GM to Volt owners: To the moon!

Automotive News | May 18, 2012 - 3:44 pm EST

DETROIT -- For all of the time General Motors executives have spent hyping the Chevrolet Volt, there's apparently one industry-exclusive feature that the company kept secret until now.

It can go to the moon.

Talk about an extended-range vehicle.

Incredibly, GM says Volts have traveled to the moon 167 times since the car went on sale in late 2010. Those slackers at NASA haven't even managed to get there once in the last four decades.

If that sounds a bit fishy, what GM actually said, in a news release it put out this week, is that all of the roughly 14,000 Volts sold so far have traveled more than 40 million miles solely on battery power. For those of us who commute less than 40 million miles, GM helped us visualize the milestone by explaining that it is the equivalent of 16,373 trips from New York to Los Angeles, 1,606 voyages around the Earth (maybe it's amphibious and pirate-resistant, too?) or 167 jaunts to the moon.

The point that GM wanted to make is that, by driving 40 million miles on battery power, Volt owners have avoided using 2.1 million gallons of gasoline, in turn saving them roughly $8.5 million at the pump. GM noted that that is almost precisely the amount of gasoline that one supertanker can carry.

"With each click of the odometer, Chevrolet Volt owners are measuring their contribution to reducing America's dependence on foreign oil and to preserving the environment," Cristi Landy, the Volt's marketing director, says in the release.

If you own a supertanker, that is clearly terrible news.

For everyone else, the numbers are just a glimpse at how much electric and plug-in cars can cut down on fuel consumption.

But they also show how far those cars are from being a bargain financially. Volt buyers could have saved a lot more than $8.5 million -- which ignores the cost of electricity used to charge the batteries -- by driving conventional cars instead.

In fact, data from TrueCar.com that I used recently to write a story in The New York Times, before joining Automotive News this month, showed that an average driver would have to put nearly 400,000 miles on his Volt before it became a better bargain than Chevrolet's similarly sized Cruze Eco. That's the distance to the moon and two-thirds of the way back -- assuming you can find a gas station and electrical outlet in the Sea of Tranquility.

So while the Volt won't save you money overall, it can save considerable gasoline, helping to strike a modest blow against evil supertanker moguls. That's why GM, Nissan, Ford and everyone else rolling out plug-in cars need to focus their marketing on the cumulative effect those cars have on fuel consumption rather than an individual driver's wallet.

To that end, GM has set up a ticker on the Volt's Web page, chevyvolt.com, that uses OnStar data to show how many miles Volts have driven and calculates how many gallons of gasoline they have saved.

GM says Volt owners are using the car's battery 60 percent of the time and averaging 900 miles between visits to a gas station.

"The extended range is providing additional miles when they need it," Landy says. "This shows that you don't have to change your daily driving habits to drive the Volt."

Not even if you're driving 238,657 miles straight out of the atmosphere. Which means that, even though Newt Gingrich may find the Volt ill-suited for a gun rack, it could be just right for getting that moon colony started.

Nick Bunkley is an enterprise reporter for Automotive News.Nick Bunkley is an enterprise reporter for Automotive News.

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