GM announced Tuesday that the much-ballyhooed plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt will get 230 mpg. At first glance, that's a mind-blowingly high rating, and GM knows it. That's why the automaker's early marketing campaign for the car touts the number. But what does it actually mean?
According to GM, the Volt's 230-mpg rating, which applies only to city driving, is based on new methodology being developed by the EPA. The EPA hasn't revealed how exactly this methodology works—probably because it's still in the works—but GM says that the number is an average between people who plug in their Volts all the time and people who rarely plug in. Impressive enough, although the number could be significantly lower for, say, cars on their way back from Costco with a full trunk that's blasting the air-conditioning. And as anyone who has experienced the stickier days of this summer knows, sometimes a blast of AC is necessary.
GM won't say what the Volt's highway rating is, although CEO Fritz Henderson claims that it will hover somewhere above 100 mpg. But the Volt still faces hurdles of both price and availability. GM is struggling to keep the car under $40,000, and the company wrote last week in a regulatory filing that the Volt's technology may not yet be commercially viable. That's slightly worrying for a car that is scheduled to be released in 2010.
By the time the Volt finally hits the streets, it wil have some competition in the form of the Nissan Leaf EV, which will get the equivalent of 340 mpg and cost between $25,000 and $33,000 when it is released next year.
So yes, 230 mpg is an impressive number, but given GM's potential issues with delays and price bloating, it's irrelevant.