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Rocky Mountain Chapter

Message from the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter Director,
Joshua Ruschhaupt:


"Get shocked by a Volt!"

[Part 2 of a multi-part series.]

Joshua and Volt at A-Basin.
Chevy Volt console information
The Chevy Volt performs great in the mountains. I finished
a day of skiing at Arapahoe Basin, with a round-trip gas 
mileage score of 68.9 for the Volt!  (And yes, you can store 
190 cm long skis in the Volt's hatchback, with one seat folded 
down.  This is not possible in the Ford C-Max or Fusion Energi 
models, due to the tumor-like battery pack design in the 
trunk blocking most of the pass-through space.)

In January’s message, Lead by Example, I asked, “how will you improve your life on this planet and your relationship with your environment? You can reduce your impact to the planet, globally, and/or locally. Will those improvements be small or large?” My own answer was that I finally saved up enough money to “upgrade” my transportation from a 2002 Prius to a 2014 Chevy Volt plug-in extended-range electric vehicle (EREV).

So, if you are like me, and decide you want to help make a difference by trading your worse gas mileage vehicle for a better gas mileage vehicle, or a pure electric vehicle, read on for a case-study based on my experience. As part of a community of environmentally minded people in Colorado, I encourage open communications about how we can help each other make a difference.

Ordinarily I’m not a car salesman, but I do want to see America’s vehicle fleet evolve quicker and use less fossil fuels, in accord with Sierra Club’s campaign goals to wean our addiction to oil by 2030! Here’s how I’m helping to “get there” by changing my personal choices for good. And Sierra Club, as of last summer, rates the Chevy Volt as the best plug-in electric vehicle on the market. Chevrolet knows that, and isn’t afraid to quote us in their brochures. J.D. Power just ranked the Volt the “highest in its segment during its first year of eligibility” for its dependability award.  

Negotiating a price

This is a big change for me. In fact, it’s the single largest financial decision I’ve ever made personally. The team at Wheat Ridge Medved were very helpful, clearly learning a few things from my extensive homework on the vehicle (full disclosure: I’ve admired this model since it was a concept announced back in 2007/8), but also teaching me new things about it, too. I worked with Saif, the dealership's most experienced and dedicated Volt salesman; he and his wife lease and drive one daily.

But the Volt is not as big a financial obligation as you might imagine. I, certainly, am not Richie Rich, and the Volt is not a Tesla Model S or X. The Chevy Volt can be less expensive than the average new American car purchase. In mid-late 2013, Chevy reduced the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of the 2014 Volt by $5,000, going from nearly $40,000 to nearly $35,000. Then there are additional manufacturer’s rebates and dealership discounts for things like President’s Day, which bring the price down to around $32,500 or less once you’ve negotiated.

And here we arrive at the average American new vehicle purchase price (based on November 2013) of $32,769. A new Volt can be purchased for the average new vehicle purchase price, or less.

AND there are additional reductions in price due to federal tax credits, which for this vehicle is a maximum of $7,500. The calculation is a credit that refunds you for your federal tax liability up to the full $7,500 tax credit -- it is not refundable for the full $7,500 if you don’t owe that much to Uncle Sam. If you’re one of the “lucky” ones who can take advantage of this full credit, that reduces a Volt sales price from about $32,500 to $25,000. My tax circumstances gave me a credit of about $4,100, reducing my post-sale purchase price to about $28,500.

FURTHER, in Colorado, there is a fully refundable tax credit of up to $6,000 for the Volt. However, the state calculation is partly based on the MSRP of the vehicle, which just came down $5,000 as previously mentioned. When this Colorado law was passed, when the Volt MSRP was $40,000, the Volt qualified for this full $6,000 credit. Now, it’s closer to around $4,900 (it was around that for my tax circumstances). So, in the less common case that you can take advantage of the full federal credit of $7,500, and you get the full roughly $4,900 state credit, your post-purchase price for a new Volt is about $20,000! In my case, it will be closer to a combined tax credit of about $9,000, or a post-sale price of about $23,500. That’s how you make an originally $40,000+ car actually compete against $20,000 cars. Colorado’s tax credit is one of the best in the country.

Financing

Including the amount financed for out-the-door fees, taxes, etc., my vehicle’s financed price is just under $35,000. Chevy (via Ally Bank) offered me a zero percent, four-year financing option, with no money down, making that $35,000 price tag the full (pre-tax credits) price I’m paying with no interest. I can save federal and state tax credits for my monthly payments for at least one full year’s payments, or self-subsidize the full four years of payments so that my effective monthly payment is lower. Your credit score determines how favorable the financing offer is. Since mine has never been better, it’s really working for me.

All these things, plus a whole set of circumstances and personal preferences, led me to purchase, rather than lease, the vehicle. Leasing might be the better option for your situation, with a package as low as $269/mo for three years, including $2,000-$3,000 down, and around 12,000-15,000 miles allowed per year.

