My Bittersweet Chevy Volt Moment

By · February 26, 2011

My first trip to the gas station in two months. The efficiency tally is 980 electric miles at 2.43 miles per/kWh, and 250 miles at 32.5 mpg.

February 22 marked two months since the December 2010 delivery of my Chevy Volt , number 24 off the assembly line. (See photos from the event.) Once this marvelous vehicle had reached 1,291 miles on the odometer—1,212 miles since I got it—I experienced what car owners all over the world endure far more often: for the first time, I had to visit a gas station. I found this a bittersweet experience.

Ron's Volt Efficiency />

Bitter because I finally had to do it—my dashboard informed me that gasoline range was down to 34 miles—and helping to fund the oil oligarchy in the process, though only to the tune of $30.61 or $184 a year. Sweet because I used so little gasoline, though I had it available to extend my electric range whenever necessary.

It took 7.7 gallons to fill the tank, an average of 157 mpg (plus electricity)—actually higher, since the tank was not full when I got the car! Because GM used a lot of gasoline testing my car in the 79 miles before I got it, my dashboard indicates “only” 137 lifetime mpg.

In charge-sustaining mode—when the battery is depleted—I have usually been getting 30 - 35 mpg. If we call it 32.5 mpg, it means I drove 250 miles on gasoline and 980 miles or 80% of the time on electricity. Though I haven't yet taken any long-distance trips, I have driven extensively around the San Francisco Bay area. My ChargePoint Driver Portal shows 401 kWh of electricity consumption. I used another 2 kWh charging elsewhere. My electric efficiency from the wall was therefore 411 watt-hours per mile, 2.43 mi/kWh, or 82 mpge (as the EPA calculates it). The overall efficiency was 63 MPGe.

I'm not complaining, but both gasoline and electric mileage are much lower than expected. I'm not sure why, but I’m hoping these figures will improve as the car gets loosened up and the weather gets warmer and drier. I have neither been hypermiling nor acting like a race-car driver. In fact, I've been driving similar to what used to get me 40 mpg in my Prius and 80-100+ mpg when driving it as a plug-in conversion.

Ron's Volt Efficiency />

I do know three things that have contributed to high electric consumption. First, with Bay Area temperatures between 30-70 degrees F, I've made moderate use of (electric) cabin heat and the Volt’s wonderful heated seats. Second, to minimize gasoline use, I’ve charged almost every time I’ve arrived back at home, even after just a few miles of driving. I’m sure such top-off charges are less efficient than full charges, because low charge rate and charge balancing inefficiencies occur mostly near end-of-charge. Third, I’ve seen noticeably higher fuel consumption during the frequent rain we've been having. This is hard to track as 80% of my miles have been electric, and the Volt gives its driver no electric power or energy information—a major oversight in my opinion.

We are initiating a new open-source project to equip my Volt with digital instrumentation that plugs into the vehicle’s service port to log, learn, and disseminate important unseen details about this groundbreaking and very complex vehicle’s operation, capabilities, and efficiencies in actual consumer hands. If you can provide any technology, information, or financing for this effort, please email info - at-


· Matt Stehouwer (not verified) · 7 years ago

Thanks for the post. I am driving Volt #974 and only gone two weeks on a tank. My mpg is 52 at this time. The drive from New York to Lansing Mi killed my mpg. Until Michigan State University allows charging on campus it will be hard to get my mpg over 100. Follow my car at

· · 7 years ago

Ron Gremban, Thanks for the interesting update.

I wonder if rainy weather really does impact mileage? I suppose it could through reduced traction efficiency or reduced aero efficiency for the car. Years ago some sailplane pilots would put detergent on their wings to prevent raindrops from beading up and interfering with the laminar flow. But it seems a bit much to assume that cars are aerodynamically efficient enough to have laminar flow.

It is true that cold air, especially cold dry air, is more dense than warm air. The least resistance would be in hot humid air (as pilots have to learn — longer takeoff runs). Living at high altitude I get much higher mileage than when I take my car down to sea level: fewer air molecules to push out of the way!

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

rain can add more drag for sure assuming it's not blowing in any direction. This can be rationalized through the drag equation:
1/2 (density of fluid) * (frontal area) * (velocity)^2

The density of fluid is mostly air but with rain it becomes higher.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

btw the drag equation also has a constant coefficient of drag which i forgot to mention.

