Chevy Volt MPG: What’s The Deal?

It’s funny to see the difference between the hype before a new product is released, and its actual popularity when people start using it in the real world.

Take the Segway.

The high-tech superscooter was being heavily promoted by its inventor Dean Kamen even before he revealed the design to the public. He predicted it would revolutionize the way people move around, and forecast unbelievable production levels of 10,000 units per week.

But when it was unveiled in 2002, the response was tepid at best. And while the Segway has caught on in certain niche markets, it certainly can’t be classified as a monumental, revolutionary game-changer.

Fast forward to today, when similar buzz is being created over the first new U.S. mass-produced electric vehicle – the Chevy Volt by General Motors.

This is the first model year of the vehicle, and about 1,200 Volts were sold in the first quarter of 2011. The public has heard lots of wild statements about the car – including a declaration by an executive back in 2009 that the car could get a mind-boggling 230 miles per gallon! (Chevrolet has since retracted that particular claim.) But earlier this month, one of Chevy’s vehicle line directors asserted that the Volt can travel 1,000 miles without the owner having to fill up the tank.

A thousand miles with no fillups? With the Volt’s 9.38-gallon gas tank, that works out to 106.6 MPG. Is this really true?

The answer is … yes. Well, not really. But sorta.

Several groups are putting these astounding claims to the test in real-world driving situations. Here’s a snapshot of what they have found so far.

  • Motor Trend magazine drove the Volt for a total of 300 miles and found that the car used up only 2.36 gallons of gas – for an astonishing result of 126.7 miles per gallon!
  •, an automotive web site, polled some Volt users to see how fuel-efficient the vehicle was for them. One owner said he drove it for 800 miles at an average of 93 MPG, while another recorded a rate of 62 MPG over 1,500 miles of usage.
  • But Popular Mechanics magazine posted some significantly lower figures. Its researchers said that after driving the Volt for 900 miles over three days, they could only get 36 MPG on the highway and 32 MPG in the city. There are several gas-only cars on the market which perform better than that.

So what can we make of these disparate numbers?

Here’s the crux of the issue: The Chevy Volt’s rechargeable battery can allow drivers to travel 40 miles on a full charge without using any gasoline at all. The car only taps the gas tank for fuel after the charge has been exhausted.

So in theory, you could charge up your Volt every night, drive it the 20 miles to work and back every day, and your gas mileage would approach infinity! Of course, you would eventually have to fill up with gas at some point – but you could easily exceed 1,000 miles before visiting a gas station.

However, many skeptics believe these outlandish MPG figures don’t represent “real-world” driving. Indeed, the abovementioned tests demonstrated that the further the Volt was driven, the lower the gas mileage became. In fact, if someone drives just 45 or 50 miles on a full charge, the average gas mileage drops considerably.

And if you take your Volt out on the highways for any length of time, you probably won’t get much better gas mileage than you would with other comparable vehicles. Popular Mechanics drove an average of 300 miles per day and recorded decent (but not great) gas mileage numbers. So it’s pretty clear that the Volt is more efficient on short trips than on long journeys.

OK, back to our 1,000 miles-per-tank claim. Is it accurate?

Well, only if you drive it no more than about 50 or so miles per day AND charge it fully after every trip. But any day that you drive it for longer than that sharply reduces your average gas mileage. And the chances of you obtaining these huge numbers on road trips? Fuggetaboutit.

Only time will tell if the Chevy Volt (and any similar cars in the future) will revolutionize the consumer transportation industry – or, like the Segway, become a novelty item enjoyed by only a relative few.

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