Why Doesn't GM Build a Diet Chevy Volt?


Without a doubt the biggest knock against the Volt isn’t its limited electric range or its so-so fuel efficiency, but the $41,000 price tag. Yet GM has the ability to make a much cheaper Volt. So what’re they waiting for?

GM doesn’t make a dime off of every Volt they sell, having invested a large amount of money into the extended-range electric vehicle. While these costs will be spread out as the Voltec technology makes its way into other vehicles, right now the $41,000 Volt ($33,500 with the Federal Tax Credit) simply costs too much money for many people. Much of that cost comes from the large 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack in the Volt’s floorboard, and GM estimates that the cost-per-kWh for the battery is around $500-600 per kWh. That means the battery alone makes up between $8,000 and $10,000 of the Volt’s $41,000 price tag.

But what if they offered a cheaper Volt with a smaller battery pack? Think of it like a Diet Volt. Obviously the all-electric range would take a hit, but you’d also be shaving off a couple of hundred pounds off of the Volt’s curb weight. If I may present a hypothetical case, what if GM offered a cheaper Volt with say, a 8 kWh battery? You could shave $4,000 to $5,000 off of the Volt’s MSRP, and now the Volt has a starting price just a couple of grand more than the Nissan Leaf (lets say $36,000.)

Apply the Federal Tax Credit of $2,500 plus $417 per kWh after 5 kWh for a total tax credit of about $4,200 and the price is now around $32,000. If you live in California (where 40% of Volts have been sold to-date) you get another $5,000 tax credit, bringing the price down to around $25,000, or just a few grand more than a fully loaded Chevrolet Cruze Eco. Plus you’ve still got an all-electric range of 12-25 miles (better than the upcoming Prius Plug-In) and after that, a regular hybrid that is still capable of between 33 and 36 mpg. The Volt has suddenly become affordable, practical, and much more economically viable.

This is probably what GM should have done in the first place, but its not too late to implement a plan for just such a car.

Would $25,000 Chevy Volt with half the EV range be more appealing than the current model?

Edited because the Federal Tax Credit is based on battery size; an 8 kWh Volt would only get around $4,200 from the tax credit rather than the maximum amount of $7,500. So a smaller battery might not actually make sense.

Source: Hybrid Car Blog

Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.
  • If you halved the size of the battery then the volt wouldn’t qualify for some of the tax credit. No total sum gain

    • You don’t suppose the government tailored that tax credit to the competitive requirements of Government Motors, do you?

      Naah, that’s crazy talk!

  • I think (could be wrong) that the gov’t incentives are partly based on battery size, so a diet Volt wouldn’t qualify, and end up being (to the customer) actually more expensive.

    • @ Jo and Anny

      You’re both right. Slipped my mind. The Qualified Plug-In Electric Drive Motor Vehicle Tax Credit has a base amount of $2,500 for 4 kWh and another $417 for every kWh after that. So a Chevy Volt with an 8 kWh battery would still qualify for about a $4,100 tax credit, a sizable chunk but not the full $7,500. My bad.

  • ziv

    If you halved the battery size, a whole lot of crappy stuff would happen. First of all, the Volt uses 10.4 kWh of the 16 kwh pack, so we are already using 66% of the pack. If they cut the pack size in half they wouldn’t have an AER of 12.5 to 25 miles, it would be even less than that. Plus, the pack wouldn’t last as long and the Volt would have much slower acceleration. Finally, the tax credit would go from $7500 to $3750. So you save $3500 by cutting the pack size from 16 to 9 kWh, but you lose a huge amount of the appeal of the Volt while throwing away a potential credit of $3750. Lose functionality, get less life expectancy for the pack and get a shorter range, while losing money in the deal. That sounds like a lose, lose, lose, lose proposition.
    But if the pack and the rest of the Volt gets lighter by 2013, I COULD see them dropping the pack from 16 kWh to 15 kWh while still keeping the 25 to 50 mile AER they have now.

    • Aj

      @ziv, you couldn’t be more right about this. And I think creating a smaller EV-hybrid by chopping things off a bigger one is a really bad idea. Starting small and increasing the efficiency would be a better approach in my opinion. And I guess they are already on a right path with spark EV (http://www.worldcarfans.com/110010723863/chevrolet-spark-ev-unveiled-in-new-delhi) so basically instead off chopping things off Volt just add a smaller gas power generator to the spark EV. Don’t know if that would work?!

    • @ ziv

      All very valid points, and I suppose there is a reason why GM did it the way they did.

      Still, I’d personally rather have a more limited EV range and a lot lower price, and that is what I was trying to get at.

      • Ziv

        My first thought when I read your comment, Christopher, was that the plugin Prius would fit that bill to a T. Then I realized Toyota had said that the PIP will probably cost $5k more than a Prius, while not saying which model. If it is $5k more than the Prius IV it would cost $30k which isn’t much less than a Volt costs now with tax credit. And if Toyo meant $5k more than the Prius V (American not the wagon) then the Volt and the PIP are pretty much the same price, being just $1k apart.

