NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- No, that's not a typo. In the next couple of days, owners of the Chevrolet Volt will have driven a cumulative 100 million miles. That is more than 200 round trips to the moon.Why is this significant? When the Chevrolet Volt was first conceived in 2006, and finally put into traffic in 2010 after four years of development and testing, one of the key questions was whether this radically new automotive propulsion architecture would be reliable. How frequent would repairs be in the first 150,000 miles? How about in the first 400,000 miles? As important as fuel savings are, much of the future of electrified cars hangs on their reliability record. If a car like the Volt ends up with a bad rap due to parts that break down and keep it in the shop too much, that would risk soiling the reputation of all new automotive propulsion technologies. So we have to know where the Volt stands on this. Back to the 100 million miles for a minute. You deserve to know where all of these numbers come from. General Motors ( GM) publishes the cumulative number of miles driven on its Volt Web site as they are reported real-time. How many cars are involved? Based on Chevrolet's production and sales numbers, we can estimate that it has manufactured around 35,000 Volts to date since November 2010.
Out of these cars, approximately 25,000 are on the road and around 10,000 are in transit to dealerships or otherwise in inventory. To be clear, the Chevrolet Volt is sold on multiple continents under a few different badges: Opel in Continental Europe, Vauxhall in the U.K. and Holden in Australia. Sales outside the U.S. started in February 2012. It's the same car, made on the same assembly line, in Hamtramck, Detroit. With 100 million miles in total and 25,000 cars in traffic, each Volt has travelled on average 4,000 miles. That's not that interesting, because we would prefer to know how far the most frequent drivers have taken their Volts. For this, we turn to a Web site called VoltStats.net.
The Volt's Fuel EconomyIt is important here to refresh everyone's memory as to how the Chevrolet Volt works. It's actually a bit more complicated than I have space to illustrate here, but the simplest way to describe the Volt is as follows: The Chevrolet Volt is a powerful electric car, which can travel on average 38 miles until the battery has reached a certain low level. At that point, when the battery is, say, 20% from the bottom, a fairly regular 1.4-liter gasoline engine kicks in to keep the battery level from falling any further. This means that the powerful electric motor can continue to drive the car for as long as you have gasoline in the tank, which is nine gallons in the Volt.
When the gasoline engine kicks in, it will drink from the nine-gallon tank to the tune of 38 miles per gallon on average. That basically means you can go 342 miles after the 38 "all-electric" miles are depleted, for a total range of 380 miles. As with all cars, your mileage will vary, but that's the average. In other words, the Volt will take you on that cross-country road trip no differently than any other purely gasoline car. What does this mean for the average person's fuel economy in a Volt? There is no easy typical scenario here, just a strict mathematical average. Different driving patterns mean that your miles per gallon will vary from over 2,500 MPG, which many people are achieving, all the way down to a theoretical minimum of 38 MPG. The highest Volt MPG that has been measured to date is 6,200 MPG.
The Volt's Reliability, by the NumbersWith 100 million miles driven in the Chevrolet Volt, what has been the reliability? By all accounts, it has been fantastic. I am unable to find more than the most random and rare issue having been reported. If you can find some examples -- any, even the tiniest glitch -- let me know. I really would like to know.
Why has the Volt had such superior reliability? The reason is similar to why a computer with a solid-state drive has a better reliability than one with a hard disk drive. There are simply fewer moving parts. The electric motor has almost none of these items: belts, hoses, oils, spark plugs, fans, valves, distributor, transmission, and so forth. But the Volt also has a gasoline generator, you say? Yes, and as a result, it has all or most of those moving parts listed above. The counter argument is that a Volt-style gasoline engine, when it operates as a generator, as opposed to being tied to the drive shaft as the main means of propulsion, can be run in a more gentle and controlled manner, putting less strain on the system end-to-end. You can see this in the lack of a traditional transmission in the Volt, for example -- it's much simplified!