Out Of This World: How the Chevy Volt Reached Mars

While space aficionados lament budget cuts to NASA and the U.S. space program, Chevrolet Volt owners have already reached the planet Mars.

Not literally, of course. (Otherwise, the Mars probe Curiosity would have some real curious pictures to go viral on the Internet!) According to Chevrolet, owners of the plug-in electric car with its range-extender engine have cumulatively driven 150 million miles, the distance between the Earth to the red planet.

2013 Chevrolet Volt miles from earth to mars

Image courtesy of Chevrolet

The Chevrolet Volt has a EPA-estimated MPGe range of 98, which is higher than the 93 figure given when the Volt originally went on sale as a 2011 model. MPGe, or miles-per-gallon equivalent, is the measurement used by the EPA when comparing the fuel economy figures of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids versus the more conventional gas-powered engine, with roughly 33 kWh equaling one gallon of gas.

The 2013 Volt travels up to 38 miles on electricity alone before the 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine kicks on. Unlike conventional hybrids like the Toyota Prius, the engine does not move the wheels. Instead, the Volt’s gasoline engine is attached to a generator which in turn recharges the depleted battery. Locomotives use a similar system to move on their tracks. With its battery fully charged and gas tank full, the Chevy Volt can travel nearly 390 miles before needing to refuel.

Many Volt owners have had no need to visit the gas station. By staying within the 38 mile range and recharging the hatchback’s lithium-ion batteries regularly, many are traveling 900 miles between fill-ups. Some Volt owners have driven thousands of miles: Brent Waldrep of Auburn Hills, Mich., for example, averages 9,000 to 10,000 miles before feeling the need to stop for gas.

Says Cristi Landy, marketing director for the Chevrolet Volt, “We’ve seen and heard from our Volt owners that they are achieving fantastic performance numbers with their vehicle as many are beating the EPA label estimates. Our Volt owners are showing the performance potential of driving electric, and having fun doing it.”

Joel Arellano is a writing professional for over two decades, working in such diverse industries as finance, aerospace, telecomm, and medical devices. He has covered the automotive industry for more than six years, and his articles and blog posts can found on at Autoblog, Autoblog Green, Automotive.com, motortrend.com, trucktrend.com, and automobilemag.com.

    • I like the idea of the volt, but I just don’t like the implementation.

      Isn’t a Diesel engine much more efficient for turning a generator since you need a lot of torque at low RPM? I don’t understand why they decided to go with gasoline.

      Companies have been talking about battery-swap mechanisms for electric cars for quite a while, but why not use the same concept in a modular hybrid? Supplement the electric range with a “generator module” that you can easily remove if you know you’re not going to need it. That way you save a ton of weight and increase your electric only range. But then if you have to travel long distances you can simply attach your generator and be on your way.

      • Bradley, the Volt is more than just an idea it is a fully fleshed, thoroughly realized, implementation of a practical transitional vehicle.

        As a proud owner of a 2012 Volt, I can say that GM have done an incredibly thorough job of building a vehicle that will help the world bridge the gap towards fully electric vehicles. As they are commercial says “electric when you want it, gas when you need it”. We personally drive in all electric mode between 75 and 80% of the time.

        My personal experience validates the 900 miles between fill ups quoted in the article above. If you are curious, you can see more geeky statistics about our Volt on my dedicated webpage:
        http://www.arttec.net/Chevy_Volt/index.htm

        • I realize that it works, but simply think it could work even better if they would have made a few different design decisions.
          Obviously the general public agrees because if it were the end-all-be-all design for electric/gas hybrids, it would be selling better.

          And on the topic of sales, statistics like “900 miles between fill-ups” simply don’t give buyers meaningful information. It’s a “fluff” statistic that completely ignores money spent charging. If instead they were to tell us “On average you can drive 900 miles on only 10 gallons of gasoline plus $XX in electricity”, then it would be much easier for people to make decisions about the added up-front cost and I think you’d see sales begin to pick up.

          While the price for a new Volt remains above $35k, most people simply aren’t going to have the luxury to buy one (even you said it was out of your price range) unless they know for fact that it’s going to save them big money in the long run. Yet their decision to use a gasoline generator instead of diesel trades a lower upfront cost for a higher fuel and maintenance cost in the future. And that just doesn’t make sense to me. If it’s going to be out of most people’s price range either way, why compromise on the main selling point?

          • SirSpammenot

            Bradley, I’m a 2013 Volt owner that likes his car so much he has driven it to weekend science fairs and Maker Faires, giving up Friday and Sat just to tell people about the car. It is not intuitive that the car is DIFFERENT than what is on other showroom floors.

            Re: 900 miles between fillups. I challenge you to find a driver that cannot recite the stat for their car from memory. I am sure they exist but are few and far between. Now ask them how much they spend in fuel in a month and you will get an answer, but the inverse usually applies. Almost everyone guesses! Try it! Given that, 900mi is a good marketing number since people have a “sense” of what that means.

            When they get more serious… numbers like $/mile are what they want. My situation: electric miles cost me 10% to 25% of what gas miles do. Check out the “Achievements” tab on my car: http://www.voltstats.net/Stats/Details/2733

            I agree that GM has not done a good job explaining this car, but without getting some skin in the game – it is HARD to really get how different (and IMHO better) it is from single fuel vehicles. But a point I would raise is this is NOT a cheap car, it is comparable to a Lexus in build and ride quality. It is quiet, fast, super safe (it has knee airbags for crying out loud) and glass smooth. Prius and other Hybrid gas cars don’t have the ride or safety ratings, they trade those things for fuel economy and lower price. For an early adopter vehicle, the first of it’s kind and only EREV model on the market from ANY manufacturer, it is an amazing value.

            If you are ever in DFW, you can drive mine anytime!