Reader Question: American-Made Hybrids?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Patrick asks: What’s your best recommendation for an American-made hybrid? I’ve been eying the Chevy Malibu to replace my Prius because I want my next purchase to be more local. Thoughts?

My reply: You may be surprised by my answer . . . but here it comes. Buy a Chevy Volt. They’re no longer available new – unfortunately – but late-model used ones are readily available.

Why a Volt?

Because it is objectively the best hybrid ever put on the market. Which is a function of its unique layout.

It is the only hybrid that uses its gas engine almost exclusively as a generator; i.e., the car is propelled almost entirely by an electric motor powered by electricity generated by the gas engine. In all other hybrids, the gas engine is the primary source of propulsion, with the battery/motor(s) providing assist and (to varying degrees) short-range/low-speed propulsion.

Why is the distinction important?

The Volt is functionally an electric car – without range anxiety.

It is uniquely capable of operating entirely on electricity for 50 or so miles at normal road speed – including highway speeds – before the batteries need recharging and when they do need recharging, you don’t have to stop – and wait.

The gas engine generator kicks on automatically and feeds electricity to the battery/motor side and you keep on going.

If your trip is about 50 miles or less, you’ll use no gas at all – a big improvement over the hybrid’s 50 or so MPG (depending on the hybrid).

And if you can plug it in before you go – and when you get back – you’ll use only electricity until and only if you exceed the full-charge range. Many Volt owners report needing to fill up their gas tank so infrequently that using fuel stabilizer is necessary. You might not need gas for a month or two. No kidding.

And even if you do need to burn gas – if you exceed the electric range of about 50 miles – you’ll still burn not much. I’ve test driven several Volts over the years and they consistently average 33-35 MPG, which actually works out to more than that when you factor in the zero gas burned for the first 50 or so miles.

The Volt is also a good-looking car and well-laid out, with pretty good cargo capacity for a car its size. Early models are four seaters – but the latter ones have a three-across back seat.

In re the Malibu hybrid: It’s been discontinued, too. Not a bad car, but the cost-to-benefit ratio isn’t nearly as favorable as the Volt’s. I strongly recommend checking the latter out!

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Hi Patrick,

    I strongly support Eric’s advice. About 6 months ago, I traded in a beat 2012 Pious for a pristine 2013 Volt. In my opinion, the Pious is ridiculously overvalued in the used car market, which benefited me enormously. I bought the Volt for $6950.00 and got $6,000.00 for the Pious. The Volt is vastly superior to the Pious: real world mileage is much better, it handles better, it’s much more fun to drive, no annoying engine “screaming” due to the CTV, better overall visibility (though still pretty crappy as are pretty much all modern cars). The only advantage of the Pious is that there is no lip at the hatchback, open the hatch and the cargo area is flat and open. The Volt’s cargo area is about 8 inches underneath the opening. Kind of annoying, but not really a big deal.

    Eric described the benefits of the car really well, but you might value more details from a Volt owner.

    – The Volt requires no special equipment, it can easily be recharged overnight with normal household wiring.
    – Depending on your daily driving needs, the Volt can easily average 150 – 200 MPG. I get about 40 miles of EV range, which covers all of my daily driving needs. But, I take a twice weekly 60 mile trip (to shoot pool with a friend) which pushes down my average to a mere 180 MPG.
    – The Volt has the best battery management system available. It will not let the battery go into deep discharge, nor is it ever necessary to fast charge; so, the two major contributors to battery degradation do not exist for the Volt. In either extremely hot or cold weather, you can “pre-start” the Volt remotely, which uses the engine to cool or heat the battery before driving. Most Volt owners report zero, or minimal, battery capacity loss after years of use and many thousands of miles.
    – The Volt monitors gas usage and will turn the engine on automatically every once in a while if the car is used almost exclusively in EV mode.

    See here,

    I know I tend to proselytize about the Volt, but I think it’s not only the best EV ever made, it’s one of the best cars ever made. