The costs and benefits of owning an electric or hybrid car will be evaluated in this lesson. By reading and researching the history of the production of electric cars, the lesson allows students to understand how this market has developed. Specifically, the evaluation will focus on the Chevy Volt and its attempt to compete in a constantly evolving market of automobiles. Through this lesson, students will attempt to decide whether the Volt can be competitive in price and range, as well as what incentives need to be provided to make it a more appealing purchase to consumers. There have also been several changes made to the aerodynamics of the prototype of the Volt to the first model released to consumers in order to make the battery more efficient. Finally, students will look at the supply and demand, and production of the Chevy Volt.


Choice, Competition, Costs, Costs of Production, Incentive, Operating Costs, Price, Quantity Demanded, Quantity Supplied


  • Compare four vehicles with one another, and complete a cost/benefit analysis for each vehicle.
  • Interpret charts containing information on the four vehicles in order to answer questions to help complete a cost/benefit analysis.
  • Use data to determine the cost of driving the Volt in comparison with the Prius.
  • Compare the cost of driving their own (or their parent’s) vehicle against the Volt/Prius.
  • Answer questions about the supply, demand, and production of the Chevy Volt.


Most people have heard about the production of hybrid cars over the last few years, and more recently the push towards production of efficient electric cars. With the increasing price of oil, the production of these cars and the availability of automobile alternatives are becoming more important. While several models of these new automobiles have experienced varying levels of success in the market, there is one that stands out in its uniqueness to utilize an electric, then gas powered, motor. This vehicle is called the Chevy Volt, and GM is pinning its hopes on the success of this car. The Volt has already been named the 2011 Car of the Year by the North American International Auto Show, but does it have what it takes to be competitive in the automobile market against other vehicles that are gas powered, hybrid, or electric powered? This lesson will allow the students to do a cost/benefit analysis and determine what they see the in future for the Chevy Volt.


  • Vehicle Comparison Worksheet: This worksheet is used to compare the provided vehicles and determine the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • Understanding Chevy Volt Fuel Economy: Information from this article is used to compare the Volt, Prius, and LEAF in the Process section of this lesson.
  • Assessment Activity Worksheet: This worksheet is used to check the students understanding of the information and concepts presented.
    Teacher Key
  • How to Compare Cost Per Mile of Electric and Gasoline-Powered Vehicles: This article is used to compare cars against one another in the Assessment Activity section of this lesson.
    [EEL-link id='3396' title='' ]
  • Government Fuel Economy Website: This information is used in the Assessment Activity to determine costs between vehicles.
  • For Automakers, Better Batteries Crucial to Success of New Electric Cars (Video One): This video is to be viewed during the Extension Activity of this lesson.
  • GM, Detroit Pinning Hopes for Future on Chevy Volt (Video Two): This video is also to be viewed during the Extension Activity of this lesson.
  • Chevrolet Volt MPG- like no other car, or somewhat polarizing?: Information from this article is used to determine the value of the Volt in the Extension Activity section of this lesson.
  • Car Comparison: This link contains a more extensive comparison of the four cars evaluated in the Process, as well as the information used in it.
    [EEL-link id='3401' title='' ]
  • The Value of a Volt: This article regarding the worth of the Volt is to be read by students during the Extension Activity.
  • Limited supplies keep sales of Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf down: Another article to be read by students during the Extension Activity, this time discussing the production of the Volt.


carThe Chevy Volt is an electric car that has a full electric charge that lasts approximately 35-40 miles, depending on driving conditions and circumstances. After the electric charge runs out, a gas-powered engine kicks in that can last about another 300-375 miles without refueling. What makes this vehicle truly unique is that other vehicle alternatives run strictly on gas, purely on electricity, or a combination of both. For example, the 2011 Toyota Prius (5dr HB V) and the 2011 Lexus GS (450h 4dr Sdn Hybrid) are true hybrids in that they run on electric-drive motors at low speeds, and during coasting or braking. However, for the most part these vehicles run on gas and electricity together. For example, once these vehicles reach a certain speed or accelerate too quickly, a gas-powered engine is engaged and the cars run on both gas and electricity at the same time. Another vehicle, the 2011 Nissan LEAF (4dr HB SL-e), runs only on electricity and does not have an internal combustion engine that uses gas. What makes the Volt unique from these vehicles is that both the Toyota Prius and Lexus GS Hybrid are not meant to drive solely on electricity without gas in the vehicle, and the Nissan LEAF does not run on gas at all. Let’s compare these vehicles with one another, and determine the advantages and disadvantages of each vehicle.