  • reading is a good skill……..the volt battery pack is locked down to 40 miles on electric…reason: so the battery last 10 yrs or 100k miles….gm does not want to have to pay to replace the battery pack.In reality if the car was unlocked .the volt can go 120 miles on the battery pack…and that is really the way to go….insure the pack….

  • JEM

    The Volt has weaknesses but it does no good to compare it against the Leaf.

    The Leaf is proving to be a misjudgment on Nissan’s part, they cheaped out on the battery to keep the price down but the resulting useful range just isn’t going to sell the car no matter what the price.

    My theory of EV range: there’s a point around 120 miles of real-world range where you’ll have a reasonably-sized buyer base. For every 20 miles you lose off that number, you halve your potential buyer base. So a Leaf with a 65-mile real-world range has a very small market indeed.

    • I have been driving a Leaf for two weeks, having leased it for 39 months.

      Other than the reduced performance right when we got it because outside temperatures were in the 20’s, this has been a perfectly clean transportation alternative to drive around Seattle and outer areas.

      We have driven to and from work 5 miles , to and from school 12.5 miles away and across town to socialize with friends — all on the same charge.

      And how does $25,000 for a car equate to 2.5x? Since when?

      That does not take into account the cost of fuel or service. We have gone 400 miles or so in two weeks and we figure that we done that on $7.50 as we are getting 3.2 miles per kWh. Pricing conservatively on 6 cents per kWh here in Seattle where it can also drop to 4 cents, that costs $7.50.

      The Leaf should have minimal maintenance costs until such time that the battery needs replacing. At that point where it needs to happen, battery costs will be reduced and performance will be improved.

      In 1908, 28% of all cars produced in the U.S. were electric. Nay-sayers are, in my opinion, Ameri-CAN’T’s. I am an Ameri-CAN. I just hate ignorance in all its forms.

      • Ziv

        Bucky, you are on track to drive right around 10,000 miles a year if you have driven 400 in 2 weeks, so you are a perfect candidate for the Leaf. Anyone who is using primarily electricity generated by hydro and nuclear, like you are, is doing a heck of a lot for America’s economy and for our environment.
        I drive a bit more and having just 70 or 80 miles AER probably won’t work for me until there are quite a few fast chargers out in the wild, or better yet, at work. The Volt would fit what I need much better, and I think if Chevy gets the price down to anywhere close to the Leaf GM will have a huge hit.
        But for people that don’t drive more than 50 or 60 miles that often there is no doubt that the Leaf is a heck of a green choice. I have to admit I would like the Leaf a lot more if it had a bit over 100 miles AER, but that will be available within a few years.

    • JEM, I think you may be misjudging the Leaf.
      The Volt is bad as a PEV because it has has a large heavy gasoline motor that must be accelerated and lugged all over town all the time. It is areal dead weight on battery range and performance. You surely know that you only need around 10 HP to cruise at highway speeds. That oversized motor does not even double reliability. That big motor can’t drive the vehicle over a sufficent range of conditions to get you home if the electric (battery) drive portion fails.

      The Leaf has no perfomance or purchase price penalties for a fuel burner. The mass produced battery is the real cornerstone of the leaf. I just hope it ida good car as well. I’m sure They sized it satisfy the largest number of consumers in it’s market niche. (I think the Leaf battery is air cooled, and best suited for temperate zones.) However, every consumer has individual needs. For some, the Leaf may need just a little more range. In that case the owner could hould have it modified, say by deleting the ability to carry one passenger and adding another 150 Lbs. of batteries. This should be done by a reputable certified business and provide warranties, etc. Another consumer may have bimodal needs; the standard rane for everyday use around town, but with monthly or weekend long distance trips. He might be thinking he needs that dreadful Volt beast, but he just needs a small trailer with an electrical generator, etc. You could not practicaly run a drive shaft from the trailer, but you could run power cables. Again, you would want this professionaly made to suit your needs, and you would have to pay for it, but you not have to tow the range extending trailer all around town when you don’t need it.

  • Why not just leave off the electric part completely and save even more?

    In 1911, a Detroit Electric got 100 miles to a charge and cost 2 1/2 times as much as a gas car.

    In 1996, a GE EV1 got 100 miles to a charge and cost 2 1/2 times as much as a gas car.

    In 2011, a Nissan Leaf gets 100 miles to a charge and costs 2 1/2 times as much as a gas car.

    Progress comes slowly to electric cars.

    • JEM

      I’d be very surprised if a 1911 Detroit Electric got 100 miles on a charge.

      The EV1 pushed the technological envelope, and was expensive to build and limited in utility, but it has yet to be matched for real-world performance.

      The Leaf’s got four real seats, and its price is considerably lower than the EV1, but Nissan trimmed things too far – the Leaf’s real-world range is nowhere near 100 miles.

