The Chevy Volt, just the latest expensive toy

Baker_Electric_DV_06-AI_01The 2011 Chevy Volt from Government Motors is touted as the answer to carbon emissions and green jobs. The Volt, a hybrid vehicle, is said to be able to go 40 miles on one battery charge. The 1911 Baker Electric from the Baker Motor Vehicle Company of Cleveland, Ohio, could go 50 miles on one battery charge. The 1902 Baker Torpedo set a land speed record.

Electric cars have been around since the 1830s. First developed in Holland, then France and Britain, electric cars were first produced in America during the 1890s.

The turn of the 20th Century was a time of experimentation in transportation. For instance, in 1900, a total of 2,370 automobiles could be found in New York, Chicago and Boston. 800 of those cars were fully electric, 400 cars were powered by gasoline, and 1,170 were steam-powered automobiles.

The early electric vehicles, such as the 1902 Wood’s Phaeton, were little more than electrified horseless carriages and surreys. The Phaeton had a range of 18 miles, a top speed of 14 mph and cost $2,000. Later in 1916, Woods invented a hybrid car that had both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.

Electric vehicles have always been the playthings of the well-to-do. Even the earliest models were expensive for their time. The 2008 Tesla Motors Darkstar Roadster has a net base price of US$101,500 and can go 200 miles on a battery charge. The Chevy Volt with its $41,000 price tag and 40-mile electric range, is also a plaything of the relatively wealthy. And if the government offers a $7,500 rebate, that just means the rest of us are subsidizing toys for the rich.

Advances in battery technology still have not found the solution to long range and quick recharge time. Purely electric vehicles may satisfy a niche market, but they are still impractical for general transportation. Hybrid vehicles, first developed in 1916, just make automobiles unnecessarily complex. It’s just physics. Gasoline has 80 times the energy density of the best lithium ion batteries.

Phaeton1The whole impetus behind electric or hybrid vehicles is they will lower our carbon footprint. But will they really do that?

According to the US Department of Energy, most electricity generation in the United States is from fossil sources, and half of that is from coal. Coal is more carbon-intensive than oil. Overall average efficiency from US power plants (33% efficient) to point of use (transmission loss 9.5%) is 30%. Accepting a 70% to 80% efficiency for the electric vehicle gives a figure of only around 20% overall efficiency when recharged from fossil fuels. That is comparable to the efficiency of an internal combustion engine running at variable load. The efficiency of a gasoline engine is about 16%, and 20% for a diesel engine.

Because of the relatively high price of electric/hybrid vehicles, German automakers say, Without government subsidies, electric cars are virtually unmarketable. If all that is true, we are spending much money on a fantasy. But, the electric car “has long been recognized as the ideal solution” because it “is cleaner and quieter” and “much more economical.” That statement was published by The New York Times on November 12, 1911. We have yet to see that rosy prediction come true, as noted by the Energy Tribune.


  1. the True Facts:
    Chevy Volt has a Range of 340 miles 40 of that electric, the rest Gas.
    75% of Americans drive less then 40 miles a day.
    Chevy Volt can be leased for $350 a month, hardly a Rich man’s car.
    The distance record for an Electric car was recently set at 623 mile on one charge.
    Most states allow you to purchase your electricity from renewable energy suppliers.
    Oil is a limited supply, we currently have no solution on what to do when it runs out.

    1. The Volt is expensive compared to a purely gasoline power car with similar features. If it gets only 12% of its range from electricity, what is the point. Oil, gas, and coal are finite, but we still have several hundred years to find a substitute. New discoveries are being found all the time and transportation fuel can be made from coal.

      1. The point is that 78% of Americans drive 40 miles or less per day.  This means that 78% of Americans can drive all electric every day.  This means that if the Volt is adopted on a large scale, you will see a massive drop off of pollutants from vehicles.
        And for the record, we do not have several hundred years to find a substitute for hydrocarbons like Oil, coal or natural gas.  The evidence is all around us and if you have not noticed then you are not paying attention.  Electricity generated from renewable sources like solar, wind, geothermal and thorium based nuclear are the best bet for our future energy needs.