Vehicle (2011)

Chevy Volt

Lexus GS Hybrid

Toyota Prius

Nissan LEAF






Standard Engine





Est. Gas Fuel Economy-Miles (City/Highway)





Miles Per Gallon Equivalent-Electric (City/Highway)





Battery Range-Miles (Electric)





1. Price does not include $0-$7,500 Governmental Tax Rebate (Savings) for purchase of plug-in electric cars, the first 200,000 Volts.
2. Vehicle does not provide this option.

Ask the students:

  1. Which vehicle is the most expensive?
    [The Lexus GS Hybrid ($58,950) is the most expensive.]
  2. Which vehicle is the least expensive?
    [The Toyota Prius ($28,790) is the least expensive.]
  3. What is the difference between the engines of all of these vehicles?
    [The difference in the engines of all of these vehicles is that the Toyota Prius and Lexus GS Hybrid run on gas and electricity at the same time, the Nissan LEAF runs on electricity only, and the Chevy Volt runs on electricity then gas.]
  4. Which vehicle does not have data for “Gas Fuel Economy”? Why?
    [The Nissan LEAF does not have data for “Gas Fuel Economy”… Because it does not have a gas-powered engine, runs strictly on electricity.]
  5. Which two vehicles do not have a “Miles Per Gallon Equivalent”? Why?
    [The two vehicles that do not have a “Miles Per Gallon Equivalent” are the Toyota Prius and Lexus GS Hybrid…Because these two vehicles do not have the option of running strictly on electricity.]
  6. What does the “Battery Range” or the lack of one indicate about each vehicle?
    [This indicates that the Chevy Volt can run for 35 miles (or up to 40 if most efficiently ran) on electricity before a gas-powered engine kicks in, the Nissan LEAF can run for 73 miles on its battery (or up to 102 if most efficiently ran) then needs to be recharged before it can be driven again. The Toyota Prius and Lexus GS Hybrid do not have a battery range alone.]

Tell students to examine the table and take note of the differences between these four vehicles. If needed, provide the students help in interpreting this data. After they have compared the vehicles and processed the above questions, have the students complete this Worksheet to determine the advantages and disadvantages of each option provided.

trafficThe Toyota Prius and Nissan LEAF are considered by many to be the Volt’s main competition. According to this article , it costs approximately $1.54 to fully charge the Chevy Volt, under half the cost of a gallon of gas. Thus, if you were to never drive more than 35-40 miles a day, then it would cost you no more than $562 a year in electricity, and you would never have to burn gas. This amount of money would buy you 200 gallons of gas, less then half of the amount of gas an average American uses per year (12,000-15,000 miles= 500-625 gallons, approximately). If we look further into it, the LEAF appears to be the best choice for 100 miles and under, as is runs solely on electricity. However, after 100 miles the LEAF has nothing to keep it going, so unless you plan on only using it for traveling within the city or have a short commute, you would have to wait for it to charge to drive any further (which to charge fully would take 16 to 18 hours using a standard outlet, or seven hours if one were to install a 220/240-volt outlet).

While the Prius essentially runs on gas and electricity together, the Volt runs solely on electricity until it runs out, then a gas-powered engine kicks in and runs the vehicle from then on, as mentioned above. Examine this excerpt from this article : “… since most people do not drive hundreds of miles a day, the Volt will actually use less gas than the Prius, provided your average daily mileage is up to about 117 miles. That's because to travel this distance in the Volt, you will only need to use the gasoline engine for 77 of those miles. At about 33 miles per gallon -- a low-end estimate for the Volt's fuel economy when its gasoline engine is running -- it would use 2.33 gallons of gas. To travel the same distance, the Prius would use 2.34 gallons.” Now, we will break that information down into a table.







Electric-powered Miles



Gas-powered Miles



Gallons of Gas Used



So, in other words, as long as one plans on driving 117 miles or less a day, the Volt is more efficient for gas-usage. However, most people don’t drive 117 miles a day, as that would be over 42,700 miles a year. Say that we are the lower-end average American and drive 12,000 miles a year as stated above. (*Teacher Note: Complete the rest of the questions in the Process section of this lesson with your students.)