Disclaimers: these figures don’t include taxes, fees, registration, title, dealer-installed optional packages, or other miscellaneous new vehicle costs. I chose the base model, which has many more features (such as free OnStar services for three years) than my former Prius. Additionally, you should check with your certified tax advisor to clarify your suitability for these tax credits. There’s a chance, for example, that your tax situation, due to a low tax liability, would result in very little or no federal tax credit for any number of reasons.

Other plug-in vehicle options

My purchase is not the only example. An astounding number of options are available for electric vehicles, extended-range electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and hybrids. I understand that hybrid vehicle tax credits expired years ago, since so many have been sold. The purpose of these tax credits was to subsidize the first wave of produced new-technology vehicles, making them more popular sooner and more quickly reducing carbon and emissions output. Waiting a couple/few years might be too late to receive the federal plug-in electric vehicle tax credits. But a hybrid might be the better option for your situation when you compare logistics, such as having access to a 120 V or 240 V outlet to charge your vehicle (more on this next month).

Compared to the best new hybrid vehicles, the 2011-2014 Chevy Volt is actually not that great on gas mileage if you’re not plugging it in to charge the battery. But it is still much better than the average new vehicle “for the 2013 model year, EPA estimates that the average new vehicle will get 23 mpg”. It will get 35-40 mpg on the internal combustion engine (ICE) alone, which mostly acts as an on-board electricity generator for the electric motor propelling the vehicle, and the gas mileage is expected to significantly increase in the next design generation. Having the “range-extending” ICE erases the “range anxiety” many would-be electric vehicle owners feel. I, personally, need a single vehicle for all my driving needs, which includes my daily commute, attending a RMC group Executive Committee meeting across the state, or taking a cross-country road trip. Pure electric vehicles are on the cusp of becoming practical for long-distance travel, but aren’t quite there yet due to long charging times or lack of charging infrastructure. But we will get there, and Tesla is leading the way, along with brilliant after-market engineers who are advancing incredible ideas.

The cost differential between electricity from your home, office or public charging station is usually much cheaper than the equivalent per-gallon price of gasoline. And yes, the Volt requires premium fuel, not regular or mid-grade. But the tank holds 8.9 gallons, and if you’re plugging in the vehicle, Chevy advertises that the average driver gets 900 miles to a tank of gas. The EPA reports that the latest model year gets an average 98 mpg equivalent (inclusive of electric charging).

The Volt is the best

With about a month and a half of steep, foothills driving between Genesee Village, where I live, to downtown Denver, where our RMC office is, I’ve learned that the Volt can handle the round-trip 37 or so miles with a single full battery charge. Adding more driving to occasional other locations in the Denver Metro area, plus weekend jaunts to ski at Epic Local Pass ski resorts and one trip to visit friends in Aspen since late December, my Volt is averaging a lifetime score of about 75 mpg as of this writing. Every day that I commute to work and back on just the battery, or with just a little ICE use outside of my normal daily commute, the lifetime mpg score continues to rise (finishing the week at more than 77 mpg, as noted in the above photo).

Some people, like this fine Texan, report buying one tank of gasoline per year. Or less! That’s thousands of mpg. You can do that with the Volt. (Granted, pure electric vehicles don’t use gasoline at all.) And the electricity is cheap by comparison. Check this Wikipedia chart to see the difference between gasoline-only and electric-only cost of driving 25 miles, and to compare between different vehicles. Though Sierra Club ranked the Volt the best plug-in vehicle, there are many more models coming into production in 2014 and coming years that will challenge the champ. Even so, “best” is relative to the needs of the vehicle’s owner. A pure electric vehicle might actually be the best option for your needs. If it’s not here already, then we’re closely nearing a day when there is no longer an argument to keep a pure ICE vehicle… even the long-term savings from an electrified vehicle (part or pure) can justify shedding your old ICE vehicle now.

Financially, will purchasing this or a similar car eventually save you money over your current car while reducing your carbon footprint? Those are some figures that you have to work out based on your current car, how much you drive and pay for fuel, and how you would drive a new Volt or other more fuel efficient vehicle. The U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center has a great calculator to plug in your figures and compare vehicles (though beware their static assumptions).

I’ve not only improved my carbon footprint, but because I fixed-up and sold my old 2002 Prius to my mom (who replaced her gas-guzzler 1992 Toyota pick-up truck), my family’s carbon footprint has improved, too. Mom, with her sister driving, text-messaged me as I finished writing, a couple of weeks after having picked-up and driven the Prius from Colorado back to California, “Prius at 42 mpg… yippy!” Ten minutes later, she texted, “42.1!”

Next month I’ll discuss, among other things, “gamification” of our driving experience, resulting in less consumption and emissions.

Next month: Transportation paradigm shifted; what it’s like to own and use a plug-in extended-range electric vehicle.

Thank you for all you do!

Joshua Ruschhaupt, Rocky Mountain Chapter Director

 






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