Q&A: Chevrolet Volt vs. Nissan Leaf

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Now that both the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf are in consumers’ hands, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject of Electric Vehicles, or EVs.

The biggest question posed to me has been, “John, which one is better?”  This question is best answered with some context, so continue reading to see how I respond, and my answers to other EV-related questions.

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2011 Nissan Leaf

Ahh, the age-old question of which is the better of two cars.  The question is usually posed as a “money is no object” scenario, but the answer still depends on several factors.  In the case of the first two EVs being introduced to the public, the Volt and the Leaf, the biggest factors which come into play are commuting distance, commuting location and availability of a charging station.  The price of the Leaf is about $7,500 less than the Volt, but at the $35,000 mark, this isn’t a huge factor.

First, the commuting length.  If your round-trip commute is more than 75 miles, you’re definitely going to get some range anxiety in a Leaf, especially if you get stuck in traffic during a hot summer day.  Meanwhile, the Chevy Volt owner next to you will be able to stay cool, knowing he can pull off the interstate and fuel up if needed.

Second, commuting location.  If you park in an underground garage and your company or the garage owners have provided charging stations, whether they be free or not, your 75-mile daily commute just got a lot easier in a Leaf.  If you can recharge the electric-only Leaf while you’re toiling away at work, you’ll only need a regular gas-powered car to go on long-distance trips.  While the charging station wouldn’t be necessary for a Volt owner, it would come in handy to keep their monthly fuel bill down.

Third, the location of charging stations.  While GM and GE are installing charging stations in Detroit and parts of California, the rest of the country hasn’t seen a whole lot of electric fueling infrastructure.  This does not bode well for the Nissan Leaf, which requires electricity to run.  The Volt’s range-extending gas engine means that if you come across a charging station and could use a little boost, you’ll pay a nominal fee to top off the batteries.  Otherwise, you can run on gasoline until you reach a charging station or a fuel pump.

The clear winner for me, at least for the short term, is the Chevrolet Volt.  While the Nissan Leaf provides real world drivability and an estimated range of 100 miles, Americans simply need more, and outside of major metropolitan markets like Los Angeles, New York and perhaps the District of Columbia, the Leaf will be a bit player in the EV market.

Until such time as charging stations are plentiful and can charge an EV in under 10 minutes, the Leaf can’t succeed as well as the Volt.

I’ve seen this before in the American automotive marketplace.  About 15 years ago, SUVs became all the craze.  Gas was cheap, space was plentiful, and a lot of people not only wanted something to compete in an accident with a big rig, but also a do-anything, go-anywhere vehicle, even if all they did was run errands and go to kids’ sporting events, all the while driving on tarmac.

This meant that SUVs proliferated, and most families today own fewer cars than they used to.  Where you used to have dad’s pickup truck, mom’s minivan, and perhaps a spare car, many families are getting away with an SUV for road trips and driving the kids around, and a commuter car for the other parent to drive.

This is all well and good, until one of them breaks down.  Now, the SUV which doesn’t see much duty, goes into service and pulls its weight until the commuter car is back on the road.  Replace either the commuter car or the SUV with a Leaf, and things get dicey if the non-EV breaks down.  Now you’ve got logistic issues in transporting everyone where they need and want to go.

On the other hand, if you replace your SUV or commuter car with a Volt, you’ll be fine, because even if the secondary driver doesn’t know how to charge it up, they can still fill the gas tank and it’ll run like a regular car, getting phenomenal gas mileage at the same time.  While it may not be a go-anywhere type vehicle, it’s definitely a do-most type, and it’ll get through a day of errand-running, picking up the kids, getting to work, all without breaking a sweat.

Check out the following videos.  Besides the music being better in the Volt one, they’re both worth a quick look.

Chevrolet Volt Assembly Process:

Nissan Leaf Assembly Process:

The preceding post was based on several recent discussions I’ve had concerning the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf.  If you have any car questions, feel free to email me using the Contact form.

by John Suit

Image Sources: GM, Nissan

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