Joe Nocera on the Chevy Volt

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Joe Nocera, op-ed columnist at The New York Times, discusses the right's reaction to the Chevy Volt-.


Joe Nocera

Comments [40]

KNS from NJ

The following URL leads to an analysis comparing the cost of energy (gas plus electric) for the Volt, the Plugin Prius and the standard Prius over various distances between battery charges. This might help to answer previously posted questions. However, it does not include all possible differences in cost of ownership such as recommended oil change intervals (2 years or 40,000 miles for the Volt) expected brake life (nearly all braking for the Volt is electric rather than by means of friction brakes), etc.


Apr. 13 2012 01:55 PM
david from Tucson

Interesting Questions Not Asked (Maybe next time?)

1. How do the gasoline powered car and the electrically powered car compare in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions? In other words, what are the greenhouse gas emissions of each in, say, transporting you 100 miles?

2. When you go home at night and the battery of your electrically powered car is almost discharged, how do you recharge it? Is the recharging basically the same as what I do to recharge my cell phone? If I pay a $100 a month electric bill each month before I buy a Volt, by how much does my electric bill go up after I buy a Volt? Assume I have to recharge the car every night.

3.Why does the Right hate the car? What's the motivation? This was the point of Joe's article, yes? Brian, next time try to focus on the point of the article ok?

Apr. 12 2012 11:20 PM
KNS from KNS

There is a great deal of misinformation on the net and elsewhere regarding cars with electric propulsion motors, including hybrid cars and plug-in electric cars. Myths about electric cars include: that it takes a very long time to recover their initial cost; that electric cars are more polluting than cars powered by other forms of energy; and that they are slow and underpowered.

A movie recently released on DVD and On Demand has the objective of addressing those myths. The trailer can be seen at the following url: Also on that page are links to the movie's pages on iTunes, Amazon, BestBuy, WalMart, etc.

Apr. 12 2012 02:58 PM
KNS from NJ

Responding to a posted question: My 2012 Volt is nearing 3000 miles on the odometer. The car reports consuming 13.1 gallons of gas and my Level 2 battery charger reports cumulative electrical consumption of 875 KW-HRs. Including the cost of electricity I am getting the cost equivalent about 65 MPG.

Responding to several other posts: Whenever the gas engine runs, the Volt's computer attempts to operate the engine in a range of speed and load that provides optimum efficiency. The computer does not usually move the car by directly connecting the gas engine to the mechanical drive train, but under certain conditions of battery charge, speed and hill climbing, it is able to do so.

An excellent source of information about the Volt posted by owners and enthusiasts is An excellent source of information about electric cars in general is


Apr. 12 2012 02:21 PM
David from Westchester

We have owned a Volt for over a year now. It is a wonderful car and drives far better in electric mode than any internal combustion driven car. Driving a Volt makes conventional cars seem like a relic of the past. Plus we are averaging 103 mpg after about 14,000 miles, which is not bad at all considering the usage includes commutes into NYC from Westchester where a fair bit of the trip home needs to be in gasoline mode because I cannot find reasonable and convenient charging stations in the city, near my workplace.

While pricier than conventional cars, I am willing to make an investment in our future, and to encourage future price reductions. Leading edge technology is always a bit more expensive but drops when scaled. If you doubt that, remeber the price of DVD players and plasma TVs when they first came out and now they are cheap fungible commodities. This is not about being trendy, but self-interest for all of us in the long term.

Apr. 12 2012 11:54 AM
carl, queens, n.y.

nerafious should be nefarious...

Apr. 12 2012 11:08 AM
carl, queens, n.y.

brian, joe misspoke when he said the reason g.m.'s first electic vehicle, the ev-1, failed was because nobody bought it... the car was never for sale, lease only... the folks in ca., who were leasing the car were dying to purchase the car... g.m. refused to sell them.. the ev-1 was killed for nerafious reasons...

Apr. 12 2012 11:03 AM
Julian from Manhattan

Thank you for your clarification, Roger. I just read your review. Just so you know you are not error-free either (who is?), regenerative braking does not generate electricity by using the heat from the brake shoes, but by using the electric motors as generators during braking cycles. This has long been used in railway technology, another reason we should really be talking about improving mass transit rather than getting our hopes up with short-term gimmicks such as plug-in cars. The plug in aspect is costly, as you state in your review, and would require an incredible infrastructure investment in urban areas, where much of the inefficient traffic-jam commuting occurs.

Apr. 12 2012 10:59 AM
Roger Witherspoon from Cortlandt Manor

Nocera was wrong about the operation of the Volt. It cannot, and does not ever run on gasoline. I reviewed the Volt for my column, Shifting Gears ( ) and the small gas engine is only capable of keeping the Volt's battery charged so it can power the car. Toyota's Plug-in hybrid is different. It runs on battery for up to 13 miles, then reverts to a standard hybrid with the gas engine taking over at speeds over 25 MPH. That is not the system used in the Volt.