      2. Please document some of that “evidence is all around us.” Perhaps it is you who has not been paying attention to mineral discoveries.

      3. This is really funny. I thought that high-emission and high-cost German-made cars are rich’s toys.
        PS: The evidence is that Earth population almost reached 7 billion now and continues to grow quickly. No mineral discoveries do cover it.  We are entering the era of expensive energy sources. Only blind people do not see this.

      4. Gasoline car:  70% of this fuel is from imported oil.  Volt, driven <=40 miles/day:  ZERO imported oil, 100% domestic energy!  Worried about you subsidizing the Volt?  Hardly.  Defecit spending is funding two wars, countless foreign countries.  The Volt subsidy is FINALLY being applied wisely.
           Seen Obama visit a coal burning plant lately? How about a nuke plant?  Nope, he’s been in Michinan several times to visit Volt factories.
          Think the Tesla or Volt are toys, playthings?  Let me know how many you find at Toys R Us.
            Too expensive for you?  Go by a Corolla.

  2. Interest in alternatives goes up and down with the price of gasoline.  Somewhere, somehow, an alternative to the internal combustion engine has to be developed.  If the Volt is not it, at least it is a step in the right direction.  My guess is that it will be primarily for those who have the money and the interest being “green”; at least at first.  Yes, we are subsidizing it, but we do collectively have an interest in reducing dependency on oil.  I involuntarily subsidize war and the development of weapons of mass destruction, so the right can grit their collective teeth and subsidize this. 

    1. We should reduce our dependency on foreign oil. We can do that by more exploration and exploitation of very abundant domestic resources. But that is not politically correct right now.

      1. Drill baby drill?  Is that your answer?  Seriously?
        What is abundant is renewable sources of power, not oil or coal or natural gas which are all polluting and all finite.  The ecological and environmental damage that harvesting oil and natural gas is going to cost us and the price is only going to increase the longer we wait..  The cost of cleaning up spills, the cost of hospitalizing people since they can’t breath anymore because the air in the city is too polluted.  The cost on our youth who develop asthma.  These are just a few real costs associated with the hydrocarbon based economy you espouse.  And you want  want to drill for more oil.  Brilliant solution.
        What is a solution is to invest in domestically produced energy from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal and thorium based Nuclear plants.  Electricity generated by home based solar voltaic systems can not only generate enough energy for the home and an electric car or two but can pay for itself in a few years.  Can you generate gasoline in your garage?  Bio diesel perhaps, but that is another discussion.
        Politically correct is doing what is right.  You propose doing what is easy.  There are plenty of people who stand to make millions if not billions on the harvesting and sale of oil and those people will not go down without a fight.  They will muddy the waters so that people will not be able to tell the difference between what is right and what the oil companies want.  The will trick people like you into thinking that oil IS the right answer and they will dazzle you with the ways they can justify it.  The main problem is that we just can’t wait for the oil to run out before we switch to a green economy.

      2. Familiar sounding paranoia and  “renewables- are- the- solution to impending doom ”, etc,  rhetoric  from  an anti-industrial  lefty  who frequents other local blogs on energy and the environment.  Hey lefty, know what we had for energy  before fossil fuels powered the great industrial revolution and our unprecedented   standard of living? That’s  right, renewables, from running water, windmills, biofuels, etc.  They were good enough for an agrarian society, but cannot mass-produce energy  cheaply or efficiently  to power our factories businesses and homes.   Because wind and solar costs are stratospheric they are not viable now or anytime in the foreseeable future, not without massive subsidies and oppressive taxation, and their broad based application would be shear folly.  At best, they are of supplemental  value.   A  frustrating  problem for  depletionist/greenies  is the paradox of plenty for fossil fuels ;  ie: the  phenomenon that the more we use the more we find, so that today world reserves of oil, gas coal and natural gas are double today compared to decades ago.  Today’s  energy  resources are for today’s use, tomorrow’s resources will be found through continued exploration.   And, I might add,   your  carbon footprint doesn’t matter.

      3. Even the most optimistic and deliberately deceptive toady for the energy industries has to admit that there is an end to the availability of non-renewable resources.  I think one reason for their big push-back is that many of the ideas for renewable energy sources would allow the end user to be somewhat independent in supplying their own energy needs. 

