Chevy Volt – a great idea but is it too expensive to make it?

I’ve mentioned the Chevy Volt a few times here and I haven’t changed my mind about it: it’s a great idea. The notion of a completely electric car that carries a generator to charge its own systems is good one, neatly removing the big concern about electric cars in general, namely getting stranded with a dead battery. Aside from the fact that they really homogenized the styling when they designed the final production model (the concept look was way better in my opinion) I think this could have been a serious step toward getting a car on the road that might break the internal-combustion engine grip on automotive travel.

That is, I thought so until I heard on the radio that they’re planning on a $40,000 price tag at launch.

So much for my dream of owning one. The equivalent mpg is supposed to be a staggeringly high 230 miles-per-(equivalent) gallon but does that even come close to justifying such an extravagance? I was going to do that math but Eric Peters over at The American Spectator beat me to it:

But, $40,000? That is almost exactly what you’d pay for a new BMW 335i ($40,300) and not too far off the asking price of a new Mercedes-Benz E-Class ($48,050). These are fine cars, but not exactly marketed to people who are concerned about their pocketbooks.

Forty Thousand Dollars. That is a lot of coin. Even with a government subsidy (on top of the subsidy GM has built into the car’s price) expected to be as much as $7,500 (thank you, fellow taxpayer), the potential Volt buyer is looking at a bottom line price that is right there in the entry-luxury range — and roughly three times the cost of a new econobox.

Does it compute? Well, let’s see… .

For the sake of discussion, we’ll take GM’s 230 mpg claim at face value. This figure is about four times the published mileage of the 2010 Toyota Prius (50 mpg, average). But the Prius costs just over half as much ($22k). So, the Volt buyer would have to “work off” the approximate $18,000 difference ($12,000 or so, if you subtract the proposed $7,500 government subsidy).

Twelve grand buys one helluva lot of gas — even at $3 per gallon. Four thousand gallons, to be precise. If whatever you are driving now gets an average of 25 mpg (half what the Prius gets) that 4,000 gallons would keep you going for 160,000 miles.

Who here knows anyone with a GM product that they were still able to drive at 160,000 miles? I don’t – they usually peter out a long time before that. And, as Eric notes, there are cars with nearly as impressive mpg ratings as the Prius for considerably less money which makes the Volt even less competitive. I mean, I’m trying to be a cheerleader for this kind of thing but – c’mon, GM, ya gotta work with me!

At that price I can’t see the Volt being anything other than the kind of “oh-I’m-soooo-much-greener-than-you” status symbol the Prius was when it first rolled out. And though the Prius was priced a little high for its size and utility, it’s at least in the ballpark. $40K for a car is more than we paid for our minivan which offers far more power and carrying capacity than the Volt. I don’t see this giving GM much traction unless they find a way to lower the price tag.


  1. So how’s buying a $40K Volt to say “hey, lookit my status symbol” any different from buying a Corvette (MSRP $53-104K, depending on model) to say the same thing?

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