Can A Chevy Volt Save You Money on Gas Over an Electric Car? User Experience May Vary

When you’ve finally made the decision to dump the pump and buy a plug-in vehicle of some sort, common sense might suggest that owning an all-electric car versus a plug-in hybrid or range-extended EV will help you burn as little gasoline as possible.

If you happen to live in an area that’s well serviced by public rapid charging infrastructure, travel long-distance routes with plenty of recharging infrastructure from door-to-door, or you’re lucky enough to own a Tesla Model S long-range electric car, that assumption is true. 

Ben Rich has owned his Volt since August last year (Photo: Ben Rich  via GreenCarReports)

Ben Rich has owned his Volt since August last year (Photo: Ben Rich via GreenCarReports)

But what if you happen to live somewhere where plug-in infrastructure is unreliable or patchy? And what if you need to make fairly regular long-distance trips that aren’t possible in an EV and find yourself renting gasoline cars more often than you’d like.

That’s exactly the situation New Jersey resident and electric car advocate Ben Rich found himself in. Owning a Mitsubishi i-Miev electric car and Zero S electric motorcycle, Rich was the archetypal electric vehicle advocate, doing everything he could to minimise the amount of fossil fuels he consumed on a yearly basis.

Like many plug-in owners, he figured back in 2012 that a one hundred percent electric car would be the best choice for his life: no questions asked.

Yet as he discussed over at GreenCarReports earlier today, after two years of life with his 2012 Mitsubishi i-Miev electric hatchback he made the decision to switch to a 2014 Chevrolet Volt, predicting that he would actually use less gasoline if he owned a the range-extended EV over a pure electric car.

Can a Chevy Volt save you gas versus driving a Mitsubishi i-Miev? It depends on your circumstances.

Can a Chevy Volt save you gas versus driving a Mitsubishi i-Miev? It depends on your circumstances.

His prediction last year — and the post announcing his decision — caused some significant raised eyebrows and even heated exchanges in the plug-in world.

Seven months into his new lease, and Rich has the proof that his apparent counter-intuitive decision had paid off.

Like many Americans, Rich enjoys making road trips once or twice a month to visit family or take some time out camping. Before he switched plug-in cars, that meant renting a gasoline car for the few days every month he needed to make trips beyond the range of his i-Miev, since there is little useable public rapid charging infrastructure outside of suburbia in his area.

Choosing the best rental for his needs and his pocket book, Rich’s rentals were mostly fuel efficient cars, but on two occasions he rented a van to transport his electric motorcycle to an events too far to ride to.

Over a total of 9,395 miles travelled between February 2013 through July 2014, Rich says he travelled 4,500 miles in his zero-emission i-Miev and 4,895 miles in rental vehicles, giving him a total fuel efficiency of gasoline + electric trips of 35 mpg.

The Mitsubishi i-Miev seemed like the best choice -- but rental costs added up for long-distance trips.

The Mitsubishi i-Miev seemed like the best choice — but rental costs added up for long-distance trips.

Since switching to the Volt from the i-Miev, Rich reports he hasn’t needed to rent a vehicle once, partly thanks to fitting a lightweight tow hitch to the rear of his Volt so that he can tow his electric motorcycle when required on a small trailer behind his car.

In the (almost) eight months since he took over ownership of the Volt and terminated his i-Miev lease early, Rich says he has driven 6,500 miles, and used 141 gallons of fuel to do so, plus the electricity for charging most nights.

His average fuel economy has been 46 mpg, eleven miles per gallon better than it was when he was driving the i-Miev and making longer-distance trips in rental cars. During that time, he’s had to contend with the bitter north eastern winter of 2014/15, and has made several long-distance trips with the trailer and motorcycle in tow. Rich notes however, that the distance transporting his motorcycle with the Volt plus trailer is about one half of what it was in the previous period, so that does help boost efficiency a little.

For Rich, the decision to move from the i-Miev to the Volt as his main car has obviously made financial and environmental sense. And it probably would for many other would-be plug-in owners too.

Ben's other vehicle is an all-electric Zero S.

Ben’s other vehicle is an all-electric Zero S.

But that’s not to say it would work for everyone. For someone whose daily driving duties are well within the range of a plug-in hybrid’s battery pack and who makes one or two long-distance trips per year, a full electric car could save money and provide additional around-town range.

For those who need to make longer-distance trips every weekend meanwhile, the Chevrolet Volt’s poor gas mileage in range-extending mode may make it a poor candidate and a car like the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid may make a better choice.

Our point? There’s a spectrum of different plug-in cars on the market — and it’s important to be honest with yourself about your needs before you make the decision to buy. What works for one person may not work for someone else.

If there’s one thing that Rich’s story reminds us though, it’s that finding the right car can sometimes take a bit of counter-intuition.

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