      4. Have you even looked into setting up a solar or wind turbine for home use?  Have you looked at the cost benefit analysis for such a transition?  Based on your comments I would say no.  If you had, you could see that these systems will pay for themselves, even without a subsidy (which is an added incentive to adopt this beneficial technology) they will generate money for the individual (or company) who set it up.  I would hate to be considered un-American by espousing something so hateful and “lefty” on the people of the “Real” America.  So lets not look to me as an example, lets look at a real American institution… like NASCAR.  Surely, they are all about gas and oil right?

        Hmmm…. seems like they went all “lefty” on us too.
        Pretty soon they may be driving electric cars!
        Your arguments are predicated on several false assumptions.  The first it that I am anti industrial.  Hardly.  Industry is the life blood of this country and it needs to be viable for us to prosper as a people.  It also needs to be clean, or don’t you think that clean air and water is important?  If you don’t have your health then you don’t have anything – and that applies to America as a people.
        Oil is not good for our country because we have to protect the resource in foreign lands who actually hate us.  Like a junkie, we have to keep the river of oil flowing so we can drive our cars.  How many of our Soldiers have to die to protect foreign oil?  What is that cost worth to you?  What’s that?  Drill here?  Yes, I see how offshore deep water drilling has been so successful lately.  How much is that disaster going to cost us, the taxpayer?  How many Republicans were so upset that our government handed a sovereign company like BP (who invested heavily in their campaigns) a bill for the clean-up?  They got pretty quite real quick when they saw how pissed off people were about protecting BP.  Damn straight BP is going to pay because the people in LA and the Gulf Coast are going to be paying for decades in health issues and lost revenue from damaged fisheries.  Or don’t you care about American business or health?
        You claim that we find more fossil fuels as we use more fossil fuels in a never ending cycle.  Really?  There is a never ending magical well of oil that we can just keep dipping into – just so long as we keep looking hard enough?  Even if this were true, which it is not, there is still the question of environmental damage to our air and water to contend with from the burning of said hydrocarbons.
        My carbon footprint does not matter?  I guess you could say that a penny does not matter in the grand scheme of things.  But a hundred pennies makes a dollar.  Add enough of them up and it makes for a lot.  I will be adding my penny to the cause of change.

      5. Harrier:
        I am not a shill for energy interests, but merely a retired citizen on a fixed income concerned about present and future energy cost.  So, how do I save money?  Not sure just where I’d put a wind turbine—on my roof, or how about my neighbor’s front yard? One of my neighbors bought into the solar paneling fad.   My other neighbor, a Raytheon engineer and myself, have determined that solar is not only obtrusive,  but  not cost-effective, even  including subsidies and tax credits.  I assume by your comments that you have converted to solar.  And how much do you think it cost your fellow ratepayers in green energy surcharges  for your generous rebate check?  And how much more will we pay in REST  and  DSM surcharges, and rate increases  as mandates for  renewables,  energy conservation and “decoupling” are forced upon us?While producing only a fraction of 1% of total output US,  solar costs 10-20 times per kWh  that of coal-generated electricity, and solar is subsidized 50-100 times per mWh that of traditional energy sources;   wasteful, costly, and unnecessary.   As for payback, panels don’t last forever, especially in our desert heat.  “Innovations Report” (2007) concludes that installing PV solar roof panels will cost you more than you save on electricity bills before panels must be replaced. As for larger economy, that  renowned conservative think tank,  UCal  Berkeley Energy Institute, “Market value and cost of solar PV electricity production  (2008)”, concludes that the market benefits of installing current PV technology, even allowing for timing and transmission advantages, are much smaller than overall costs. The difference is so large that even estimated values of  so-called reductions in GHG still doesn’t come close to making a positive social return.As for the pollution card, sure fossil fuels have their downside, but solar and wind also come with their environmental costs,  no need to  elaborate here.  In reality, fossil fuels will continue as the master energy resource, indefinitely, but admittedly not infinitely.   Concentrated energy embedded in carbon fuels is a quantum leap over the dulute irregular energy flow from renewables.  As the Germans, Danish, Spanish and Californians, are finding out, renewables are no energy nirvana, and cost much more than they’re worth.  So what’s the problem?  If you like change, go buy  solar, wind turbines  or electric powered cars, but on your own dime please; don’t expect me to chip in.   

