Prius Plug-in Hybrid Comparison with Chevrolet Volt

Prius Plug-in Hybrid Comparison with Chevrolet Volt

Prius PHV - John Addison Plugs InBy John Addison (7/6/12)


Toyota, the hybrid car leader, is challenging General Motors, the plug-in hybrid car leader. I have driven both the Chevrolet Volt and the Prius Plug-in through a similar mix of freeway, city stop-go, steep ascents and descents, and windy roads along the ocean. Both cars have been a pleasure to drive, whether silently gliding in EV mode, accelerating on to a highway, or navigating turns in the road. But one car gives most drivers more value for the money.

Both cars are stylish hatchbacks with 40/60-split back seats that can drop so that you can haul lots of stuff. The Prius Plug-in Hybrid vehicle (PHV) is a roomier and seats 5. The Volt seats 4. Both cars can fit someone who is at least 6-foot 4-inches in either front or back seats. Both save at the pump by letting you charge with either standard 110v outlets, or by installing a 220v Level 2 charger.

The Prius Plug-in only has a 15-mile electric range in comparison to the Chevrolet Volt’s 35-mile electric range. Prius PHV drivers are mostly fuel with gasoline. Chevrolet Volt drivers are mostly fueling with electricity. All-electric cars like the Nissan LEAF only fuel with electricity.

Many owners of Prius PHV and Chevy Volts do not bother to install a Level 2 charger in their garage.  Both cars can fully charge at night, adding about 4 miles of electric range for each hour of trickle charge. Both can easily use the thousands of public chargers installed across the USA.

Like hybrids, each of these cars uses both electric motors and an internal combustion engine. Unlike hybrids, these cars can use garage or public chargers to put energy into their lithium battery packs. The automotive engineers took different approaches to the two drive systems. The Prius Plug-in Hybrid uses an internal computer chip to decide when to engage the motor, the engine, or both. With enough charge, the driver can touch the EV button and only use the electric motor.

Chevrolet Volt Test DriveGM calls the Volt an extended range electric vehicle. The electric motor is always used to propel the vehicle; the engine is normally used in a series configuration to act as a generator. GM now admits that at times the motor and engine work together. I have always referred to the Volt as a plug-in hybrid.

Because they are plug-in hybrids, with a full tank of gas, range is over 400 miles. No need for range anxiety, just fill-up the tank and go.

The Prius PHV starts at $32,000; the Volt at $39,145. Add delivery and handling to both. By a Prius PHV and get $2,500 back on your next Federal Tax return; buy the Volt and get $7,500 back.

At first glance, the Prius Plug-in cost about $7,500 less than the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid with a 35-mile electric range in comparison to the Prius PHV’s 15-mile. After federal tax credits, the difference narrows to less than $2,500. After 2 to 4 years, the cost difference disappears with the Chevy’s extended EV range saving that $2,500 at the pump.

Toyota Prius Plug-in Electric Member of Prius Family

This new 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in (PHV) looks just like the classic Prius Liftback except for the electric charge port covered above the left rear wheel. When I touch Start the useful LED displays light and I’m ready to drive. The car’s default driving mode is ECO for fuel economy. At any time while driving, three buttons on the dash allow convenient driving mode selection – EV, ECO, and Power. I touch EV, step lightly on the accelerator and glide away.

In EV mode, the Prius PHV is only propelled by one of two electric motors. One motor is for propulsion, the other for electricity generation. This Prius PHV is quieter than a Liftback, but unlike the Nissan LEAF, I hear the gasoline engine, which can sometimes idle even in EV mode.  When not driving in EV mode, the Prius PHV delivers about the same fuel economy as the Prius Liftback. The Prius PHV averages 49 mpg in ECO hybrid mode and is rated at 87 mpg overall.

The Prius PHV drive system is based on the proven Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive well in its hybrids for over a dozen years. The full series-parallel hybrid drive system uses imbedded computer chips to automatically engage, as needed the 80-horse power (60 kW) electric motor and/or the 1.8L 98-horsepower (73 kW) gasoline engine. The Chevrolet Volt only needs a 1.4L engine to act as a generator.

