Why The Chevy Volt Doesn’t Qualify for California $5,000 Rebate

· · 8 years ago

The biggest potential stumbling block for mainstream consumer acceptance of plug-in cars is likely to be cost. Generally speaking, electric cars and plug-in hybrids will cost thousands of dollars more than similar conventional vehicles. That’s why the federal government is offering a $7,500 tax credit, and states like California are offering a $5,000 rebate for the most robust electric cars. Governments pony up the money in order to promote low emissions and greater efficiency.

Unfortunately, the Chevy Volt—one of the star plug-in cars—will not receive the coveted $5,000 California rebate because the vehicle does not qualify as an Advanced Technology-Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV). A number of conventional hybrids, like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid, have qualified as AT-PZEVs for years. The Nissan LEAF is a pure zero-missions vehicle, and will therefore be designated as a ZEV.

The lack of a $5,000 rebate will put the Volt at a cost disadvantage compared to the Nissan LEAF, which will indeed qualify for the $5,000 California rebate. The net result could mean that the Chevy Volt has a net price $10,000 or more than the LEAF.

Other plug-in hybrids could face the same hurdle in getting qualified as AT-PZEVs by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). As a result, the conventional Toyota Prius ironically might be designated as an AT-PZEV, but not the plug-in version due out in 2012.

I plan to speak with CARB officials as soon as possible, but for now, I’ll speculate about the two reasons why the Chevy Volt fails the CARB requirements.

How Could This Be? Two Possible Reasons

This week, G.M. announced that the warranty all of the Volt’s electric-drive and battery components for 8 years or 100,000 miles. However, CARB requires that the emissions equipment of AT-PZEVs have a warranty of 10 years or 150,000 miles. If the Volt’s battery pack, for example, is considered part of the emissions control system, then G.M. would need to warranty the pack for 10 years or 150,000 miles, which apparently the company is not willing to do. That’s probably the right business decision. The legal and financial responsibility would be steep to ensure that the Volt’s expensive 16-kilowatt hour lithium ion battery pack will be fully functioning—or replaced/repaired if it isn’t—all the way to 2020. That would show an unreasonable amount of risk, confidence and guts. So, the Volt in essence does not meet CARB’s durability requirement.

The second reason relates to the use of catalytic converters to ensure emissions are always low. Through the use of catalysts, emissions for gas-powered cars (including conventional hybrids) can be routinely controlled to be extremely low. In a pure gas car, the engine comes on, the catalyst is warmed up, and the emissions are kept to minimum. In a conventional hybrid, the engine comes on routinely enough to ensure the catalyst is warm and functioning. But what if the engine stays off and is cold for long periods of time, and is then called into service—maybe once or maybe multiple times during the vehicle’s drive cycle? The emissions could therefore be harder to control.

A Challenge to Plug-in Hybrids

From a fundamental technical perspective, the Volt is not a pure zero-emissions electric car because it has a gas engine. Even if most trips are less than 40 miles and therefore purely electric, CARB has to know that the emissions from the gas engine—when it eventually comes on—can meet state guidelines for air quality. For other plug-in hybrids, like the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, Fisker Karma, or Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid—all of which are likely to call upon the gas engine much more frequently than the Chevy Volt—the issue is even more critical. (Theoretically, at some point in the future, G.M. engineers could also decide to improve overall efficiency by using gas power in various stages of the drive cycle.) So, the Volt gets a second strike for not having an absolute fail-safe emissions system.

I’m just making an educated guess about what CARB is thinking. I’m not agreeing with the decision. At this point, we don’t know if these reasons are accurate and valid—or if the Volt simply got caught up in some technocratic web. The reasons matter less than the hard reality that the 2011 Volt has lost its $5,000 California rebate, which many hopeful plug-in buyers expected to be there.


· Mike Hall (not verified) · 8 years ago

What if I bought an extended warrantee to cover the difference between what GM offers and what CARB wants? Such a warrantee would be less than $5,000.

