Thursday, August 25, 2011


I've been reading news articles and various comments on the Volt's pricing, and it got me thinking. The Volt offers a lot of options in the basic package and you can add some things to make it really well equipped, certainly well on the level of many mid-level luxury cars such as Lexus and Buick. (We'll avoid discussion of the lack of a power seat option for now.)

Some commenters say that the Volt is priced too high, that commuters won't spend that much money for a ride to work. But I started paying attention to what my fellow commuters are driving around me on my route between North Hollywood and Pasadena, and while there are a range of cars from expensive to poverty rides, the deck is definitely stacked towards the higher end. AND, more importanly, the level of luxury SUV/truck drivers who have decked out their rides to prices way over the sticker price of a Volt is quite high.

Case in point: BMWs are everywhere. You can't drive 50 feet without seeing at least 3 of them. Heck, my next-door neighbor has 3 of them parked in his driveway along with a Mercedes and a Jetta. (Huh? Go figure.) Well, what does a *lower-end* Beemer 3 Series Sedan go for these days? And how does it compare? Here's entry level:

The base MSRP for a 2011 model is less than a Volt, but I went to Edmunds to see what a car outfitted similarly to my Volt would run in real world pricing. And here's what that respected web site showed me.

MSRP is close to the Volt sticker price (actually higher after incentives). As I say, I tried to configure the car as closely as I could to the Volt, but there are some things the BMW doesn't offer, such as the DVD entertainment system (unless I missed it) and free OnStar. A lot of items that came standard on my car are extra-cost options on this BMW, such as the Park Distance Control, Satellite Radio, Bluetooth and the Navigation system. But as long as it's offered, so what. Still, this car only gets up to 18 city/28 highway mpg. So you get to pay around the same price for the car, get a couple less features, and then have to pay for gasoline to do all your driving. Advantage: Volt!

How about a Benz, I went looking at those next. Again I went to the Edmunds price guide and here's what I found: The lowest priced offering is the C-Class and the C-300 Luxury Sedan seems to be the lowest of the low priced offerings. Here's the list of features:

More stuff here is standard but you still have to go with some options to bring the car up to the level of features on my car. Looking at the price guide on Edmunds site, this is what I found:

And again keep in mind nothing matches up exactly on the options. It looks like the sound system and keyless options are a snad ahead of the Volt's, but still comparable. But the options on this model Mercedes do have one very glaring shortfall. Can't get it in red! Nope, no red exterior color at all. Buzzer! (Probably *can* get it on a more expensive model.) And once again the MSRP is close to Volt's and even the "true" pricing is about where the Volt is after credits. As with the BMW, not terribly great gas mileage so you are spending big dollars on foreign oil. Once again, advantage: Volt!

Another car I see a lot of is the Porsche Boxster. Looks like a new 2011 model MSRP starts at $48,100 so I don't even need to see what the options are. I see Nissan Z cars see going to work alongside me a lot on the 134 freeway too, which start at a cool $63,205 sticker price while getting 18 city/26 hwy mpg. I guess there's no point in mentioning the occasional Bently I see.Yes, these are very different cars but the point is that this is what commuters are willing/able to spend for a drive to work.

It's true that a Chevrolet Cruze or Malibu is a good deal less than a Volt. And they are good cars, especially the Cruze which is selling like hotcakes right now. But, Kiplinger's Personal Finance ran the numbers comparing such cars to both the Volt and a Nissan Leaf to determine the cost of ownership for an average driver over five years. Does the fuel savings make up for the higher sticker price? Well, they were surprised at how well the two electric vehicles did compared to their closest gas-powered siblings. Volt vs. Cruze LTZ and the Leaf SV vs. Versa S Hatchback. Both cost roughly $18,000 more than their gas-only brethren. But over five years of ownership, the Volt comes within $500 of Cruze's total costs, and the Leaf is only $800 more to own than the Versa because they save so much on fuel. [Note that Kiplinger revised this a bit later because they did not take occasional gasoline usage into account on the Volt. But if you do use much gas, the numbers are still within about $1500! also, After evaluating all of the Volt’s real costs, Vincentric named it the best value in America 2011 in its new “Eco” classification.] And all the while you can use U.S. made electricity which is centrally produced and emissions scrubbed in a way that can't be done on individual cars, and thumb your nose at foreign oil.

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