  • How many miles would that equate to a day?
    [12,000 miles/365 days=Approximately 33 miles a day]
  • At this rate, how much gas would the Volt use a day? How about the Prius?
    [0…If 2.34 gallons=117 miles, then that’s 50 miles a gallon (117/2.34), so 33 miles would be approximately .66 gallons (33/50=.66).]

Most people do not drive the same amount each day so we know for this amount of miles or less, the Volt will not burn any gas but the Prius will. We also know this factor would cause daily gas costs to be virtually nothing one day, and a lot the next…for both vehicles. Unfortunately, we cannot mimic a driving schedule since every driver is different. So, hypothetically, say that one commutes 72 miles total (to and from work) each day. Also assume that we did not drive the Volt most efficiently and only got 33 miles out of it’s charge.

  • How many of those miles will the Volt burn gas? How about the Prius?
    [72-33=39/…72 miles]
  • At this rate, how much gas would the Volt use each day? How about the Prius?
    [39 miles @ 2.33x.46 (because 117 miles=2.33 gallons, minus the 33 miles of electricity=84 miles, but we only used 39 gallons which is 46% of the 2.33 used for 84 miles)=1.07 (or less)//…72=50 (1 gallon)+22 miles, so 22/50=.41…thus approximately 1.41 gallons]
  • What does all of this data tell you about the Chevy Volt in comparison with Toyota Prius?
    [Answers will vary.]

Sure, the Volt is a more expensive car ($40,280) than the Prius ($28,790), but with the Volt you have the option to drive without using any gas for up to the first 40 miles. If that is not a concern of yours, then maybe the Prius is the car for you. However, if it is, consider a few questions.

  • How much more does the Volt cost than the Prius?
  • What if you were to receive the maximum Government Tax Rebate/Savings (as mentioned under the first chart above)?
  • Hypothetically, again say that we travel 33 miles every day. How much would gas would we use a year in the Volt? How about the Prius?
    [0//…33/50=.66x365=240.9 gallons]

This is not so bad if we assumed gas costs $2.81 as indicated in the article, but that number is from October 31, 2010. With the rising gas prices, we know that the cost is more around $3.81 on average (April, 2011). We will examine the costs of those two numbers and the difference between them.

  • Given gas cost $2.81, how much would a person spend in gas driving the Prius in a year (use the number of gallons provided above)?
    [240.9 gallonsx$2.81=$676.93 a year]
  • Not bad, but as we mentioned, the price of gas is more around $3.81. How much would a person spend in gas driving the Prius in a year at this rate?
    [240.9x$3.81=$917.83 a year]
  • How much is the difference between these two prices for a given year?

This is a significant difference, but we need to rewind real quick. Above we said that it costs approximately $1.54 to fully charge the Volt each day. So we will factor this into each amount of miles used above.

  • At 33 miles, we said the Volt would not burn any gas, but the Prius would burn .66 gallons of gas. How much would that cost?
  • Given this amount and the fact the Volt costs $1.54 a day to charge, what would the difference be?
    [$2.51-$1.54=.97 cents]

With this data, it appears that the Volt is more efficient than the Prius at 33 miles. Hypothetically, this time try 72 miles. At 72 miles, the Volt would burn approximately .78 gallons of gas, and the Prius would burn 1.44 gallons of gas. This is where it gets a little tricky. Now we must add the gas and electricity the Volt uses and compare it to the amount of gas the Prius uses.

  • Given the .78 gallons of gas and the $1.54 cost for electricity, how much would it cost to run the Volt for 72 miles? 
  • At 72 miles, the Prius would burn 1.44 gallons of gas. How much would that cost?
  • What is the difference between the two?
    [$1.48 in favor of the Volt.]

The cost of gas can affect how much money a person spends everyday, and in a year, to travel. With the unsteady and growing cost of gas, as well as the depletion of its supply, it’s easy to see why there is such a huge push for hybrid and electric cars. This makes the Volt (or Prius) appear to be even more appealing purchases.

After reviewing these facts and factors in this lesson, it is easy to see how much goes into the choice of buying an environmentally friendly vehicle…and we have hardly scratched the surface. One could make an argument for the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius, Nissan LEAF, or even Lexus GS Hybrid as to which one is best and which one would be more preferable to own. Have the students review the worksheet that they completed above. Ask students: After seeing all of this information, would you change any of your answers? Why?


Use this Worksheet for the students to record their answers, and have them turn it in if you prefer. Here is the Assessment Activity Teacher Key.
At 117 miles, this article said that the Volt would burn 2.33 gallons of gas, and the Prius would burn 2.34 gallons of gas. Remember, we must add the gas and electricity the Volt uses and compare it to the amount of gas the Prius uses. Use $3.81 as the cost of a gallon of gas as used in the process.