  3. By labeling GM “Government Motors” you clearly mark yourself and the content of your blog as being partisan.  It is General Motors, the same company who built the tanks that defeated Nazi Germany and imperial Japan.  The President of the United States, FDR, pulled the heads of those companies together and laid out a plan to build those tanks and they all balked.  “We can’t build those AND make the cars we have planned for 1942” they exclaimed.  The President looked at them and told them there would be no line of 1942 cars.  They were to make tanks, planes and munitions – and we will create a division of the government to assist in the changeover (The Defense Plant Corporation or DPC).  These companies were critical in our Arsenal of Democracy and it was due to the President mobilizing them for what was needed, not what THEY wanted to do.  These companies got burned on war contracts after WWI ended early and were not keen on jumping back in as it would be a gamble and they already had a good thing going.  Should we let individual companies decide what is best for America during a crisis?  What is good for the American people, you see, is not always good for business.  And we are working our way out of a crisis right now, and believe me it could have been a lot worse.
    You compare the 1911 Baker to the 2011 Volt and only use total miles as the comparison.  This is grossly misleading on multiple levels.  The Baker had a top speed of about 12 MPH, while the Volt is electronically limited to 100 MPH (0-60 in about 8 seconds).  That kind of power and speed uses a lot of power and does effect range.  If you limited the Volt to only 12MPH, you would see a massive jump in range.
    Unlike normal Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles, the Volt (thanks to its electric motor) has 100% torque available at all speeds.  You press the pedal, you GO.  Go to YouTube and look up White Zombie – its a 1972 Datsun with an electric motor.  It DESTROYS muscle cars, corvettes, sports cars… everything with an ICE.
    Your argument that electric cars are the “plaything of the rich” is laughable in its lack of vision.  Cell phones were once considered only for the rich and the first Motorola cell phones cost upward of $10,000 each.  Now, thanks to economies of scale, cell phones are the primary phone for millions of people around the globe.  Electric cars will benefit equally from this kind of scaling.  Just so you know, it is no secret as to why companies like Tesla went after the more exotic cars first.  They wanted to prove that electric cars CAN be fast, they CAN be owned, and they CAN compete.  The first ones, even a modestly priced electric car like the Volt, are going to be more costly than the average American is willing to pay.  So were the first cell phone and the first iPods, but it is the first step and there will be enough people to sell out the first, second and third years of production for this wonderful piece of American engineering.  Who would not want to support that?  I’ll tell you who… it is someone vested in the status quo, someone who does not want change since they equate change with cost.  Well sir, change is happening and it is only going to speed up.
    As to the rise of the gasoline engine over electric… it merely had to do with the invention of the electric starter and eventually with range.  Lets list the ways that electric cars are better than ICE vehicles:
    1) Torque.  Available at all speeds, what a driving experience!  I have driven in both a Tesla Roadster and a Chevy Volt and it is far superior to any ICE vehicle I have been in.
    2) Maintenance – Electrics are simple and have few moving parts. The cost savings on this alone could justify getting an electric car.
    3) Fuel efficiency – Electric cars like the Volt or Roadster cost about $0.02 per mile to operate.  A Yukon Suburban costs about $0.21 per mile.  An average driver puts 15,000 miles on their car per year (electric =  $300/year vs. Yukon = $3150/year).  If you bought your Yukon and planned to keep it for 8 years you can add on $25,200 in just fuel operating costs (providing gas stays where it is today).  An electric will add $2,400 to the sticker price.
    4) Oh yes… electric cars produce no emissions.  The Volt will produce some, but only 22% of the time as the rest of it use will be all electric.  You see, 78% of Americans drive 40 miles or less per day.  Also, since the ICE inside the volt is going to only operate on the most efficient RPM, it will operate far cleaner and more efficiently than other cars.
    5) It takes less time to plug at night in than to make a trip to the gas station and fuel up twice a week.  What is your time worth to you?
    6) Range – this depends on the vehicle and there is some difference.  A Tesla roadster can go about 230 miles on a charge.  The Volt can go 40 but then can go indefinitely so long as you fill it up with gasoline.  This makes the Volt a great choice for someone who wants the best of both worlds and wants to use this as their only car.

