt, I am seeing that is the way it is going to go.

  • avatar
    M 1

    I want to know why they need a 1.4L to make only 80HP. That’s about twice as big as that engine ought to be…

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    The Volt has software that will run the ICE generator periodically if it sits idle for too long. Which won’t fix stale gas but should help to reduce issues due to non-use. My experience with my boats is that they can sit 6 months easy without the fuel getting bad enough to cause problems. And those tanks aren’t sealed systems like the Volts. Still I see Volt owners having problems with stale gas as a good thing! Maybe I’ll rig mine with a little pump to fill my lawn mower, snowblower, or other car. That will get rid of the gas….LOL

  • avatar

    GM did a video web chat at “Plug-In 2010,” and GM’s Tonys, DiSalle and Posawatz (Tony Posawatz points out, “rhymes with kilowatts!”), offered the official explanation:


    Posawatz said setting the engine up for premium would make it possible to get 5-10% more efficient combustion. The extra fuel economy will offset the price of the fuel.

    I’m still mystified… premium and only 80hp? And the Prius gets by on regular?

    Also, longer shelf life is a secondary reason and Posawatz made the mistake or so it seems to be to me of mentioning gas going bad in the tank. Not the best message, I would think. And, anyway, even if Posawatz said premium has longer shelf life… I don’t necessarily believe it.

    Other tidbits that I found interesting, mostly paraphrased and condensed…

    Q: A 4-seat car is a problem for a 5-seat family… Are there plans for other vehicles?

    A: Cupholders!

    Seriously, before promising this wasn’t the end of the line (that remains to be seen), Posawatz talked about cupholders, cubbies and, maybe, nooks and crannies in your Volt. There will be other types of RE-EVs but Posawatz offered no specifics.

    Q: Where can we find full specs on the car?

    A: Cupholders!

    Again, seriously, this was the most exuberant part of the answer. The question did prompt the Tonys to go on at length about the things the car did offer (blue tooth, hard drive, other things), while also mentioning that full specs aren’t yet available.

    Q: What’s the fuel economy?


    You didn’t think they’d answer this, did you? Posawatz danced around for a while and promised only that there would be a lot of information on the EPA label but offered no specifics on anything.

    The Tonys also mentioned that they might just drive to Tahoe without stopping to recharge… as in, the Volt was therefore the secret envy of every other EV in the exhibit hall.

    In that vein, they could have simply told us how much fuel ane how much electricity they used on the “Freedom Drive.” But they didn’t.

    – A couple of questions elicited a response about “educating” the marketplace. They can’t just sell it… they’re going to have to teach it to people. I don’t envy them this task.

    Q: “Will the Volt have OnStar?”

    A: Five years’ worth. And lots of other stuff… phone apps and so forth.

    I’d guess it’s all part of packing “value” into a $41K compact car with options that don’t cost GM much. It’s like the GMT900 SUV two-mode hybrids all over again, which were heavily loaded to make the cost seem more palatable. These vehicles are curious combinations of thrift and profligacy.

    Q: Will the car qualify for the California tax credit?

    A: No.

    GM didn’t qualify it for the program and DiSalle cited the small number of certificates available as one reason they didn’t. GM didn’t play the original federal hybrid tax credit all that well, either. From the customer’s perspective, this must be something of a disappointment. I think DiSalle said they’d look at getting it qualified in 2012.

    Q: “When will it be available in the Houston market? I’m getting phone calls already.”

    A: Production starts for Texas in March, except Austin, which gets some production from this year.

    If the thing turns out to be desireable, the low quantities are going to drive the buyers – and dealers – crazy.

    For those interested (there were a number of questions I skipped altogether), the video should be up on relatively soon.

  • avatar

    Steven02: “It would probably be better…”

    I’m not a stenographer but I got the gist of those answers. If you want more, I told you where you’d be able to find it. If you think it’s so chock-full of Useful Facts that a transcript is necessary, feel free to create one.

    It’s 45 minutes long and, frankly, I’m sorry I wasted the time watching it, not to mention the rewinding to make sure I was catching what they were saying.

    “All those answers… provided the EPA…”

    That lame excuse, again? Do you work for GM?

