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Alternative Fuel Sedans Part 2 – Which saves the most gas?

August 17th, 2011

This is a continuation of a previous blog that discusses which alternative fuel sedan is right for you. Now it’s time to discuss which saves the most gas! Well, the Leaf would, if your round trip drives are under 73 miles, and you have overnight to charge the car between trips. The Leaf works as a commuter car for many whose round trip commute is relatively short and who rarely need to make side trips. The big risk of course, is getting stranded, a risk many feel is too high. So, if you cannot accept the risk of getting stranded with the Leaf, is the Volt your next best choice? If your round trip commute is under 35 miles, which is true for a majority of Americans (85% commute 40 miles or less round trip), the Volt would save about as much gas as the Leaf over your commute while still providing additional range when needed for unforeseen side trips.

So is the Volt the second best alternative fuel sedan for saving the most gas for those who need more range than Leaf provides? The answer depends on how often and long those over 35 mile trips are. If they are frequent and long, the reigning fuel economy champion hybrid, the Prius, may save more gas than the Volt. If, as for many Americans, they are infrequent and/or shorter, the Volt will save the most gas. The reason is that the Volt will beat the Prius day in and day out over the short commute, driving gas free. The EPA commutes the fossil fuel equivalent required to produce the electricity to charge the alternative fuel sedan Volt and assigns it a combined city/highway “fuel economy” of 93 MPG in electric mode. Prius gets 50 MPG EPA combined. However, with its gasoline engine recharging the Volt in extended mode, EPA combined fuel economy drops to 37 MPG, well below the Prius. So, for someone with a long commute or who frequently takes long trips, Prius’ 50 MPG could well result in less fuel used. But, for most Americans who drive shorter daily distances, the Volt would be expected to burn less fuel than Prius. How much less depends on how often you go into extended mode. And, how long it would take in gas savings to pay off the premium for the Volt over the Prius is another question, one that that tips heavily in Prius’s favor. Assuming you drove the Volt 35 miles a day every day and never went into extended mode, maximizing its advantage over Prius, you would save 255 gallons of gas, worth $1,022/year at $4.00/gallon. With an adjusted price difference of $9,750 between our test vehicles, it would take between 9 and 10 years to recover the price premium for the Volt under ideal conditions.