· · 8 years ago

CARB hires people to get them out of paying up. And they are doing a good job... they just saved CA a lot of money. It doesn't matter if it makes sense .. it doesn't matter that the VOLT will have the best gas mileage by far of any car on the road. They found a loophole and are getting out of paying.

· Charles Whalen (not verified) · 8 years ago

Sorry for all my EV friends in California and condolences to them on this, but I guess in the category of “one person’s misfortune is another’s fortune”, this should end up being good news for those of us in other states who want to purchase a Volt ASAP, as it should reduce some of the demand pressure from California, which likely would have otherwise sucked up most of the first year’s limited production. So this should hopefully free up some slack and availability in the rest of the country, ... even though in my own case it still means that I’ll have to travel a thousand miles to purchase my Volt (or two) in DC, as I’m planning to do. This gives me some hope that I should be able to do so sooner rather than -- (what were, up until reading this, my fears of likely) -- being put off and stalled by big backlogs of excess demand over supply and long waiting lists.

The years of intense (tropical) heat exposure have taken their toll on my two RAV4-EV battery packs, which are now severely degraded. My wife and I are babying these limping RAV4-EVs as best we can, hoping they can hold out until we can purchase a pair of Volts to replace them, but I doubt they’ll hold up more than another year before giving up the ghost. If I can’t get these Volts soon, I’ll probably re-up for another round on these RAV4-EVs by shipping them out to California to get reconditioned battery packs, which should buy us another 5 years of time. But that would most likely mean no early Volt purchase. I would prefer the former -- to trade out of these RAV4-EVs for a pair of Volts (or possibly one Volt and one Leaf, depending on Nissan’s battery pack warranty on the Leaf) and am ready to make the move to the new and better technology, [especially the much better and vastly superior liquid-cooled battery thermal management system technology (which is so critically important and necessary in a hot climate) of the Volt over that in the RAV4-EV, ... which, however, despite being suboptimal, is, or at least *was*, nevertheless still very impressive considering its mid-90s design and engineering that has held up as long as it has and gone the distance it has, surpassing all expectations]. Hopefully this news today will make it more likely that I’ll be able to do so in what is a time-critical situation for us with the squeeze play that we find ourselves in.

· · 8 years ago

Great information, Brad.

I'm trying to figure out the logic of the cold start situation though. Seems to me that the Volt - if it ever does start the ICE - will only have one cold start situation per drive. Just like the AT-PZEV Prius. When the Volt fires the ICE it is because the battery is discharged and is now in charge sustain mode - meaning that the vast majority of go-power comes from the ICE. Just like the AT-PZEV Prius. It seems to me that once in charge sustain mode, that the ICE of the Volt will start and stop pretty much similar to how the Prius does it - because at that stage the Volt only has a small amount of battery buffer left (like the Prius always only has).

Anyway... that's how it appears from the cheap seats. Until the Volt is actually released and we see how it functions we're all just guessing. And I certainly don't know all the fine details of AT-PZEV certification. The only thing we know for sure is that this situation is pathetic - the idea that the current Prius qualifies and that a PHEV Prius wouldn't is what really nails that message home.

My fear is that these new cars will be designed to be more polluting, more expensive to operate and less efficient - all in order to garner the AT-PZEV rating and the CA $5,000. Because we all know that the price of things is THE most important consideration. :(

- Darell

· · 8 years ago

Charles, how much will the reconditioned battery packs cost for the Rav4? I'm assuming they are NiMH, correct? Who offers the reconditioned packs, Toyota or an aftermarket company?

· Charles Whalen (not verified) · 8 years ago

Tom -- Around $15-20k. Yes, reconditioned 8-10 year old Panasonic EV Energy EV-95 95Ah NiMH batteries, same as the original stock batteries in the RAV4-EV. An aftermarket company, Battery MD in Sacramento, that has an exclusive contract with Toyota to provide this service.

