Planet Gore

Which Chevy Would You Buy?

Car expert Barack Obama says batteries are the future.

But with over a decade on the market, hybrids are a niche vehicle with a proven market share at between 2 and 4 percent, depending on gas prices. The next wave of green cars — plug-in electrics — are likely to occupy an even smaller niche, given their high price and complexity of operation.

Take the Chevy Volt.

After years of hype and initial, limited test runs for car reviewers closely monitored by GM flaks, the Volt is finally in the hands of everyday drivers, including car critics. Autoweek’s Rob Gritzinger, for example, put Chevy’s handsome new plug-in through the paces in a recent test, driving the length of the state of Michigan.

Grtizinger found that GM’s highly touted range of 40 miles on battery power alone came up short. In normal driving conditions on county roads and interstates, he writes, the car “will fall on the short end of the 25-to-40-mile scale” before the gas engine takes over for the exhausted batteries. The transition is smooth – Autoweek praises the car’s craftsmanship — but it reinforces the fact that owners will need to both charge the Volt and keep it fully gassed in order to get around. That’s high maintenance for a device that most consumers treat as a household appliance.

What’s more, in gas-electric mode, Autoweek found the Volt’s max range is just 330 miles — less than a similarly sized, fuel-efficient, gas-only car. Take the Chevy Cruze Eco, for example, which is built on the same platform as the Volt but gets 440 miles on a tank of gas.

Why? Because the Cruze has a 12.6 gallon tank compared to the 9.3 gallon of the Volt (batteries take up a lot of space) and still gets 35 mpg. “We posted 36.5 mpg (with the 26 electric-only miles included),” writes Autoweek of the Volt.

What’s more, the Cruze seats five whereas the Volt seats only four due to the sizable battery pack down the middle of the car. The Cruze otherwise looks similar, and stickers for half — that’s half– the price of the Volt ($20k base vs. $41k).

In other words, the Volt — “a pricey science experiment” says Autoweek – makes sense to a wealthy niche of metro drivers that only use a car for limited inner-city commuting. Or for those who want to make an eco-statement about their lifestyle. That’s a niche that covers Obama’s Hyde Park Chicago neighbors.

Gas-power rules. Proof? The Volt’s Cruze stable-mate.

Henry Payne — Henry Payne is the auto critic for the Detroit News.

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