· · 7 years ago

@Anonymous, Makes sense. Thanks for posting that.

· Steven (not verified) · 7 years ago

Anyone know if Nissan is working on some kind of hardware / software combination to do for the LEAF what CalCars is doing for the Volt? It would seem this is a natural as opposed to the contnuous stream of sheet music Nissan marketing has been sending out to the LEAF choir. My request is for a real-time Driving Coach like the Ford Focus Electric. But access to after-the-fact information would be better than nothing.

· · 7 years ago

I can tell you that driving my MINI-E in the rain will reduce my range a bit. Not drastically, but it will shave off a few miles of range, especially if I'm doing a lot of highway driving.
My amp hours used per 100 miles will go up a bit. I assume the tires having to pump the water out of the tread increases rolling resistance.

· Priusmaniac (not verified) · 7 years ago


the effect of rain on a car mpg is much more straight forward. Your wheels have to evacuate all the water that lies on front of them on the ground. This acts like a real pump. If you calculate the water volume from the tyre width and the speed and convert that to an energy you will come very close to the extra consumption you get in rainy weather.

· · 7 years ago

All good points. Thicker air and moving the water with the tires are the biggies. Something that was a surprise with the EV1 is that while most cars only have to move the water with the front two wheels (and the rears follow in the already cleared path) the narrower track of the rear wheels meant that the EV1 had to clear the water with all four wheels - making a bigger dent in the range when wet.

· · 7 years ago

@Steven "sheet music Nissan marketing has been sending out to the LEAF choir"

Thanks for your rude but ignorant remark. Nissan (Perry) told me they don't want to even participate in our Leaf forum. I guess that is what you mean by sheet music.

After my 2 days of driving Leaf (yes I got mine yesterday) - I think - the power & energy meters that Leaf now has is more than adequate to coach drivers.

BTW, "turboltr2" of the Leaf forum is developing extra information for Leaf.

· · 7 years ago

Thanks for the interesting feedback about rain. Other projects being considered are as follows. Please post if you are interested in the articles, and get in contact if you have the interest and resources to help turn one or more of the physical projects into a commercial venture.

  • A series of articles on understanding where the major energy loses in EVs, HEVs, and ICEVs occur and how they can be minimized to maximize fuel efficiency without having to hang back from or irritate other traffic.
  • A semi-dynamic bumper sticker that display's a Volt's lifetime mpg, to inspire other drivers to learn about EVs. It might say something like, "140 lifetime mpg as of 2/25/11" (to make it clear that it is not just a made-up number).
  • Instantaneous fuel economy gauges lie outrageously. They show infinite mileage during braking, when the most energy is wasted, and very low mileage during acceleration when gasoline engines are actually the most efficient. Of course, none show the reduction of loses when staying within regenerative braking limits. Using such a gauge to drive efficiently is like learning economics from a politician. I have partially coded an aftermarket fuel economy gauge that takes acceleration/deceleration and regenerative braking (when available) into account. Such a gauge could provide the accurate information to help ICEV, HEV, and EV drivers all drive more efficiently.
  • As has been discussed many times, the Volt, the LEAF, and other EVs as well, do not provide the basic information any informed EV driver would like to know, such as state-of-charge (SOC), instantaneous battery voltage and current or power, battery temperature, and consumption, e.g. in Watt-hours per mile, since full charge, and for the trip odometer. Auto manufacturers believe that drivers will not want to know these things, but many of us believe that it is not just EV enthusiasts that will want to know how their vehicles are using fuel. An aftermarket display to fill in these almost-universal gaps could be built once each manufacturer's software coding is discovered.
  • · Steven (not verified) · 7 years ago

    @EVNow - My "rude and ignorant" remarks were at least meant to be helpful to Nissan and the cause of electric vehicles. Except for protecting the thin skins of your contacts at Nissan (Marketing?), I can really see no purpose to yours. Take a look at Ron Gremban's comments for some more good ideas. Wouldn't it be great if Nissan, with its inherent access to all the necessary information about the LEAF could implement some or all of them instead of "afterrmarket" hackers? What is 'goodwill' worth in marketing?

    As for your future comments, I will try to continue to follow them to see if you have anything worthwhile to say. Anymore along the lines of those offered above however, will make that difficult or impossible.

    · · 7 years ago

    @Steven (not verified), "My request is for a real-time Driving Coach like the Ford Focus Electric".

    A driving coach? Really?? With the LEAF there's a gigantic display in the middle of the dash with bubbles which indicates kW currently being used or regen. You learn in like two nano seconds how to optimize your driving to keep those bubble low. If you need a driving coach for the Focus EV, then it's a non-starter.

    · Steven (not verified) · 7 years ago

    @indyflick - I don't have my LEAF yet - I will in April, apparently. However, from all the second-hand information I've seen, there is nothing like Ford's "Efficiency Coach" - see and click "Efficiency Coach". From everything I've been able to read - mainly on Plug-in Cars, the LEAF is still the way to go in spite of active thermal management for the battery, etc. Nissan had to get something out the door and if it didn't include the greatest 'user interface', so be it. (The LEAF does appear to have a beefier electric motor which suggests to us non-engineers it might last longer. This is a question?) But if Nissan can go back and include something that shouldn't really cost that much to develop - maybe even make a small profit selling it as an accessory -and doesn't do it, well... that in my opinion is a mistake.

    For that matter, apparently nobody has got it - the user interface - exactly right and opinions about what "exactly right" means may, as they say, "vary" forever. So maybe ALL the EV vendors should consider doing what CalCars is doing.

    · Michael (not verified) · 7 years ago

    "But it seems a bit much to assume that cars are aerodynamically efficient enough to have laminar flow."

    For the most part modern cars have laminar flow. If they didn't the coefficient of drag would be huge. You can also see this in wind tunnel tests sometimes shown on TV. On some cars you will see sharp edges at the rear corners of the car (new Prius and Volts are prime examples), which make a clean transition break of the laminar flow to turbulent to reduce drag.

    · Michael (not verified) · 7 years ago

    "With the LEAF there's a gigantic display in the middle of the dash with bubbles which indicates kW currently being used or regen." The car manufacturers have to get away from these cutesy displays of bubbles, trees, leaves, flowers, etc. if they ever want to have mass appeal. It's disgusting.

    · · 7 years ago

    @Steven (not verified) "Except for protecting the thin skins of your contacts at Nissan (Marketing?), I can really see no purpose to yours."

    The below is what you wrote. That is a direct insult to all Leaf owners and enthusiasts. With little real world knowledge to back that.

    "sheet music Nissan marketing has been sending out to the LEAF choir"

    What the heck does the above mean anyway, if not an accusation that all of us Leaf enthusiasts just blindly repeat what Nissan marketing says. If you think this is what we do you are obviously ignorant. Checkout the Leaf forum before insulting people you don't know.

    Infact you seem to be a Ford shill.

    · · 7 years ago

    @Ron "157 mpg (plus electricity)"

    I think it is deceptive to use mpg for these figures. Afterall electricity is not free.

    The plugin community needs to come up with a better terminology that conveys the usefulness of plugins in saving gas - and yet not being deceptive. We can't use MPGe - since EPA uses that differently.

    · · 7 years ago

    @Michael, I guess I should have been more specific, I was referring to laminar flow in the boundary layer. It takes a very smooth surface to support movement in the boundary layer, even in a fairly low viscosity fluid such as air. The upside is significantly decreased drag. The downside is that bugs or dirt — or raindrops — will impede the flow of the boundary layer in airfoils that are otherwise clean enough to allow it. And that increases drag significantly. Airfoils that aren't optimized to have laminar flow in the boundary layer are less affected by such things.

    My guess is that the aerodynamics of mass produced cars are not sufficiently optimized to have laminar flow in the boundary layer. Perhaps I'm wrong about that, as you suggest.

    Anyway, it does seem as if increased rolling resistance of tires and increased viscosity of air containing raindrops, could adequately explain lower mileage in rainy weather.

    · · 7 years ago

    EVNow, we at CalCars have struggled for years with how to clearly present the value of PHEVs without either overpromising by glossing over the complexities or letting those very complexities drown out the message. You're right, there is an economic and carbon cost to electricity, though on the average only 1/5 to 1/3 that of gasoline. The price of oil is of course rising and increasingly volatile, and its carbon content is rising too while that of electricity is decreasing.