Managing the engagement of electric motors and engine is a Hybrid Transaxle, which combines power split planetary gear set ring with speed reduction planetary gear set ring. The car gets great mileage because energy is captured, whenever possible, from braking and energy resistance. On a long downhill, you can shift into “B” for added regen.

The Prius PHV includes a 4.4 kW lithium-battery pack compared with 16 kW for the Volt. The smaller battery only qualifies the Prius PHV for a $2,500 federal tax credit; the Volt $7,500. These plug-in hybrids may be eligible for added incentives from your employer or from your state. In California, where most plug-in vehicles have been sold, both vehicles qualify for the HOV White Sticker, giving solo drivers access to the diamond lane at rush hour. Toyota Prius Plug-in Review and Specifications

Test Drive and Second Opinion

Toyota Prius PHVI asked my friend to join me for a test drive. John had a Prius for seven years before giving it to his daughter when he bought his Chevrolet Volt. I had a Prius for seven years before giving it to charity when we bought our Nissan LEAF. Both John and I were Prius enthusiasts and now we are electric car enthusiasts.

For the test drive, Toyota loaned me a Prius PHV Advanced with a price of  $39,525. For some $7,000 more than the base Prius PHV it included a Premium HDD Navigation with Entune, plug-in hybrid apps, LED headlamps with auto level control, Safety Connect, dynamic radar cruise control, head up display (HUD), and pre-collision system. A Chevrolet Volt with similar options would not cost any more than the Prius PHV after the Federal Tax credit.

After driving 11.8 miles in EV mode, the Prius PHV battery seamlessly engaged the 1.8L engine with the lithium battery too depleted to continue in EV mode. We continued the drive in ECO mode with the Prius PHV delivering the kind of good mileage you would expect from a Prius. It was easy to pass other cars on a freeway ascent. On a steep decent, I shifted to “B” capturing extra regen energy by using the motor as a generator. The Volt also has “B” for extra regen. My LEAF does not.

The Prius PHV handled well on the turns over the ocean cliffs. We stopped for lunch at a Taco Bell perfectly located on the Pacific Ocean. After lunch, I put the Prius in POWER mode for fast acceleration on to Coast Highway. Like the Volt, the Prius has fast acceleration using the electric motor.

Over 33.5 miles, we had traveled freeway, windy roads, and city stop-go traffic averaging 24 miles per hour. The Prius PHV achieved 59 mpg including the EV mode. A Volt would have likely completed the journey purely in electric mode. Both cars have EPA ratings of 95 mpg. Chevrolet Volt Owners Actual Experiences

We both liked the Prius Plug-in. The trunk area has room for John’s golf clubs; with the Volt the 40-split back seat must be dropped to fit them. The Prius seats 5; the Volt 4. Some people have more confidence in the Toyota brand.

But if you’re going to buy a plug-in, the Volt meets average American driver needs in electric-mode and the Prius does not. The Volt’s $2,500 after tax premium is likely to pay for itself in gasoline saved. We like both cars, but John’s keeping his Chevrolet Volt and I’m keeping my Nissan LEAF.

Your Best Choice for a Hybrid or Electric Car

If you love the Prius, you now have a choice of four different cars:

  • Prius Liftback – Midsized interior, 50 mpg, starts at $23,500
  • Prius v – Crossover SUV, 42 mpg, starts at $26,400
  • Prius C – smaller hatchback, best hybrid mpg, starts at $19,000
  • Prius PHV – Midsized interior, 87 mpg, starts at $32,000

Prius PHV will be the best if you want a plug-in hybrid from Toyota. Its starting price is $8,500 more than the best-selling Prius Liftback. The gap narrows to $6,000 after a federal tax credit. Your employer or state may give you added incentives to get the plug-in. The Prius PHV includes a touch-screen navigation system with backup camera and other features, which would be optional extras on the base Prius Liftback. If you get stuck in nasty rush-hour commutes an HOV sticker can have real value. Electric charging is cheap; gasoline fill-ups are expensive. The Prius PHV might pay for itself in a few years compared to the Liftback.