    The choice for people is clear but only if they have all the facts.


    1. General Motors stock is held 60% by the U.S. government and 12% by Canada; therefore it is government motors – very different from its origins.

      1. So, in your opinion it is and always will be “Government Motors”?  What do you plan to call it when they have paid back their loans and the US Government has divested itself from ownership in the company?  I’m sure you will think of something clever.
        If the house next to your was on fire… would you go help?  Would you raise the alarm or would you just say that they messed up and should pay by having their house burn down around them?  GM made some very bad business decisions that led them to the situation they are in now.  It is in the best interest of the United States that they remain in business after going through bankruptcy and restructuring.  We need to fight to keep industry in this country and automakers are a major industry that we could not afford to lose.

  4. The Chevy Volt is a bad choice for the following reasons:
    1. Not saving the environment. “Clean Energy” makes up approximately 7.3% of the energy produced in the United States. The other 92.7% will come from Fossil Fuels, Nuclear Energy, etc. Thats saying if “Carbon” was actually a pollutant.

     2. Cost similar as gas for 10 year replacement battery. Battery will be between $6500-7500. $60 dollars a month for gas is $7200 over 10 years. Thats without adding to the amount of gas used when the battery life runs out.

    3. You must plug in your battery every night (or else use gas). This will most likely happen as leaving the stove on or forgetting to lock your door happens.

    4. The ability to convert/ Add-on(current stations)/ Make plug-ins universal to motels, hotels, multi-level parking structures, aparment and condiminium, houses, etc. is incalculable.

    1. Hi Sam,
      The Volt MAY be a bad choice for you… but I don’t think you should speak for everyone.  Ill address each of your points in order:
      1) “Clean Energy” is presently a small part of how we generate electricity in the US.  It has grown significantly in the past 10 years and with proper leadership, it will continue said growth.
      2) You are assuming that batteries will never get cheaper, which they have been getting at about 8% per year, while at the same time becoming more energy dense and smaller.  Even using your figures above, if I had a Yukon XL (26 gallon tank, 15MPG city, 21MPG hwy) and I drove an average of 15,000 miles a year (or 288.4 miles/week if you prefer),  it would cost me $2,647 a year to operate at $3/gallon.  Assuming that gas stays at $3/gallon this will cost $26,470 after 10 years.  An electric vehicle recharges at the cheapest rate (overnight – and the car has software programed into the vehicle that does this) which works out to be about $0.02 per mile or $300/year or $3,000 for the 10 year period.  At which time, you could most likely buy a new battery that is bigger, longer lasting and much cheaper than the one you are replacing it with.
      3) There are certainly people who have this issue.  That is why the Volt has an internal Combustion Engine (ICE) to allow the driver the flexibility to be human.  After the battery is drained, you can drive on gasoline until you plug in at the next available outlet.
      4) I suppose you could have said this about gas stations in 1901 but there are plenty out there.  One day at a time, please.  There is a national grid and it is a matter of time.  Incidentally, the Volt does not really need one unless you are totally committed to driving on electric only, all the time (see answer #3).
      Ok, I think that does it Sam!  Is there anything else I can help you with?

  5. Sam,
    to answer your statements
    1. Electricity generated at large plants is more efficiant then ICE in cars, you can purchase clean energy if that’s important to you, or not. Clean Energy production is growing more then any other source.
    2.batteries wont just die after 10 years, they will slowly decine in preformance, but will be usable for many years there after. also the cost of batteries is dropping very fast, in 10 years you’ll probably bewant to replace your batteries with ones that are a tenth the price and give twice the power.
    3. in one year driving an EV this happened to me 3 times. The Volt has a cell phone app that will remind you if you forgot to plug in. Still beats wasting 10 minutes at a Gas station couple times a week.
    4. electricity is everywhere, plug into a wall, fast charging stations ar a conveniance, nice outside of the home but hardy needed or expensive.