1. Given the 2.33 gallons of gas and the $1.54 cost for electricity, how much would it cost to run the Volt for 117 miles?

2. At 117 miles, the Prius would burn 2.34 gallons of gas. How much would that cost?

3. What is the difference between the Volt and the Prius?
[$10.42-$8.92=$1.50 in favor of the Prius.]

This article states that the Volt is more efficient for gas-usage at 117 miles, which it is but fails to include the cost of electricity. So, this would actually make the Prius cheaper to drive each day. This shows how the cost of gas, as well as the efficiency and competitiveness of these two vehicles, can determine the vehicle choice for consumers. Now we will examine the incentives of driving a vehicle that uses no gas as opposed to one that only uses gas, or is a hybrid.

Have the students use this cost comparison converter article to calculate the difference between their own or their parent’s vehicle and the Nissan LEAF. If the students or the student's parents have a LEAF, have them use a different vehicle. If needed, print out this article (and the following questions) for the students and have it due for homework. The students can obtain their vehicle’s gas efficiency from several sources, including the Fuel Economy link provided within the article. Notice that the article is for an all-electric vehicle so that is why we are using the LEAF.

4. What is the difference between the car you used and the LEAF for a year? Please also write down the name of the car you used to compare.
[Answers will vary.]

5. Does this cost difference surprise you or make you feel differently about electric (hybrid) vehicles? Why or why not?
[Answers will vary.]

6. What are the benefits of the Volt versus the other vehicles? List the benefits.
[Answers will vary.]


Throughout this lesson we have examined a lot of information regarding alternative vehicle options, especially the Chevy Volt. This lesson is not promoting the Volt or even Prius, but rather providing detailed information on what makes these vehicles truly unique. When choosing a car, as with many competitive markets, one must weigh costs and benefits to find what option is right for them. As we discovered, if one never plans to drive more than 100 miles in a day or is purchasing it as a second vehicle, than the Nissan LEAF is a great choice. However, if one would like the option to drive further, than the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius, or Lexus GS appear to be much better options. As mentioned, what makes the Volt unique from the other two is that it can run solely on electricity until it is needed to go further than 35-40 miles, and then can run on gas, which makes it much like other vehicles. The Chevy Volt is not a true hybrid, but rather is establishing a class of its own that many other automakers have already begun to follow. Have the students proceed to the Assessment and Extension activities to check their understanding and to learn more about the production of the Chevy Volt.


Have the students watch these two Paul Solman videos provided by PBS, For Automakers, Better Batteries Crucial to Success of New Electric Cars (Video One) and GM, Detroit Pinning Hopes for Future on Chevy Volt (Video Two).

greenThen have the students read this article and study the close-up of the EPA Fuel Economy and Environmental Comparisons . Also, have them read this article from Hot Air , and this article from the Associated Press regarding production and supply of the Volt (as well as the LEAF). According to these videos and articles, we now know several more facts about the Chevy Volt, including:

  • In addition to oil prices, the earth’s temperature is contributing to the success of electric cars.
  • The Volt’s Lithium-Ion battery is 33.5 x 64 inches, weighs 400 pounds, and costs between $8,000-$10,000 to build.
  • In order to truly be successful, the Volt (and other electric cars) will need plug-in stations, nation-wide consumer confidence, government incentives, tough fuel economy standards, a carbon tax, and most importantly, a cost-competitive battery.
  • Fuel economy of vehicles has improved 30% in the last five years, making competing with gas a “moving target”.
  • Changes made to the prototype of the Volt allowed GM to add seven miles (or 25%) to the battery’s range.
  • Video Two states that if driven most efficiently, the Volt can get 50 miles on its electric charge. 50 miles for the cost of electricity at $1.50 is like getting 100 miles per gallon.
  • GM Detroit, where the Volt is made, pays assembly workers $27 dollars an hour, resulting in (on average) 11% of the cost of the car being labor.
  • One owner of the Volt claims 1,391 of his 1,485 miles have been achieved by only using electricity.
  • The EPA lists the Volt at 93 Miles Per Gallon equivalent (MPGe) in city/highway driving for the first 35 miles.
  • The Volt costs $601 a year if always run in “All electric” mode, and $1,302 if run in “Gas Only” mode.
  • The Volt’s total range is approximately 379 miles.
  • At 30 miles, the Volt costs three cents a mile to drive…at 75 miles, it costs seven cents a mile to drive.
  • Volts actually cost $81,000 per unit, and GM expects to lose money on every sale in the early stages of its production.
  • Over 50,000 people are already on the waiting list for the Chevy Volt.
  • GM predicts it will sell 10,000 Volts in 2011 and between 35,000 to 45,000 in 2012.
  • Hybrids made up 2.4 % of U.S. auto sales in 2010, and the category that includes hybrids and electric cars is expected to double to 4.8% by 2013.