Chevrolet Volt is tough competition for the Prius PHV. The Prius Plug-in cost about $7,500 less than the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid with a 35-mile electric range in comparison to the Prius PHV’s 15-mile. After federal tax credits, the difference narrows to only $2,500. The Prius PHV seats five, the Volt only four. I have been impressed test-driving both. They are both worth your taking a test drive.

Ford C-MAX Plug-in Hybrid. Later this year, Ford will start selling a five-door, five seat plug-in hybrid hatchback with more room inside than either the Volt or the Prius PHV.  The Ford C-MAX Plug-in is expected to have a 30 mile electric range versus the Prius PHV’s 15. Ford has not yet announced pricing. Ford is also selling the Focus Electric with 100-mile pure electric range.

Nissan LEAF is the best selling electric car. My experience as an owner is that this all-electric has an electric range of up to 140 miles on 30 mph streets, but only 60 miles when cruising the freeway while running your air conditioner. My wife and I share the LEAF and also have a hybrid which we use a couple of days weekly and on long-trips. By itself, the LEAF with its limited range would only meet 80 percent of our needs, but with two cars range has never been a problem in over one year. It cost us $40 monthly in electricity to run the LEAF, the cost of one fill-up at a gas station.

Toyota will have no trouble selling the 15,000 Prius PHV planned for initial production. The 2012 Prius PHV will be an appealing alternative to many who first consider the less expensive Prius Liftback. With only a 15-mile electric range the PHV will not be for everyone. Toyota Motor Corporation is now offering customers a wide-range of choices including the Toyota RAV4 EV, the Scion IQ EV, a family of four Prii, the Camry hybrid, the Highlander 4WD hybrid, five Lexus hybrids, and a growing range of fuel economy offerings for most drivers.


Chevrolet Volt and Opel Ampera voted European Car of the Year 2012

Chevrolet Volt and Opel Ampera voted European Car of the Year 2012

Volt and Ampera Car of YearBy John Addison (3/6/12)


The Opel Ampera and the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid cars won the European Car of the Year 2012 award voted by a panel of 59 judges from 23 European nations. The Ampera/Volt 330 points against the Volkswagen Up with 281 and Ford Focus with 256. The Volt and Ampera share the same drive system. The Ampera is tailored to the European market. The plug-in hybrids outscored pure battery-electric cars and fuel-efficient turbo diesels.

The award comes as GM and Peugoeot form an alliance targeting 2016 to build common vehicle platforms, components, and global purchasing JV that could save GM $2 billion annually. The alliance and GM electric vehicle leadership could help GM defend its number one global market leadership over Toyota and VW.

Pictured, Opel/Vauxhall CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke and Chevrolet President and Managing Director for Europe Susan Docherty received the award from Car of the Year panel Hakan Matson at the Geneva International Motor Show.

The Ampera and the Volt emerged as the joint overall winner in a field of seven finalists. Initially, 35 recently launched vehicles entered the contest. The selection criteria applied by the judges were based on attributes such as design, comfort, performance, innovative technologies, and efficiency.

Chevy VOLTThe Volt and the Ampera have won many international awards including the “World Green Car of the Year 2011” and the “North American Car of the Year 2011” award. Volt and Ampera also received the maximum 5-star Euro NCAP award.

The Ampera and the Volt can go anywhere anytime. A 16 kWh lithium ion battery powers the 111kW/150 hp electric motor. Depending on the style of driving and road conditions, distance of between 40 and 80 kilometers can be covered in the purely battery-operated mode, completely free of emissions. The wheels of the car are always powered electrically. In extended-range mode, which activates whenever the battery has reached its minimum state of charge, the gasoline engine drives a generator that supplies the electric drive unit. The range extender enables an operating radius of 500 kilometers.

General Motors to Make 65,000 Electric Cars in 2012

The success of the Volt and Ampera has encouraged GM to target making 65,000 electric vehicles in 2012, also including the Cadillac ELR and Chevrolet Spark EV. Originally, most production was scheduled for the U.S. But Volt sales have been below target in the U.S. where subsidized petroleum puts gas prices at half of many European countries. Most GM electric car sales may be to other countries.