Apr. 12 2012 10:34 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Linda

You bring up another good reason why the automobile industry is not really pushing electrics too hard. They know that an electric could probably go for 20 years or more with little or no maintenence! Maybe forever! That's not good for industry whose business model was seeing consumers change cars every 5 years or so! Between the oil and auto industries, the electic car will just be crawling along with a small base of believers, but the rest of the sheep will keep on bleating and buying gas burners for many decades to come.

Apr. 12 2012 10:34 AM
ron sanecki from keyport nj

a few engineering points:
i am a retired engineer from bell labs, nj
the volt will be my next car
though not a democrat, i do vote against republicans, sorry to divert...
why the volt?
battery technology will evolve to cost effective quality
the volt can be retrofitted with new battery technology
the gas backup system is like a spare tire for the car, it gets you to the fix
keeping a car for many years is very green
nuff said
cheers, ron

Apr. 12 2012 10:30 AM

If I wanted a video game experience - I'd buy another PlayStation - probably less costly.

Seriously, what is the price of a Volt, and if you know, for comparison sake, what is the price of a Nissan Leaf, and a Toyota Prius? (Please don't include any available governmental tax gimmicks acquired by the purchase of one of these vehicles.)

Apr. 12 2012 10:30 AM
John A.

People are asking 'so, how much does the electricity cost?'
There was a segment on PBS NewsHour that had a lighter model coming at $3/100 miles. This car is heavier, plus, electricity here is higher.

The car was the defunct Think of Elkhart, Indiana

Apr. 12 2012 10:29 AM
Linda Glasgal from Rockleigh, NJ

We have had a Volt for over a year and have not yet had to take it in for service. As the car has relatively few moving parts, the need for servicing is minimized. We used 9 gallons of gas last year.

We are considering replacing our ten-year-old car with another electric car.
There doesn't seem to be any model coming with 4-wheel drive, however.


Apr. 12 2012 10:28 AM
John A.

People are asking 'so, how much does the electricity cost?'
There was a segment on PBS NewsHour that had a lighter model coming at $3/40 miles. This car is heavier, plus, electricity here is higher.

Apr. 12 2012 10:25 AM
carlianschwartz from Paterson, New Jersey

The Chevy Volt (and its cousin the Opel Ampera) represent a renewal of some sound old thinking. Back in the day when steam turbines could not be reliably geared down to spin ships' propellers efficiently, someone came up with the idea of using the turbine to generate electricity, which would drive big, torquey electric motors WITHOUT a transmission or gears. This worked extremely well, first on American liners such as Matson Lines's "Lurline" (between the West Coast and Hawaii in the 1920s onwards) and culminating with the magnificent French Blue Riband winner, the "Normandie."

This uses the same thinking for regenerating power for full-electric operation, without the weight of a conventional transmission or CVT for driving the wheels, with peace of mind as the battery runs down. For electric-only cars, the range is still within the ranges displayed by old wet-battery cars in the 1910s.

The mileage is far better than what I get on my Highlander Hybrid, which I think was a big step forward for me from my previous cars.

Work to be done on the Volt--more efficient heating which uses less battery power, and improved steering.

As a political football for the GOP--let them get real, or let them admit that they might as well be working against the welfare of this country and the vast majority of its population.

Apr. 12 2012 10:25 AM

Gasoline is at $4/g while world oil hovers near $100/bbl. In 2008, oil was at $140+/bbl before gas hit $4/g.

The consumer (not the President) holds the key to cutting gas by targeted demand reductions. Reduce all non-essential driving immediately and we'll get back below $3/g by Memorial Day.

Apr. 12 2012 10:24 AM

My god this segment was a new low point. Brian invites friend to plug a car that he does not own, takes random shots multiple right-wing political targets -- yet never talks about the merits of the car.

Apr. 12 2012 10:23 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The oil industry has so brainwashed the US consumer so thoroughly, more so than any religious institution such as the Church, to believe so deeply in BLACK GOO! They sell their black goo to a brainwashed public who go to their pumps like good Catholics go to Mass. The American people worship at the gasoline pump, and it's hard to break a religion based on lost of roar and smoke! :)

Apr. 12 2012 10:22 AM
Janet Hollander

My sister and brotherinlaw in Florida own a Volt, a Mercedes and a Jaguar. The Volt is what they drive and love all the time.

Apr. 12 2012 10:22 AM

How much does the electricity to charge the battery cost per mile, compared to the cost of the gaoline?

Apr. 12 2012 10:21 AM
Susan from Chatham NJ

I've had my Prius for eight years and still love it. The video game part of it never gets old; the screen showing electric/gas usage and mpg is always up and has changed my driving habits completely. I used to be a lead footed driver, doing regularly 80 mph. Now in order to keep the mileage up, I have slowed down to more like 65 on the highway, and on local rural roads, keeping it under 42 can use only the electric engine for many miles, registering as 100 mpg for that period.

I will never buy a conventional all-gas car again.

Apr. 12 2012 10:21 AM
John A.

