There's no denying that the Volt is exciting green technology, and we at EcoGeek are happy to get potential buyers excited about the car. But the question has been raised (and it deserves to be addressed here) what does a 230 MPG plug-in vehicle really mean. Is it an honest attempt to help buyers determine what car to buy or is it all just B.S.?
There are a few problems with GM's claim that the Volt will be rated at 230 MPG in the city, and we're going to have to address them all separately. So, in order of validity:
- The EPA rules for fuel economy are draft rules, and there is no guantee that these are the numbers that will be on the car.
This is absolutely true. GM took draft rules from the EPA, applied it to their car, and then created a gigantic advertising campaign celebrating the results. This could be an attempt by GM to force the EPA into keeping these new guidelines, or it could just be GM jumping the gun. Either way, it doesn't seem like a good idea. If this number gets into the cultural consciousness and then people walk onto dealer lots in two years and see the fuel economy listed at 80 / 60, people are actually going to be disappointed by 80 MPG. That's a situation GM doesn't want to put itself in.
- The EPA is fudging numbers because the government owns GM and thus wants GM's cars to succeed
This isn't exactly how I'd put it...but there might be some truth here. The EPA wants Volts to sell, but they also want all plug-in cars to sell. It decrease emissions and dependence on oil. It's a win win for the EPA and the government. It is possible, thus, that the EPA will create rules that show the mileage of these cars to be higher than it will be in practical use. Additionally, this means that one modestly selling plug-in will allow car companies to hit the updated CAFE targets without even trying. I wouldn't however, say that this has anything to do with GM (or our government's ownership stake) in particular.
- Miles per gallon is a useless metric for plug-in vehicles
I wouldn't call it useless, but I wouldn't call it ideal either. Europe already uses a grams of CO2 per mile metric that would be far more useful with the Volt. However, we use MPG in America right now, and absent lawmakers taking that on and creating a new standard, we can't really blame GM or the EPA for doing what they are required by law to do. We especially can't blame GM for being so far ahead of the curve that our current laws literally do not apply to their car. The EPA is struggling to find ways to make the MPG metric apply to cars that are powered in part by electricity. They've done this by determining the emissions equivalence of gasoline for the electricity used to move the car. However, because it's a conversion, it's less accurate. A better system needs to be developed. But our laws are built for MPG right now, and so are our consumers. So we're stuck with it for now.
- There is no way for the government to estimate the amount of pollution my car will produce because energy mixes are different everywhere.
This is true, but it does not matter. The EPA isn't looking to give individuals a precise count of the environmental impact of their vehicle. They want to determine the environmental impact of ALL vehicles. So they can use the national average for CO2 per kW and, overall, it will be a very accurate measure of how much CO2 all of Volts sold in all fifty states will be producing. Just as the current MPG standards doesn't take into account whether your gasoline was pumped out of the ground 20 or 200,000 miles away, the government can use national averages for a car that will sell nationally and get numbers that are accurate enough for their purposes.
- Electricity is worse than gasoline anyway, since coal plants are so dirty
Actually, per unit of energy produced, your car is about two times dirtier than the dirtiest American coal-fired power plant. Mix that with the fact that coal is only about half of America's energy mix, and you get a car that is much cleaner because of coal. I know...I don't like it any more than you do, but there it is.
- The Volt is vaporware. It doesn't exist and will never exist and you should stop writing about it.
Sorry friend, but there are hundreds of hard-working people who are sinking 60 hours of their life per week into this car and your ignorance doesn't excuse your rudeness. That doesn't mean that we're sure the Volt will meet it's deadline. But GM has sunk huge amounts of resources and money into the Volt. It isn't a PR stunt, it's a car, and they want it to work.
If there are any other issues with the numbers GM is now bombarding the world with, please let me know and I'll do my best to address them. However, as I said at the beginning of this post, none of this means that the Volt isn't going to be the most efficient, most advanced, and most environmentally friendly car on the market in 2011.
Thanks to Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math / Bad Math for starting this discussion off.
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