    The bigger EV costs are upfront, for new technology, especially the batteries. Imagine what the metallurgy and machining in a modern engine would cost without its 100 years of mass production and development! And oil is highly subsidized, directly as well as especially by not charging suppliers for externalities like environmental effects and the economic and security costs of dependency on middle-east suppliers and Chinese loans to pay for a critical consumable. I've seen estimates of these unacknowledged subsidies and externalities of $7 to $17 per gallon, also making the $1/gallon equivalent for electricity look small in comparison.

    Despite a few issues, I actually like the new EPA fuel economy labels which show a little car driving along for X miles on electricity followed by Y miles on gasoline, plus projected yearly fuel cost numbers if driven only on electricity vs. only on gasoline (I'm not yet quite sure how this will work out for blended-mode PHEVs like the plug-in Prius which always require gasoline for full performance).

    The best we've been able to come up with so far includes the following:

  • To get people's attention, before going into details, we display "100+ mpg*", where * refers to "plus electricity".
  • Then we say, "A PHEV is like having an additional small fuel tank, filled at home with cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity, that can be used up before having to consume gasoline."
  • Also, the added cost of the battery is like a prepayment of most of your fuel costs.
  • I came up with a rule-of-thumb that a PHEV of any shape or size can displace 30-50 gallons of gasoline per year per kilowatt-hour of useful capacity. With electricity $2-3 per gallon cheaper than gasoline, this makes for a savings of $60-100 per year per useful-kWh of battery capacity.
  • · Jeff N (not verified) · 7 years ago

    Ron, you need a "hybrid driving" intervention... :-). You only got 40 mpg driving a gen 2 Prius in the SF Bay Area?

    I'm getting much better numbers driving my Volt during the past 2 months.
    On my previous gen 2 Prius I averaged 44-45. On my Volt, a get 45 miles of battery range on my daily commute driving mostly 50 mph on an expressway 9 miles each way with occasional manual seat heating in "fan only" climate mode at an outside temperature of 48F+ degrees. Toss in lunchtime, dinner and shopping excursions and I typically do 25-35 miles on a weekday. I also often do an 80-90 mile roundtrip drive to San Francisco from the South Bay on the weekend during which I average 39-42 mpg in hybrid mode going 63 mph on the freeway. On the colder nighttime return drive from SF, I use ECO climate mode at 74F using waste heat from the gas engine.

    Overall, I'm driving the same way I did in my Prius -- mild acceleration and gradual stops but not so much as to be annoying to anyone driving behind me and not drafting behind 18-wheel trucks or using more extreme hypermiling techniques. If the car is cold at night, I occasionally preheat it while connected to the grid but I'm still not used to this feature so I often forget.

    One thing I've been experimenting with is using Mountain Mode on my drives to SF to maximize use of the gas engine at freeway speeds where it is probably most efficiently operating. I switch back to normal mode when I exit the freeway and begin driving in the city (which is more fun too).

    I saw that you included an image of your OnStar monthly Volt report. I've included my own report's energy efficiency data below for last month. It shows 29 kWh per 100 miles vs. 42 kWh for you which works out to about 3.44 miles per kWh for my Volt.

    Interestingly, the electricity consumption number reported by OnStar appears to be actual "wall socket" power because it appears to be a close match to your own ChargePoint report and to my own WattsUp meter data (I charge at 110v, which is probably a bit less efficient in general than charging at 220v).

    Fuel Economy: 261 mpg

    Electric Consumption: 29 kW-hr/100 miles

    Electric Miles: 799

    Gas Miles: 159

    Total Miles: 957

    Percentage on Electric: 83 %

    Estimated Gallons of Fuel Saved: 33 gal

    Estimated CO2 Avoided: 653 lbs

    · Jeff N (not verified) · 7 years ago

    In case it wasn't clear from my previous post, driving in Mountain Mode when starting with a full battery charge just increases the minimum State of Charge before the Volt switches to hybrid mode. When I arrive in San Francisco and exit the freeway I switch back to Normal Mode which turns off the gas engine and reverts back to Full EV mode with about 16 miles worth of battery available for my city driving pleasure.