    GM took the car on a 1700 mile trip and heavily publicized it, giving us little anectdotes and plenty of PR flack about the thing from start to finish. But, in spite of the many times they’ve been asked, “How much gas will it use when the battery’s gone dead?” they say nothing about fuel consumption.

    There’s no EPA regulation that says GM can’t tell us how the car performed on that trip.

    Heck, when it suits their purposes, GM’s perfectly willing to make up EPA numbers that are entirely bogus. Does 230mpg ring a bell for you?

    • 0 avatar

      KixStart, I was actually wondering the same thing. You would think GM would want you to be aware of the MPG, especially if it will be higher than the competition.

    • 0 avatar

      People aren’t likely to go look at it, but might have a different opinion of it if they did look at it than you did. If you don’t want to take the time to actual quotes and then comment on them, why post what looks like direct quotes from them?

      Do I work for GM, no. I don’t work in the auto industry at all.

      GM has already said what they expect the car to get when the battery runs out. But there isn’t any point in GM announcing another number about what it got on one trip only to have the EPA number be different… again.

      After the first 230 MPG screw up, GM SHOULD wait for the EPA numbers before announcing the MPG numbers so that they don’t have ANOTHER 230 MPG screw up. But GM has said that they are getting 50 mpg from the car in extended range mode. Do you just like to ignore that?

      If you think about it, I would be much more concerned about the EV range performance. The point of the car is to use as little gas as possible. It is a commuter car that you can take on long trips if you want to.

    • 0 avatar

      Not that KixStart needs me to defend him, but he did say that what he wrote in his original comment is ‘paraphrased and condensed.’ He also gave the link so anyone could check out the original version. In addition, he said he did watch the video carefully to make sure he had the info. correct. Also, the 230mpg line was a marketing ploy designed to garner attention for the Volt. Finally, 50 MPG is good, which seems to best the Prius and Insight. However, I think more direct competition, at least from a price point of view, might be the Lexus HS250h. The HS250h ‘officially’ gets 34 MPG highway, and costs more, provided the 50 MPG stands up to EPA testing. I have also heard of people getting great mileage from the lowly Geo Metro. One thing I forgot, I would think GM would want to advertise that they are getting 50 MPG, but they may not want to do that until the EPA makes it official.

  • avatar

    I cannot understand as to why the Chevy Volt is not supplied with a diesel generator. The only time you use a petrol generator is for low KVA applications. As any one will tell you the torque curve of a diesel motor is more suited to this type of application, you ever been on a train, in a mine etc. The other point is that in the U.K., and perhaps Europe, there are two types of diesel – taxed and untaxed.
    I wonder if you could get away with untaxed as the engine is not directly connected to the drive train but merely charges the batteries. Believe you me with the cost of fuel and motoring in the U.K. the Volt would make sense. I want the number of the president of G.M. to tell him to bring it to the U.K. with a small 3 cylinder turbocharged diesel engine.
    One more thing by the way, for all you people saying it is such a waste of time and giving it such a hard time do you not know what is happening in your own country? Have you not heard of Oshkosh? Maybe it is time to check out their website and see where G.M. got it’s idea from – as endorsed by your own government and military. I will give the lazy a hint – they have a truck that can run an airfield and itself.
    The only other thing I can see that is wrong with the Volt they have not followed Oshkosh’s principle completely but then it is understandable with the political gerrymandering that G.M. has to do but not Oshkosh – you will understand this if you understand the concept.
    You can keep your 40 mile E.V.’s I would rather have a Volt. You think what is going to be easier on a Sunday drive, pulling up to a farmer and paying for a gallon of diesel or an hours worth of electric.
    Rant over.

  • avatar

    Imagine if they had made it a small turbine that could burn any fuel. Sure it would get an equivalent of 10mpg, but you could just pour filtered used fry oil in it or whatever. Now that would be cool.

  • avatar

    The Volt is an impostor. It is not an EV. It is a hybrid that only gets 37 EPA mpg when running on gas. A lot of drivers will take the governments $7,500 and run the car on gasoline most of the time. Arizona wasted $100 million+ on alternative fuel cars and many of them are using gasoline.

    Check out the following for details:

  • avatar

    I know i’m late, but could it be simply be that the engine was made for international markets that use “premium” gas. And due cost and time constrants just plucked the 1.4 from overseas work and didn’t bother to change that particular requirement.

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