NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- With the Chevrolet Volt, there is never a shortage of questions for us owners. One the one hand, there are the questions that people are asking. On the other hand, there are the questions that people should be asking.
What's the difference? In my case, 5,200 miles. After you have lived extensively with the Volt and put it through thousands of miles in car races at almost criminally high speeds throughout the U.S. deserts and mountains, you will likely focus on the right attributes of this most revolutionary car.
Let's first recap where Chevrolet, a division of
, stands with its production of the Volt. From December 2010 until June 2011, approximately 3,200 units of the initial 2011 model were put in consumer hands. Production of the 2012 model will be 20,000 to 25,000 units, and end this December 2011. In January 2012, a slightly modified "2012 ½" model will start, to the tune of approximately 1,200 units per week.
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At 60,000 units per year for 2012, Chevrolet will have met its Volt production goal on time. As far as 2012 sales are concerned, it's anybody's guess. The initial backlog built up in 2010 and 2011 has now been fulfilled, so buyers can now actually get a car off the lot right away, without paying a mark-up fee by the dealer in most instances. Keep in mind that the 60,000 number includes approximately 15,000 units sold to Europe, Asia and Australia, some under other brand names such as Opel and Vauxhall. Some of these international sales are starting now.
What are the questions people are asking about the Volt?
How far does it go on a charge? Chevrolet advertises 25 to 50 miles, and after 5,200 miles I can confirm that this is true. Under ideal conditions, 50 miles, but if you need to use a lot of heat and you drive very fast, it can be closer to 25. Of course, the biggest variable is if you drive uphill or downhill.
After the battery is depleted, how far does it go by using the gasoline generator? The gasoline tank is 9.3 gallons and you can easily get 35 to 40 MPG. I had no trouble achieving 360 miles. That means that the total range (electricity plus gasoline) for the Volt is very close to 400 miles.
How long does it take to charge the Volt? From empty to full, it takes four hours on a 240-volt charger, which is what almost all public chargers are. If you should charge off a regular 120-volt outlet, it would take close to 10 hours, but I have never done that because 240-volt chargers are almost everywhere I park at night or day.
In blended driving, what is your average MPG? In my case, I consumed 42 gallons of gasoline over 5,200 miles. However, 29 of those 42 gallons were on
through the deserts and over the mountains to Las Vegas. That's 38 MPG. That's obviously pretty good, but not as good as a Toyota Prius or a four-cylinder Volkswagen Diesel. For the balance of my 5,200 miles, that meant 13 gallons for 4,100 miles, or 316 MPG. That's the kind of "normal" driving I do in my metropolitan area.
That rate is obviously extremely good, but it is likely to become even better over time. Why? Today there are still some locations where I cannot charge the Volt when the first 40 or so miles are "up." That means that if I go to a city that's 25 miles away, and I get 40 miles on a charge, the gasoline generator runs on the last 10 miles of the return trip. If I could charge at my destination, even for a single hour on a 240 volt circuit, I would not be using any gasoline at all on this trip example, instead of perhaps ¼ gallon as in the example above.
Over the next few months, 240-volt public electric car chargers are likely to become almost ubiquitous. At that time, it will likely be that my 316 MPG result to date will mean an infinite MPG when I drive in or near my metropolitan home area. Of course, at 316 MPG, do you really care about any further improvement? That's about 50 gallons per year for most Americans -- 15,000 miles per year -- or $200. With most Americans spending around $1,000 per year on Starbucks or equivalent coffee, $200 per year for gasoline is hardly worth spending any time or money improving upon.
That said, it will soon be an interesting discussion among Volt owners, describing their annual gasoline consumption: "My Chevrolet Volt consumes two gallons per year, unless I go on a road trip."
Why two gallons, even if you charge the battery all the time, you may ask? That's because the generator needs to run at least a few minutes every six weeks or so, just to make sure that it remains lubricated and healthy, ready for a more substantial job if necessary. So no matter what, you will consume two gallons of gasoline per year in your Chevrolet Volt -- $8, or two Venti lattes at Starbucks. Per year.
How much have you paid for electricity to date? Zero. All publiccharging stations I have tried have been free. I don't know how long this will last, but so far, my electricity cost has been exactly zero.
How much does the Chevrolet Volt cost? The base price is $40,000, and fully loaded it is around $45,000. You can be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit, $1,500 (or more or less) from some states, and perhaps $2,200 towards a 240 charger installation in your garage. In California, that would mean an $11,200 value. Many Americans should look at the Volt as a $36,000 car ($45,000 plus sales tax, minus $7,500 minus $1,500), not counting the charger subsidy.
Less Obvious Questions
So those are the questions everyone
asking about the Volt. What about the questions they SHOULD be asking? These are the more pertinent ones, in my opinion:
Is the Chevrolet Volt quieter than a Rolls Royce? As a matter of fact, my other car is a Rolls Royce, and the answer is yes, the Volt is quieter than the Rolls Royce.
Does the Chevrolet drive more smoothly and less herky-jerky than the Rolls Royce? Yes, the Volt drives smoother and less herky-jerky than the $350,000 Rolls Royce. Now that's the highest standard imaginable!
Does the Chevrolet Volt feel as fast as a Porsche 911 or BMW M3? In some instances, it does. The first second or two of any acceleration, an electric car will be faster than almost any alternative. Obviously, once that first second or two have passed, a sports car will be faster than a Volt, but often enough it's that first second or two that counts.
To best illustrate how well a Volt performs against premium European sports car competition, take the Volt to a steep incline such as one of San Francisco's steepest hills. From a standing start, race a Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche or whatever, up the hill. I think you will find that many people will see their jaws drop, all the while the Volt delivers on spectacular performance while doing so completely silently and without any shakes, rattles or vibration from the drivetrain.
Is the $40,000 Volt a great value compared to a $350,000 RollsRoyce, a $90,000 Porsche 911 or a $60,000 BMW M3, when taking into consideration silent operation, smoothness of the drivetrain, and responsiveness of the initial acceleration? The answer is a resounding yes!
I think it is clear to most owners of a Chevrolet Volt that GM's marketing of this car does not convey the totality of the Volt's unique combination of benefits. The Volt delivers the luxury operation of a $350,000 Rolls Royce, the performance of a $90,000 or $60,000 German top-tier sports car, and it does so by consuming almost no gasoline, unless you take it on a longer road trip, when you are likely to get at least 35 MPG driving very fast across the plains and the mountains. It truly is the one zero-compromise car to beat them all. If this isn't a revolution, what is?
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.
Anton Wahlman was a sell-side equity research analyst covering the communications technology industries from 1996 to 2008: UBS 1996-2002, Needham & Company 2002-2006, and ThinkEquity 2006-2008.