Quote Of The Day: The Obsolescence Of Volt Edition

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

Fortune [ via CNN]’s Alex Taylor III is clearly as disappointed as I was with Joe Nocera’s toothless, vaguely pro-Volt piece in last Sunday’s NY Times, and he’s riled up enough about it to lay down a savage call-out the Volt hype machine. In fact, it’s a less scientific, less comprehensive (and, by virtue of the passage of time, less speculative) version of a piece my father wrote in 2008, comparing the then-undelivered Volt with the also unlaunched 3rd gen Prius and Plug-In Prius. Taylor’s foil for the Volt is the plug-in Prius, which now arrives in less than a year, and in the eyes of the longtime industry writer, the contrast is stark:

Volt enthusiasts like to recite the fact that the Volt can go 35 miles on battery-power and then shift seamlessly into gasoline-engine mode, saving on gas and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. It is an impressive technological improvement but one that is already obsolete.

Here’s why:

The Prius Plug-in can go about 13 miles on battery-power alone. But when the battery-only power expires, it switches over to Toyota’s proven hybrid system. That system delivers 51 miles per gallon in the city and 48 mpg on the highway in the standard Prius.

The Volt can go about 35 miles in EV mode, but after that it switches over to pure gasoline power – no more battery assist. With only its gas engine running, Popular Mechanics magazine discovered the Volt gets just 32 mpg in the city and 36 mpg highway.

So on trips of 13 miles or less, the Prius plug-in and Volt deliver the same all-electric mpg: zero. On trips between 13 miles and 35 miles in length, the Volt beats the Prius. But after 35 miles, the Prius handily outscores the Volt.

Yup, that about sums it up. And rather than just letting the cold truth work its magic, Taylor can’t resist twisting the knife.

To date, the Prius Plug-in has been ignored by EV enthusiasts who are being revved up by the flood of favorable publicity coming out of Detroit, which for all its pretensions to global sophistication, remains a house of mirrors whose view of the outside world stops at Eight Mile Road.

Whenever somebody congratulates Volt for winning multiple car of the year awards, they should remind themselves that those same award-giving bodies passed over the original Prius hybrid in 2001 in favor of the PT Cruiser. Toyota has gone on to sell two million Priuses, the most revolutionary car of the last 75 years; the Cruiser, a novelty car with no technological pretensions, has since gone out of production.

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  • Elorac Elorac on Jul 01, 2011

    Can somebody explain to me why the Prius up to this point has used NiMH batteries when the Lithium/Ion batteries are more energy dense, etc? Is it purely for economic reasons, or are NiMH batteries also more reliable, slower to lose storage capacity, etc? With many other Hybrid/EV makers using Li/Ions, I've often though that Toyota likely has a very good reason to have stayed with NiMH for this long (and offer an 8 year warranty on it).

    • Steven02 Steven02 on Jul 02, 2011

      A few years ago Toyota was saying that lithium ion batteries weren't ready for automotive applications. This was when the Leaf and Volt were announced already.

  • NormSV650 NormSV650 on Jul 02, 2011

    What's best is when performing recall services on the Prius the owner gets a free charging. :) Gas is the way to go unless your trying to make a statement. My GM 2.4 Ecotec with aftermarket turbo can see 42-44 mpg on the highway with 350 horsepower and 400 foot pounds of torque. Best deal going for the efficiency/output ratio per $.

  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Ed That has to be a joke.