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Now, this is a car I could like

The Chevy Volt - one tank of gas per year (photo: GM Europe, flickr)

Cars. They’re convenient things, but they’re also giant money pits that depreciate, suck gas and break down.

Being very much of my generation (that would be Gen Y), I dislike the things. I feel like driving is a waste of my time that could be spent doing something else if I was on transit – it’s not legal to read a book and drink a coffee at the same time as driving. But also, I will always choose location and convenience over space and a commute because I’m a city girl, so I’ve never even owned a car.

I do drive occasionally to meetings with my boss, who loves being an early adopter of things, which means he was one of the first in line to get a plug-in electric Volt when they arrived in Vancouver.

Now this is a car I could like!

Apart from the fact that it sounds like a space ship when you turn it on, efficient doesn’t even begin to describe this car.

The dash tells you how much power you have left on your charge, which varies between 40km in the dead of winter to 60km in summer (someone needs to design a toque for Canadian batteries). It also tells you how economically you’re driving, so slamming on the gas will make your leaf symbol turn red for ‘inefficient’ instead of being green.

The full range of the car is the battery plus a tank of gas (600km in EPA tests), so if you forget to charge or want to drive to Whistler, its fine.

But here’s the thing that everyone forgets when they’re debating the merits of gas cars vs electric cars. The arbitrary standard for judging the usefulness of a car is its ability to go 200km, which is the drive from Vancouver to Seattle. But how often do you actually drive that far? Unless you’re visiting Seattle every other weekend to see family, I’d bet it’s not that often.

So I’d like to argue that the usefulness standard for cars is not actually that useful, because it ends up with people buying cars beyond the capability they need which just wastes them a lot of money. According to the Pembina Institute’s recent Behind the Wheel report, the majority of trips taken in cars in Canada are commuting to work, and the average trip taken is 60 minutes. When that car gets filled up with gas every week, it starts to add up really quickly.

In a Volt, it doesn’t.

My boss kept track of his consumption for the first year that he owned the car and it was rare that he ever used the backup gas motor for his 30min commute each day. In fact it was so rare that he used a single tank of gas for the whole year!

Want to know what that math looks like?

It has a 33L tank, so with today’s average price of $1.24 per litre that’s approx. $45 that he’s paid for gas all year, without a noticeable spike in hydro bills from charging the car overnight (and with ridiculously cheap electricity prices in BC anyway). He travelled 6,100km over the year which gives him an epic 184km/L (or 432mpg for you imperial people).

It all looks pretty clear to me – should I ever leave city living and be forced to buy a car, I’m going electric. Because if you’re filling up with gas more than once a year, you’re being ripped off. 

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