Cadillac ELRThe new Cadillac ELR will combine electric car driving with elegant styling and a luxury interior.  The Cadillac ELR will use the electric drive system of the popular Chevrolet Volt. Cadillac drivers will now be able to drive 40 miles on an electric charge from home, work, or charge stations, then go hundreds of added miles when the gasoline engine is engaged. Like the Volt, the Cadillac ELR is a plug-in hybrid with an efficient gasoline engine that normally acts as an electric generator, but at some speeds blends power with the electric motor.

When I took the Volt on a long drive down California’s Pacific Coast Highway, the handling was smooth. The Volt hugged the road through sharp turns. In the hills, the 150-hp electric motor easily climbed steep grades. The existing Volt electric motor and 1.4L gasoline engine could handle the added weight expected for the Cadillac ELR, but GM may decide on a slightly larger engine and/or motor.


GM also admits to working on 32 different vehicles with electric drive systems.  Not all will be commercialized. Some models will be selected over others. GM will build on the success of the Volt and Ampera, which share its Voltec drive system and lithium batteries.

The Volt and Ampera use GM battery packs containing the LG Chem manganese spinel li-polymer prismatic battery cells. The Cadillac ELR, however, may use A123 nanophosphate lithium ion cells in a new pack. A123 is supplying the batteries for the late-to-market Fisker plug-in hybrids. A123’s finances are vulnerable with Fisker delays.

Next year, you may get the chance to test drive the Cadillac of electric cars. Many won’t wait. The Volt is stylish, well appointed, and has the best OnStar app ever offered. The new Tesla Model S will offer luxury electric car buyers beautiful styling, roomy interior, and up to 300 miles of electric range. The Cadillac ELR is likely to gain the enthusiastic following now enjoyed by the Volt and build on GM’s proven electric car success.

Chevrolet Volt owners love their new cars. Jackson Browne told me that he has only used 8 gallons of gasoline during the 2,000 miles that he has driven his Chevrolet Volt. Jackson is famous as a singer, songwriter, and inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve interviewed many Chevrolet Volt owners who love their electric cars.

Early Owners Love Their Chevrolet Volts

Early Owners Love Their Chevrolet Volts

Jackson Browne Chevrolet Volt – Plugging In Together

Jackson Browne told me that he has only used 8 gallons of gasoline during the 2,000 miles that he has driven his Chevrolet Volt. Jackson is famous as a singer, songwriter, and inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Over 17 million albums have been sold in the U.S. alone.  Jackson is a founder of MUSE – Musicians United for Safe Energy. Prior to this Sunday’s inspiring concert, he talked to members of the press, including me, about his commitment to clean energy.

Jackson likes to plug in

Jackson likes to plug in

When it comes to oil, coal, and nuclear, Jackson knows that we are “Running on Empty.” For over 25 years, he has lived off-grid using solar power and wind energy. Now he rides on sunlight, charging his Chevy Volt electric car with renewable energy. Only on a few long trips, has he needed a little gasoline.

Saturday, I attended a meet-up of 24 owners of Chevrolet Volts. As I chatted with many owners, it was clear that they loved their Volts. Tom and Laurie share driving their Volt. The one driving the most miles for the day takes the fuel-sipping Volt. Normally, Tom takes the Volt for his 60-mile round-trip commute to work. He has averaged 44 miles of the trip in electric mode. The electric-mode range is impressive for his freeway driving, but rush hours lead to slower speeds and better electric range.

When I pressed the happy owners for any negative experiences (I’m trying for journalistic balance in these stories), the only lament was their long wait to get their Volt and their now long wait to get their ordered SPX level-2 charger installed. They have discovered, with few exceptions, level-1 charging using a standard 110v outlet is just fine.