Use questions three and four from the first video and question one from the second video to check the students understanding.

Video One

1: What is needed to make the electric car popular with car buyers, and how is GM working on these things?
[A 1: The demand for electric cars must increase to generate higher production and bring down the unit costs. The electric car and battery have to be more efficient so that the price can be competitive; consumers must have faith that there will be places all along routes to charge the battery, and that they can drive where they need to go and find ways to keep the batteries charged. Two lines of attack being done at GM are to make the battery smaller and more efficient, and to make the cars more aerodynamic so that they use as little energy as possible to move through the air. This has been used to extend the distance significantly that can be driven with one charge of the battery.]

2: Will electric cars ever be popular and able to compete?
[A 2: There are no clearly correct answers, but the arguments from this video should be invoked. The answer depends on satisfying consumers of cars - in terms of cost, styling, and efficiency of battery technology, rapidity of recharging and availability of recharge centers, reliability of the engine, ability to take long trips, etc. The discussion might also include the fact that some of these changes (aerodynamics) make gasoline engines more efficient also, so gasoline engine efficiency is a moving target for battery engine efficiency.]

Video Two

3: Why does GM have great hopes and expectations for sales of the Chevy Volt in the USA?
[A 3: Many different "hopes" are pinned on the Volt, but the fundamental reason that it is expected to be successful is that it gets outstanding gasoline mileage in a time of rising gasoline prices. The car runs for 50 miles on $1.50 worth of electricity before the gasoline engine kicks in. The average gasoline mileage is very high and as the price of gasoline increases, the Volt will become more attractive. It is also intended to bring higher car production back to the USA, and establish the USA again as the technology leader in car innovations.]

In addition, ask these questions:

4: If 11% of the cost of cars is production, how much does the Volt cost to produce (use $81,000)?

5: One Volt owner claimed that 1,391 of his 1,485 miles were achieved by only using electricity. What percentage of these miles were electric?

6: If the Volt cost $81,000 per unit as stated in the above article, how much would the total value be that one would save when purchasing one (including the total Governmental Tax Rebate (Savings)?
[$40,280-$7,500=$32, $81,000-$32,780=$48,220]


  • “I learned lots from this lesson myself. I think that with our high school students this would be a fun and eye-opening lesson. It could also lead to more critical thinking and ecological and economically responsible decisions by our youth.”

    Rebecca J., anchorage, AK   POSTED ON December 23, 2011

  • “This looks like a great lesson. I don't understand why it's labeled for a special education classroom. This is something that could be used with all levels of students, including gifted students, especially those who are interested in the environmental impact of automobliles EconEdLink: That particular sentence has been omitted from the lesson. Thank you”

    Karen M., Snellville, GA   POSTED ON January 2, 2012

  • “The reasons why smart people do not buy Electric or Hybrid cars are: Batteries are expensive, short lived, efficiency isn’t 100 % and the electricity is not free. Going electric you won’t decrease air pollution because 50 % of the electricity is produced by burning coal. By the way, a Jetta Diesel, TDI for $23000 makes 40MPG. With a full tank of Chevy Volt, driving non-stop, you make 37MPG, plus $3 or more, the price of electricity you charged 16.0-kW-hr lithium-ion, the hefty $10000 of the 750-pound battery pack.”

    Robert S., Milwaukee, WI   POSTED ON February 11, 2012

  • “My high school seniors responded well to this lesson, which we did over three days (reg. periods) working in pairs. On the third day, we had a round table discussion on the question "Which car is best to buy, and why?". The students loved the chance to talk about cars, but were actually quite interested to find out the "real deal" on all these electric/hybrid cars.”

    Ron P., Clearwater, FL   POSTED ON March 20, 2012

  • “Amazing lesson that is relevant to students lives.”

    Lyle M., Broomfield, CO   POSTED ON August 23, 2012

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