    · JeffU (not verified) · 7 years ago

    Volt # 349 here, I'm currently getting 283 MPG. I have just over 1800 miles on my Volt and haven't bought gas yet. I have about 2 gallons left in the tank. I got my car 01/11/2011. I am able to commute to work, 24 miles RT, and drive on weekends almost all the time on the battery. I was getting about 39 miles per charge on the battery but now with this cold snap here in Los Angeles I'm getting about 33 miles per charge. I think the air temperature has the biggest effect on range. Just like for all things, heating your house, etc. it seems to cost way more to live in a cold climate. I guarantee once it warms up Volt owners across the country will see much higher milage. I haven't gotten my electricity bill yet but I will post that when it comes. I use very few kilowatts at our house, no forced heating or air-conditioning, so I'm hoping that charging the Volt does not push me into too much of a higher tier rate. If it does I will explore other SCE rates for EVs, a TOU meter or solar.
    It's great to have a car that gives you all these options and allows you to use less or no gas.
    If the gas stations close I can still go to work. :)

    · · 7 years ago

    >> Afterall electricity is not free.

    Mine is! But that still doesn't mean that we shouldn't account for it.

    · · 7 years ago

    Great mileage and reports, both Jeff N and JeffU! Though two months before first visiting a gas station may outdo many, I already knew that others were getting better efficiency. 261 and 283 mpg are spectacular! The mountain mode trick sounds useful, too, Jeff N.

    I'm clearly using more cabin heat than either of you. Last night I cleverly instrumented my Volt with a clamp-on ammeter -- it was much easier than I imagined! I have already learned that the car uses around 3A (1 kW) to creep; cabin heat uses a minimum of 10-13A (4-5 kW); and seat heating is undetectable. I should have much more to report in the near future.

    (I can't figure out how to end a bulleted list here, so I'm putting this paragraph before it) EVNow: "I think it is deceptive to use mpg for these figures. After all electricity is not free." Another point of agreement: It is very difficult to get electric fuel economy info from the Volt. Part of my post was my contention that drivers need that info.

    My driving profile is somewhat different:

  • Southern Marin's landscape is different from that of most of the San Francisco Bay area in that trips are short but usually include freeway driving, and those freeways include more miles of (short) mountain-equivalent freeway grades than level stretches. Blended-mode PHEVs like my plug-in Prius, especially, blend in more gasoline on hills.
  • I work at home so most of my daily trips are errands averaging 3-5 miles per leg, quite inefficient for an ICE or even a hybrid (despite its coolant Thermos, the Prius uses an extra 1-2 miles' worth of gasoline for each cold start even at moderate ambient temperatures; watch the realtime fuel economy gauge for the first mile or two after a cold start).
  • Since I bought (and modified) my Prius to advocate for PHEVs, I tried to drive it as much like an ordinary non-efficiency-oriented driver as I could (I couldn't help using a few tricks), so that I could say, "Ordinary drivers can get these results (including 100+ mpg plus electricity from the PRIUS+ on surface streets) from plugging in." I am also perpetually in a hurry and keep up with most faster traffic.
  • · Michael (not verified) · 7 years ago


    You may want to check into this SCE rate plan, if you don't have a way of adding another meter for the Volt.

    Very interesting reports, Jeff N and JeffU! Keep us posted.

    · Seth (not verified) · 7 years ago

    Your bittersweet moment is at a gas station? It should be when you PLUG IN your car--and realize that, in this country, over 50% of electricity is generated by COAL, so it will be a disaster if electric cars become widespread. Reputable sources like MIT and Carnegie Mellon have done studies to demonstrate this result:

    Sci-American cited other studies last summer.

    · JeffU (not verified) · 7 years ago

    Yes we have to kick our coal addition too. But until we do.
    Coal power is much better than gasoline power for cars when it comes to pollution, our economy and our national interests at the very least. The electric grid can and will be cleaned up as more electric car hit the road. Much different from millions of tailpipes spewing out smog. It's easier to clean up or eliminate a few smokestacks than hundreds of millions of car tailpipes. Here in California we use 12% coal for electrical generation. 2% is generated in our state and the other 10% is bought from outside CA as needed. Solar installations are at a all time high now. CA and the Feds are incentivizing us to install solar and other renewable power sources to push us to get off of coal and other hydrocarbon fuels to generate electrical power. Not all states can benefit from solar and wind as much as we do. That's why we are redesigning the power grid so all Americans can enjoy the benefits of cheaper and cleaner electrical power. As far as "studies" go, you can cherry-pick the ones that back your argument but look carefully at who is behind them. There are many many more studies that back the truth of what is going on now with plugin car use. That is, we are in the middle of changing over from a dirty and unhealthy oil energy economy to a cleaner and cleanable electric powered transportation world. Humans will be healthier and wealthier if they are wise. :)
    Say no to gas. Drive electric and live free.

    · Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

    With that low of electric efficiency it looks like a loser for CO2 reduction if coal is used for electric generation and you compare it to a Prius.

    · · 7 years ago

    > it will be a disaster if electric cars become widespread <
    Just so we're clear... are you implying that our current wide-spread gasoline use is NOT a disaster? That depending on other countries for our economic health and really for our standard of living... is NOT a disaster?

    I wonder... are our homes disasters since they use this electricity? Our pools? Our AC units? Our TVs? and on and on. If using grid electricity is a disaster, it shouldn't be pinned on EVs. We didn't start burning coal to power EVs.

    >when you PLUG IN your car--and realize that, in this country, over 50% of electricity is generated by COAL<
    I plug my car in every day. And I realize that about half of our grid's electricity comes from coal. My power comes (for the house and the car) from the sun via my roof-mounted PV system. Where does yours come from?

    · Ernie (not verified) · 7 years ago


    >> Afterall electricity is not free.

    > Mine is! But that still doesn't mean that we shouldn't account for it.

    Hehe. No, *your* electricity isn't free either. Take the cost of the powerplant, divide by the number of kilowatt-hours you'll get over its lifetime, and then you get cost per kilowatt-hour.

    Just like they do for hydro power here in British Columbia. Just because the water is free, doesn't mean the powerplant was. :) And just so you know, I'm still paying less per KW/h than you are. But even then, you're paying way less than you would be for gasoline.

    · · 7 years ago

    >> Hehe. No, *your* electricity isn't free either. Take the cost of the powerplant, divide by the number of kilowatt-hours you'll get over its lifetime, and then you get cost per kilowatt-hour. <<

    I like my way of doing the math better! But we'll start with yours. I get about 4c per (clean) kWh. That's 100's of thousands of kWh's that produce no pollution, mind you. Do I get any financial credit for NOT creating pollution? Of course we never count environmental or health damage costs. That's too complicated. Ok, ok. So 4c/kWh your way.

    Here's my way:
    I took out a loan to install my PV eight years ago. My monthly payment of interest and principal on that loan was LESS than the cost of the grid electricity that I was replacing. This means that the moment I filled the switch to ON, I was saving/making money with my PV system. The loan has long-since been paid off. So several years of paying less for my electricity followed by paying nothing for it. The way my math figures it, my power is now free. That makes me happier.

    > And just so you know, I'm still paying less per KW/h than you are. <
    So how is it you're paying less than I am, when I'm currently paying nothing?

    · · 7 years ago

    New info: I divided a trip home last night from SFO into 4 segments by repeatedly resetting my trip odometer. First was 2 miles of remaining electric range, followed by 6 on Interstate 280 during which I got only 25 mpg, then 7 miles on nearly empty San Francisco surface streets (it was 1 am!), and finally 10 miles at over 60 mph on Highway 1, including Waldo Grade and another large hill, to home. On each of the two final segments, I got over 41 mpg driving normally, nearly what I might have expected from my Prius in charge-sustaining mode!

    Since this trip, as opposed to the 30 mpg one from Oakland airport, was in moderate dry weather, and engine warm-up was complete before the high mileage segments, which leads me to believe that rain and engine warm-up each take a significant toll on a post-EV fuel efficiency that may otherwise come close to giving the 2004-9 Prius competition. This is actually quite good for a car weighing 20% more, with a first vs. second generation propulsion system incorporating a significantly less sophisticated gasoline engine. That Prius, for example, already had a more efficient Atkinson/Miller (vs. Otto) cycle engine with an offset crankshaft and a reservoir that keeps its coolant hot for 3 days, thereby reducing cold start fuel waste and emissions.

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