I would take a car like this if it were marketed as a sports car, with manual transmission. As it is, I can get 40 mpg all day long with my non-hybrid. A Stripped down e-Chevy with manual and set at $25K? Heaven.

Apr. 12 2012 10:21 AM
Julian from Manhattan

Two problems: if it really is run-flat and recharge, the battery life will probably be less than a hybrid, because battery life decreases when discharge/ recharge cycles are frequent, especially if there is any pause before recharge begins (eg. you drive home and forget to plug it in). And, as one commenter has already stated, anytime you plug in, you're drawing from the electric grid, which is mainly powered by dirty coal. Clean diesel-engined cars, and even diesel-hybrids, are a much better solution in the near term, but are strangely ignored in the U.S., where diesel prices have also risen out of proportion in the last few years. The diesel engine is inherently more efficient than gas - that's one reason you don't see gas 18-wheelers. Hydrogen-fueled cars, a technology which exists today, are an even better solution if the price comes down.

Apr. 12 2012 10:20 AM
Joel from Brooklyn

Assuming electric cars "take off" in popularity, can you speak to the environmental impact of all of the battery disposal? Is the disposal of these batteries any different than our 'regular' car batteries?

Apr. 12 2012 10:19 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The incredible efficiency of the electric motor OVER the gasoline or other internal combustion engines is so much greater that the effective "miles per gallon" equivalent for electric cars is 4 or 5 times greater. So electric cars are so efficient users of energy that they would beat any competition in most miles per unit of energy.

Apr. 12 2012 10:19 AM
Molly from nyc

How is the Volt different from the Prius?

Apr. 12 2012 10:17 AM

oh so you drive it like it's a video game...why didn't you say so

Apr. 12 2012 10:17 AM
Matt G from Brooklyn

How are urban car owners who park on the street charging a car battery? And I’d love to hear an answer to Lauren T’s question.

Apr. 12 2012 10:16 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The only thing holding back the electric car is the oil industry, and nothing else. The battery is not the problem> They can be switched at a "Better Place" installation in a matter of minutes. Only the oil companies are what hold back the electric car. Only a war in the Middle East that stop the flow of oil will make the electric car truly accepted, when gasoline prices go seriously through the roof as they are in Europe and in ISrael. Under $4 a gallon, the electic car will still not be an option for most people.

Apr. 12 2012 10:16 AM
Eric from Manhattan

Lets talk about how the auto/gas industry "killed" the "EV1"-- all electric vehicle. (General Motors).

Apr. 12 2012 10:15 AM
Cody from Long island

I love the idea of the Volt but the thing no one talks about is how much it costs in electric to charge it. I'm curious to hear about that.

Apr. 12 2012 10:15 AM
john from office

This says so much of the status of our politics. This car is innovation at its best and the Republicans , Mr. Romney, are laughing at it. Shameful.

Apr. 12 2012 10:14 AM

Please! Stop talking about Obama, Romney, and Koch brothers. Please talk about the economics of buying and operating the car.

Apr. 12 2012 10:13 AM
Jeff Park Slope

I am unable to listen, but if Volts are so good, why the need for the huge subsidy per car, especially when the few people that have purchased this are high-income people? How can that be justified?
Using electricity to power a car is terribly inefficient since coal or gas needs to be converted to electricity before it can be used to power the car and at every point that energy is converted from one form to another, energy is lost (unless the source of the electricity is nuclear, since it doesn't go through an extra transformation). Horribly expensive, terribly inefficient, not very useful (short trips only) and subsidizes the wealthy. What a great government solution!

Apr. 12 2012 10:12 AM
Peter C from Paramus

Maybe I'm wrong but I was under the impression that the Volt doesn't actually run on its gas engine when the battery is low but that the gas engine recharges the battery so that it continues to run on electricity.

Apr. 12 2012 10:12 AM

So what happens to the gas that sits in your tank for months that doesn't get used?..Old gas is not a good thing. We never shoulda bailed on GM (or any other automaker that has run a successful business into the ground). You are making it a political issue.

Apr. 12 2012 10:11 AM
Lauren T from Brooklyn, NY

Please ask about the amount of electricity needed to fully charge the Volt, and what the carbon impact is, assuming that most of the electricity is generated by a coal-burning plant.

Apr. 12 2012 10:11 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The oil industry will try to keep gasoline prices just high enough to make large profits, but also just low enough so as to not encourage the electric car industry. They know better than anyone, that the electric car would liquidate most of the oil industry if they really caught on.

Apr. 12 2012 10:11 AM

Yes, I'm posting before the segment...

Please ask Mr. Nocera to offer an apples to apples comparison of operating costs. Over the life of the car, how much will is cost to buy and operate versus, say a Ford Focus or a Toyota Prius? And please offer a similar comparison for highway vs. city and short vs. long trips.

Electricity cost money (and is often generated by fossil fuels) so claiming 200 MPG for 10 mile trips is misleading and not helpful.

Apr. 12 2012 10:06 AM

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