Felix Kramer and Patrick Wang

Volt Drivers Felix Kramer and Patrick Wang

Felix Kramer and his wife Rochelle, in January, became the first couple to own and drive both a Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt. A founder of CalCars,  Felix has been a leading advocate for plug-in hybrids for 10 years. We all owe him a thank you for the accelerated development of electric cars. Being environmentally concerned, they have a “LEAF-first policy” to minimize use of gasoline.

On nine trips to Lake Tahoe, over 200 miles from their home, they drove the Volt. The extended range of the Volt provides for easy non-stop driving. With the LEAF, overnight stops would be needed for recharging. When driving his Volt on snow, the handling has been adequate, but that there is a big market for the first automaker to offer a plug-in vehicle with all-wheel drive for better traction. Felix also recommends that automakers provide better range management with clear display of the miles of each trip without need to reset the odometer and with clear state-of-charge display.

Richard Lowenthal loves driving his Volt. Richard is founder and CTO of Coulomb Technologies and the ChargePoint network. Coulomb now has over 5,000 charge points installed in over 20 countries. I have used their chargers at a number of locations with 100-percent ease and success. Recently, Richard drove his Volt from his home in Cupertino to the San Francisco Airport where he charged with one of 14 Coulomb charge points. Then he went to downtown San Francisco and again charged. When he returned home after 110 miles of driving, he displayed that 102 miles were in electric only-mode.

New General Motors Voltec Charger

GM Voltec chargerThe Volt owner meet-up took place at the General Motors Advanced Technology Office in Palo Alto. Volt and LEAF drivers were charging their vehicles with GM’s new Voltec Level 2 Charger which can be bought through Chevrolet dealers and online for only $499. GM has achieved the low price by eliminating redundant smart charging electronics in the EVSE and letting the vehicle manage charging. Volts have on-board smart charging which can be managed through the vehicle display, the internet, or with smart phones using the GM Volt OnStar Mobile App.

General Motors Shad Balch explained to me that GM has increased its scheduled production of the Volt as it scrambles to catch-up with customer demand. GM will make 16,000 Volts in 2011, almost double its original plans. This includes 2,000 for dealers to provide demonstrations and test-drives. In 2012, General Motors will make 65,000 electric cars including 45,000 Chevrolet Volts for the U.S. market and 15,000 Opel Amperas for Europe.

The new General Motors is an engine of innovation. GM is working on 32 electric car derivatives all based on Voltec, the Chevrolet Volt’s electric drive system and GM’s architecture and roadmap for a number of exciting vehicles future vehicles with electric drive systems. Voltec can accommodate an electric drive system that uses a small engine coupled with an electric generator, such as today’s Chevrolet Volt in America, and the similar Opel Ampera for Europe and Japan.

You don’t need to be a music legend to drive an electric car. The Chevrolet Volt can be leased for $350 per month. Some owners are saving a fortune at the gas station, spending less than $60 per month for the electricity and gasoline needed to run their Volts.

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General Motors Working on 32 Plug-in Hybrid and Electric Cars

General Motors Working on 32 Plug-in Hybrid and Electric Cars

Chevrolet VoltBy John Addison (5/27/11)

A General Motors executive recently told a small group that GM is working on 32 electric car derivatives all based on Voltec, the Chevrolet Volt’s electric drive system. Voltec is GM’s architecture and roadmap for a number of exciting vehicles future vehicles with electric drive systems. This Voltec Propulsion System was formerly called the E-Flex architecture.

Voltec can accommodate an electric drive system that uses a small engine coupled with an electric generator, such as today’s Chevrolet Volt in America, and the similar Opel Ampera for Europe and Japan.  If it made economic sense, the engine could be a diesel in Europe, or natural gas in Latin America. Engine and generator could be replaced with a fuel cell. GM could even produce a pure battery-electric like the Nissan Leaf.

Clean Fleet Report is betting on a Buick plug-in hybrid and a pure battery electric car to be announced in the coming months. The Buick will more likely be parallel hybrid configuration. We are also betting that many derivatives in research and development will never be commercialized. Some will depend on battery breakthroughs that deliver more energy from less space and vehicle weight. The Voltec Propulsion System could drive something bigger like an Equinox, or fit in something smaller like a Cruze.