      • A quick search on the net shows the Detroit Electric was advertised as having a range of 80 miles per charge but often went much further.

      • “For an additional $600.00 an Edison nickel-iron battery was available from 1911 to 1916. The cars were advertised as reliably getting 80 miles between battery recharging, although in one test a Detroit Electric ran 211.3 miles on a single charge.”


        • The electric cars of 1911 also didn’t have: airbags, crumple zones, radios, air conditioning, power seats, power windows, etc.

          The Detroit Electric is listed here on wikipedia:

          It also had a 20mph top speed. It probably didn’t have a heater. The windows are swivels, not rolling.

          So the system didn’t have as much to do, and therefore didn’t weigh as much. (The rolling brick shape didn’t help the aerodynamics much, though…)

          • ziv

            At 18 or 19 mph, I don’t think the CdA was really much of a concern. This whole ‘If they could make a go cart go 200 miles with a battery in 1908, we should be able to make a modern 2 ton car do as well!’ schtick makes me laugh. A car built today is an amazing mechanism. It is an order of magnitude more complex than even a car built in 1972. What Nissan and GM have done with the Leaf and the Volt is truly amazing. There is a reason no one else has cars like them, they are incredible engineering accomplishments.
            I am so happy that this time the price of oil is going up that we have real choices that either eliminate or reduce drastically the amount of oil we can use in our daily lives. Buying domestically produced electricity instead of foreign oil looks like a win-win to me.

  • Why no ICE section on this site ? How much do you really love Hemi’s in that case ? fraud …

  • Why Doesn’t GM Build a Diet Chevy Volt?

    UAW. Duh. Gotta feed the hogs.

  • Subsidies are subject to govt whim, so perhaps GM played it safe with the more capable though more expensive car.

    For economic reasons I think the subsidies are a terrible idea in the first place. For hybrids/EVs, and for the corn ethanol monstrosity.

    The one damned actually useful thing that Congress *won’t* do in this regard is go with Bob Zubrin’s idea of requiring all new vehicles to be flex-fuel capable — and not just for gas-ethanol mixes up to E85, but with a few changes allowing for *methanol*, which is much easier to get from coal than synthesized ‘gasoline’ or ethanol. In this way the base for a broad ready-made market is created which makes it easier for entrepreneurs to work on all sorts of possible options knowing lots of potential customers exist. It is NOT about the govt picking a winner (corn, coal,algal, cellulosic) but rather creating a huge range of varying substitutes (in the economic sense). With a bunch of these alt sources in play, then *fuel* prices will have much less volatility since the supply is no longer constrained when oil bottlenecks form time to time.

  • ken

    How about stripping all the gas components, engine etc. Would an electric only Volt get a 100 mile range?

    • Ziv

      The Volt uses 10.4 kWh of a 16 kWh battery pack to get 25-50 miles AER, with drivers usually finding that they get 35-40 miles in weather that is above freezing. If GM stripped out all the ICE components they would reduce the weight of the Volt around 300 pounds. If they used 14 of the 16 kWh (about the most they could safely use) they would get around 53.8 to 61.5 miles all electric range, plus a bit more in town where the lighter weight would give you a slight advantage. The battery would die sooner, you couldn’t go on any roadtrips and it could leave dead on the side of the road like a Leaf, plus the improvement in AER is marginal so it looks like GM made the right call.
      If you want to take the Volt’s raison d’etre out of the car, maybe you would be better off with a Leaf?

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  • Ok, but taken to it’s limit, why not just rename the Chevy Cruise Eco the 2012 Volt/2 and provide a $20,000 rebate off the $40,000 price tag. 46 mpg is pretty decent for $20,000 and it appears internally and externally to be a Chevy Volt with 1/2 the motive force removed.

    • Funny. 🙂

      However, I believe you meant 42 mpg (instead of 46), although, I have no doubt that in the hands of the right driver a Cruze Eco could easily get 46 and even close in on 50 mpg.

  • Why don’t the marketers for electric cars recognize a very real niche. I will never have a electric for a primary car. I very much would like a one person electric to get me to work and back. I need 20 real miles per day including a defroster and ability to handle some snow.
    This greatly reduces the size, weight, and range needed to something that might actually work. I would cut my gas usage in half by only using my regular car for long trips and family outings. Four seat electric cars are a joke with current batteries.

    • But then when you factor in added insurance for an extra car, added maintenance, added storage (not necessarily a cost in dollars, but an inconvenience for many people), lost investment opportunity (i.e. the money that is tied up in the “extra” car), loan interest (if the “extra” car is mortgaged), it’s just better to have one car that does it all.

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  • ed

    Why doesn’t GM buy Tata Motors EV’s and sell them in the USA?

  • Should do a co-marketing retro campaign with Coca-Cola:

    Just for the zip of it, Diet Volt!

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