There’s been a lot of virtual ooo-ing and ahh-ing about the Chevrolet Volt today after Chevy’s announcement that it is expected to get the equivalent of 230 miles per gallon, under current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mileage-estimation procedures.
While there’s no doubt that 230 mpg is a vast improvement over our current situation, there are several points to consider that may your temper enthusiasm for the Volt.
The first is its pricetag: $40,000. The second is its range: 32 to 40 miles without a charge. (But bear in mind that, at least according to Chevy, at 40 miles the Volt could transport more than three-fourths of America’s daily commuters without using a single drop of gas. Impressive!)
Cupla relevant points:
The Volt reinforces something I’ve been saying for a while: When it comes to how Americans get around, it’s probably going to be a lot more efficient to invent super-high-mileage personal cars than to persuade a large majority of Americans to use mass transit. Face it, we’re car-centric. If we’re going to head off climate catastrophe, seems like we need a technological solution, not a sociological one. And, hey, this is coming from a guy who rode the bus *and* Amtrak yesterday — and hasn’t had a commute longer than 4 miles in almost two decades.
The Volt doesn’t erase transportation’s carbon footprint, just reduces it a lot. Strictly on a gasoline-used basis, it probably gets us into the neighborhood of the 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases scientists say we should hit to put the brakes on climate change. But the Volt, you recall, is powered primarily by electricity. Much of our electricity comes from coal, which is a disaster from a climate change standpoint. The Volt should be viewed as a step along a path to a car that’s run by entirely sustainable energy. Think solar, wind — you know, truly sustainable longterm energy sources.
With the Cash for Clunkers debacle fresh on our minds, think about this: If you’re a person who wants to control his carbon footprint, it might be better to just keep driving whatever you are in now than to buy a new Volt when it comes out next year. Recall that every one of those Cash for Clunkers trade-ins is going on the scrap heap. As my economics professors could tell you, that pinches supply in the secondary market, which means that ultimately, the policy increases the greenhouse-gas-intensive production of new automobiles. (The program is great at helping the auto industry — but it doesn’t do much to control climate change, as the AP’s Seth Borenstein pointed out.) As for purchasing the Volt, let me suggest that a right-thinking person who’s getting decent mileage now should just keep driving her paid-for vehicle. Remember that a huge share of the carbon footprint of any car is caused by its original manufacture. Take my situation: I’m driving a 19-year-old two-seater Honday CRX. It’s has 139,000 miles (and a few dents — but hey, it’s not about how a car looks, remember?) It’s still getting something like 28 or 30 mpg in mostly-city driving. It would take me a long time driving the Volt to erase both the carbon footprint of dumping the CRX plus the carbon footprint of manufacturing the Volt. (For more on a corollary of that point, this one dealing with the Volt from the perspective of breaking even on gas costs, see Daniel Indiviglio’s figurin’ for The Atlantic.)
Finally, be aware that Chevy’s announcement is based on EPA methodology about which even Chevy’s page is careful to spell out the caveats. There’s some speculation that EPA may never put an actual mpg figure on the Volt because comparing vehicles mostly fueled by electricity to those fueled in whole or in some significant amount by gasoline — traditional cars and the hybrids on the market now — doesn’t make sense.
Update 8/12 5:20 p.m.: Early reports were that at least the Cash for Clunkers program was a success in that the No. 1 seller was the Ford Focus, a sipper of gasoline. Not so, says the car-sales specialist edmunds.com. It was instead an SUV, the Ford Escape, U.S. News and World Report says.
I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.
Thanks very much, Bruce. I really appreciate your comment. Keep in mind that InvestigateWest is looking for help from the public. Please send story or blog ideas. Consider becoming a member. We’re counting on help from folks interested in the environment, public health and social justice issues in the West.