You won’t see the same Volt’s electric motor and battery-pack in a Chevrolet Tahoe or Silverado; the vehicles are too heavy. But we already see 40-foot electric buses and series hybrids. GM Vice President Research and Development in an interview with AutoCar last year stated, “With battery technology as it currently stands, extended-range vehicles that are larger than the Volt — luxury saloons, trucks and SUVs — aren’t really possible; they would simply be too heavy to be efficient. For those types of cars, fuel cells and biofuels are the future. Ironically enough, the E-REV powertrain won’t really package in a much smaller car than the Volt, either. So expect them all to be between four and five meters long.”

Future Batteries Could Deliver 30 to 50 Percent More

New battery technology, however, is promising more energy with less weight and vehicle size. To advance its lithium batteries, GM Ventures invested $7 million in Newark, Calif.-based Envia Systems to provide GM’s battery engineering team with access to advanced lithium-ion cathode technology that delivers higher cell energy density and lower cost. In a separate agreement, GM has secured the right to use Envia’s advanced cathode material for future GM electrically driven vehicles.  If successful, Envia could produce 30% to 50% better storage per weight. GM Envia Report.

When I interviewed GM executives last year, they planned to sell 8,000 to 10,000 Volts in 2011. Exciting Volt test drives and soaring gas prices have caused a surge of demand from your neighbor down the street, rental car companies, and giant global fleets such as General Electric.

For a platform appropriate for larger trucks and SUVs, GM has invested in Bright Automotive. For a future of personal vehicles for urban mobility, GM is experimenting with the EN-V built on a Segway platform. For now, look for the action in C and B platform vehicles.

The Volt is an electric vehicle that offers a total driving range of 379 miles, based on EPA estimates.  For the first 35 miles, the Volt can drive gas- and tailpipe-free using a full charge of electricity stored in its 16-kWh lithium-ion battery.  When the Volt’s battery runs low, a gas-powered engine/generator seamlessly operates to extend the driving range another 344 miles on a full change.

60,000 Chevrolet Volts for 2012

Chevrolet Volt AssemblyGeneral Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, home of the Chevrolet Volt, will close for four weeks beginning in June for planned upgrades to prepare for a significant increase in the rate of Volt production, along with assembly of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan.

Already in tight supply, the number of Volts available for delivery to retail customers will be further restricted over the next three months before production resumes and the Volt and the Opel Ampera begin being exported to Europe and China.

“The Volt will be available to customers nationwide by the end of 2011,” said Cristi Landy, director of Chevrolet Volt Marketing.  The 2011 Volt was launched in California, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C.  But Volt orders have poured in from 48 states. The Volt will be available nationwide and in Europe, China and Canada by the end of this year.

As a result of the plant upgrades, planned Volt and Ampera production capacity this year will increase to 16,000 units, including exports and a fleet of several hundred demonstration units sent to U.S. dealers.  In 2012, global production capacity is expected to be 60,000 vehicles with an estimated 45,000 to be delivered in the United States.

“Drivers do not have to compromise,” observes Byron Shaw, General Motors, Managing Director, Advanced Technology.  He has already driven his Volt across the U.S. twice. He sited driving 80 miles round trip from San Francisco to Stanford University as an example. In his Volt, he drives down the freeway without range anxiety. Should the battery deplete, the gasoline engine engages. For the same trip in my Nissan LEAF, I only used the freeway for half the trip, driving 65 in the right lane to save electrons. I drove the other half on city streets where range is much better. Not only did I avoid running the AC, for the most part, I kept the fan off. Plug-in hybrid convenience versus pure-electric gasoline free.

For extending range, I look for a charging station. In the future, I will also look for DC Fast Charging stations where I can get up to another 80 miles in 20 minutes. The Volt does not have a fast charge option and does not need one. Another 300 miles of range is available at the nearest gas station. To reach a broad market, GM will ultimately offer a variety of plug-in hybrids and electric cars to meet various customer needs. GM’s future is increasingly electric.