Although I would prefer to the upgrade to the new generation EV technology of the Volt, I do really like these RAV4-EVs well enough that I'm willing (and really won't have much choice but) to re-ante and pony up for another 5 years in these RAVs with reconditioned battery packs if I'm not able to procure a Volt or two in about the next 8-9 months. My wife and I love these RAV4-EVs; they are great cars, and there won't be anything even remotely comparable to them on the market (such as the Tesla-Toyota collaboration on a potential reincarnation of the RAV4-EV, which may or may not ever happen, commercially, in production volumes) for at least another 3 years. So as I said, re-upping on these RAV4-EVs would buy us another 5 years. There's also just the comfort factor in the RAV4-EV being the devil I know, in that I know the car and its idiosyncrasies inside out, including its few (and thankfully, VERY few) deficiencies, especially (for me, here in a hot climate) its suboptimal battery thermal management system. (Otherwise, it's quite a bulletproof and very durable and reliable EV.) If I have to invest another $15-20k each in these two cars to get another 5+ years out of them, I will take more pains this next time around to compensate for the car's single biggest deficiency, that of the suboptimal thermal management system, by dropping the battery pack and rotating the batteries once a year. Doing so might well get me another 7-10 years out of a reconditioned battery pack, rather than just 5. But having to do that would be somewhat of a hassle and chore that isn't required with the much better liquid-cooled, water-chilled, thermal management system in the Volt. Hence, if I have a choice and can actually purchase a Volt in the next 8-9 months, that would be my preferred choice and what I will do.

· · 8 years ago

Since writing this post, I discovered more information about the CARB requirements and rebate. The biggest thing I misunderstood is that plug-in hybrid rebates max out at $3,000--while pure EVs can qualify for $5,000. So, when regulating emissions, CARB sees the Volt has an engine and is therefore a plug-in hybrid.

It's also interesting to note that the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, according to CARB's executive order on the vehicle, does qualify as an AT-PZEV. Toyota has not yet applied to qualify for the California rebate, but if they meet the 36 month lease period stipulation, they would qualify for the funding. See the Prius PHEV executive order here:

There's more about the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project here:

You can find requirements and funding amounts for the different vehicle technologies. Again, note that plug in hybrids only qualify for $3,000. Specific areas to pay attention to are:

Section 2.3.2 of the manual references certification:
"...vehicle model must be certified by ARB as a new, zero-emission or plug-in hybrid vehicle as defined in the California ZEV Regulation, section 1962(d)(5)(A), Title 13, CCR for 2003-2008 model year vehicles and section 1962.1(d)(5)(A), Title 13, CCR for 2009 and subsequent model years."

Section 2.3.3 specifically stipulates certification requirements:
"2.3.3 Performance, emissions, and service thresholds:
* PHEVs must meet the Enhanced AT-PZEV definition as defined in the California ZEV Regulation section 1962.1(i), Title 13, CCR, including the SULEV, evaporative emissions, onboard diagnostics, extended warranty, and zero emission Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and advanced componentry PZEV allowance standards as defined in section 1962.1(c)."

Section 2.5 identifies the rebate amount:

Table 2: Clean Vehicle Rebate Project Maximum Rebate Amounts
Light-Duty Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle $3,000

ARB will establish a rebate amount for each eligible vehicle model equal to either 10 percent of the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) or 50 percent of the incremental difference in cost between the eligible vehicle and a comparable internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle, whichever is greater, up to the maximum rebate amount for that vehicle type listed in Table 2.

· TomW (not verified) · 8 years ago

Are we sure Volt won't carry the 10 year - 150K mile warranty in California? Many other hybrids attain AT-PZEV status by having a 10-150 warranty in California but only a 8 year-80K warranty in some other states.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 8 years ago

Who cares?
There is just enough funding to process at most the first 1500 rebate application which will be mostly taken by the leaf.
Since the Volt will be sold later there will be nothing left in the rebate program, so it really doesn't matter if CARB approves the VOLT or not.

· Folsomev (not verified) · 7 years ago

Agree with "who cares"...

It's not as if all Volt buyers were going to get the $5000 California rebate. It was going to be a very dicey proposition, given the very limited funding available. Now, at least, we know that we're not going to get that rebate, and can plan accordingly.

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