Chevy Volt... It's Electric!


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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.


In this lesson you will compare four vehicles with one another, and determine the advantages and disadvantages of each vehicle. You will also interpret charts containing information on the four vehicles in order to answer questions based on the data within them, use data to determine the cost of driving the Volt in comparison with the Prius, compare the cost of driving your (or your parent’s) vehicle against the Volt/Prius, and answer questions about the supply, demand, and production of the Chevy 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 at the same time. 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 breaking. 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 cannot and are not meant to drive solely on electricity without gas in the vehicle, and the Nissan LEAF does not run on gas at all. 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.

Examine the above table and answer the following questions:

  1. Which vehicle is the most expensive?
  2. Which vehicle is the least expensive?
  3. What is the difference between the engines of all of these vehicles?
  4. Which vehicle does not have data for “Gas Fuel Economy”? Why?
  5. Which two vehicles do not have a “Miles Per Gallon Equivalent” Why?
  6. What does the “Battery Range” or the lack of one indicate about each vehicle?

Take note of the differences between these four vehicles. If needed, ask your teacher for help in interpreting this data. After you have compared the vehicles and processed the above questions, complete this Vehicle Comparison 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 don't 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.

  • How many miles would that equate to a day?
  • At this rate, how much gas would the Volt use a day? How about the Prius?

Most people do not drive the same amount each day so we know for this amount of miles or less, the Volt won’t 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 can not mimic a driving schedule since every driver is so 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?
  • At this rate, how much gas would the Volt use each day? How about the Prius?
  • What does all of this data tell you about the Chevy Volt in comparison with Toyota Prius?

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 than 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 one 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?

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)?
  • 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?
  • 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’ll factor this into each amount of miles used above.

  • At 33 miles, we said the Volt wouldn’t 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?

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?

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 is 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. Review the worksheet that you completed above. After seeing all of this information, would you change any of your answers? Why?


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. Proceed to the Assessment and Extension activities to check your understanding and to learn more about the production of the Chevy Volt.


Use this Assessment Activity Worksheet to record your answers.
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?

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 oppose to one that only uses gas, or is a hybrid.

Have the students use this cost comparison converter article to calculate the difference between your or your parent’s vehicle and the Nissan LEAF. If you or your parents have a LEAF, use a different vehicle. If needed, print out this article (and the following questions). You can obtain your 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.

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

6. What are the benefits of the Volt versus the other vehicles? List the benefits.


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).

greenRead this article and study the close-up of the EPA Fuel Economy and Environmental Comparisons . Also, 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.

Answer the following questions.

Video One

What is needed to make the electric car popular with car buyers, and how are GM people working on these things?

Will electric cars ever be popular and able to compete?

Video Two

Why does GM have great hopes and expectations for sales of the Chevy Volt in the USA?

In addition, answer these questions:

If 11% of the cost of cars is production, how much does the Volt cost to produce (use $40,280)?

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?

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)?