Edmunds Makes Worst-Case Assumptions in Chevy Volt Assessment

By · March 13, 2011

Plugging Chevy Volt

Edmunds.com posted efficiency and cost-per-mile numbers on the Chevy Volt, but didn't charge the car as much as they could have.

Note from Brad Berman, PluginCars.com Editor: The volume of exciting electric car news is accelerating. Some of the headlines are very encouraging, but other stories—getting just as much play—are not much more than EV buzz for buzz sake. So, I asked Chelsea to help us sort out the wheat from the chaff by pointing out a handful of stories that deserve some attention. Take it away, Chelsea...

1

Edmunds.com posted an update on their Volt efficiency experiences and there are some flaws—some worse than others. Those flaws produced results suggesting that the Toyota Prius and Ford Fusion Hybrid are cheaper than the Volt on a cost-per-mile basis.

Their low-end mileage numbers are the worst I've seen so far in SoCal, which leads me to wonder if they were achieved while testing the governor. But "your mileage may vary" is a cliché for a reason, so I don't mind the variation so much as I'd have liked to see them detail the conditions under which those figures were achieved. The percentage of EV miles has a big impact, and is lower than most Volt drivers will experience. It reflects their actual driving patterns, but it seems someone's got a longer than average commute, which would have been appropriate to point out. They also specifically didn't charge the vehicle as much as they might have—some with longer-than-average commutes might be happier in a pure EV or a hybrid (depending on the specific commute), but others would simply charge at both home and the office, as a few of my fellow Volt Customer Advisory Board members did.

But the most problematic aspect is the assumptions in electricity costs. The national average numbers are high—most of the industry assumes a 10-11cents/kWh average—but the biggest issue is a CA-specific one: while each major utility in this state has one or more EV rates, almost none of the journalists evaluating these plug-in cars are going to be using it. This means that their electricity costs are inherently going to be artificially high, and not representative of what those who actually lease or buy cars can expect.

It's not the car's fault that the journalist consumes enough electricity in his home to automatically be on a higher-cost tiered rate—and therefore the electricity that the vehicle consumes will be billed at that higher rate, but that's how it reads in this evaluation. I spent a month on the same rate that they're using with the Volt I was testing, and paid a fraction of what they did because my home usage was lower to begin with. But I still recognized that an EV rate would be even better; I couldn't get the lowest cost option, but switched to one in the middle.

Obviously it doesn't make sense for these guys to switch when they only have the car for some number of days, but the recent rash of stories about high electricity rates in California for EVs is based largely in the lack of acknowledgment that the journalists' charging costs are not the norm.

All of these things boil down to one core point—and it's the same basic problem that made the recent Consumer Reports piece about the Volt such a wreck. It's not fair to take one pessimistic (or optimistic) experience and suggest that it's what everyone should expect, let alone condemn the vehicle or technology based on that one experience as Consumer Reports did. It's also especially true when someone's only using the car for a couple of days at a time or when it's clear that driving patterns differ from the expected mainstream driver, as with Edmunds. It's not that these experiences aren't valid or shouldn't be published. They absolutely should. But they should be accompanied by enough details that a reader can easily determine how his usage and costs might differ.

2

Fisker has made a series of, um..."ambitious" statements this week, on the heels of giving its first test-drives to select press outlets. First, there was the announcement of a Karma variant coming to Frankfurt. Then came news that the company wants to deliver 7,000 vehicles in 2011, even though the date for first deliveries has now quietly slipped to summer? Seven-thousand vehicles is not far off from how many LEAFs Nissan is likely to deliver in the U.S. this year, and nearly 50 percent more than the total Tesla Model S volume that Tesla is aiming at in the same timeframe next year.

Finally, Fisker has assessed their space needs in the old Wilmington Saturn plant that will be used to build their next model, the Nina. Having decided that they will only need a fraction of the total space, Fisker wants to build cars for other automakers. But after running nearly two years late and more than 20 percent over initial price targets, I can't help but think they need to focus on doing what they've said they would before announcing anything more. And I continue to find it strangely curious that Tesla has received a media beating on some of these same fronts, but Fisker remains relatively un-questioned by the press. It’s one of several double standards in the industry these days.

3

Truth is stranger than fiction: Renault's already bizarre espionage story is now looking like a hoax, and the COO may take the fall for letting the company get caught up in it.

4

BYD's mired in some suspicion of their own as allegations of product plagiarism come via none other than Wikileaks. For many, this isn't a huge surprise coming from a Chinese automaker, but in combination with abysmal sales and sketchy product quality, it doesn't inspire confidence around BYD— or Chinese vehicles, for that matter—in the U.S. market. And that Daimler admits to knowing about all of this when they made the choice to partner says a lot about how desperate they are too, when it comes to being in the EV space.

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"My two cents" this week are a few steps outside my usual posting wheelhouse, but as folks who work and advocate in this field, sometimes we need a reminder about the human aspect of our efforts. That's been particularly apparent to me lately.

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