  6. If you have been reading the comments on this post you have noticed that “Harrier” is a staunch defender of the Volt. What you may not know is that your email address shows up on the dashboard for my blog. I usually keep that information private, but in this case the public should know that “Harrier” is Jason Cullinane, a spokesman for Chevy Volt. Here is Jason on a promotional YouTube.

    1. I indeed have spoken up for the Volt through, which is  a fan site and is not associated with General Motors.  You seem to be attempting to make this look like I work for them, which I can honestly say that I do not.  I’m just a guy interested in the car and it’s potential.  I have actually driven the Volt and that certainly makes me more of an expert on this car than you.   As such, I am keen to dispel erroneous claims about it such as those in your article.
      Now, since you posted the link, does this mean you watched the video?  Pretty cool isn’t it.  I think I should have cut out the part with Bob Boniface as he is a bit long winded but it does help people to understand why the car looks the way it does.
      I think you would get a lot more out of your blog if you were to report more honestly on your subject matter.

  7. Mr. Steer
    If I understand you correctly your advocacy for hybrid vehicles is so that America will not be so dependent on foreign sources of oil. People would have to buy a very large number of hybrids to make a dent in our imports.
    There is another way to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. That is to make gasoline from our vast domestic coal resources. The technology has been around since the 1920s and more recently perfected by the South Africans who, according to Business Week of several years ago, produced at that time 160,000 barrels of gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel a day, enough to cover 28% of their needs at a cost equivalent of $30 to $35 per barrel of oil.
    I’ve seen from several websites, that coal in the state of Illinois, for instance, has the energy equivalent of all the oil in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. But existing regulations and policies limit access to at least a third of our high-quality, low-cost coal located on federal land, and put at least half of federal land off limits to other mineral exploration and development.
    By the way, are you the Randy Steer who works for the Department of Energy?
    Note: Mr. Steer’s comments have been removed at his request.

  8. Early electric cars were popular with the wealthy and women because they were clean, quiet, and easy to start.  Gasoline engines required a crank start which could be dangerous.  So the rich made the obvious choice – buy the better product.  Then once the automatic starter for gas cars was invented and road travel allowed greater distances is was a natural decline for the electric car.
    Now with new li-ion battery technology electric cars are back and can compete (kinda) with gas.  I think it’s important that we to stop sending dollars overseas for oil and instead invest in renewable-energy resources here.  We can upgrade the electric grid and tap into Wyoming, which is the Saudi Arabia of wind, to charge the electric fleet.  Internal combustion engines will be around for decades and everyone who wants to will be able to drive them.  An electric vehicle just offers so much more.   It’s efficiency is much greater, heavily trafficked city centers will be quieter and free of tail-pipe exhaust, and electricity is cheaper than gas.  In addition you will be able to control your car’s interior climate from your smart phone and turn on the AC as you’re walking out of the office or the defroster as you sip your coffee.  It has the potential to be a whole different experience.  In other words, a much better product.  To some people, limiting or eliminating their petroleum consumption is a priority.  And they are willing to pay a higher cost to do so.  Not everyone can, and that’s ok.  And if you’d like to argue subsidies, then I believe the oil industry could give some back so we can incentivize EV’s even more.  To me, it’s pretty patriotic to put a solar panel on your home’s roof and drive a Chevy Volt.  Even if it costs more money. The Volt is not a plaything.  It’s ridiculous to suggest that.  You need to look at the long view.  Detroit can take a global leadership position with this technology.  Ford and GM are doing their best business in Asia and they need to compete with the Asian car manufacturers.  And Asia is making electric cars.

  9. Very abundant domestic fossil fuels?  At what price?  Did you know that the biggest energy exporter to the US is Canada?   Canada shut down major oil sands production because OPEC dropped their price per BBL, killing off the competition.  Want to pay $150+ per BBL?  Then plenty of domestic wells will be again profitable.    Today US electric comsumption is approx 425 GW.  The DOE estimates thre are sufficient commercial sites to generate 8700 GW and you want to drill for more oil?    Thought about domestic natural gas?  It is abundant and combined cycle NG generating plants run 60% efficiency!  NG:  100% domestic and I can charge my Volt with it.

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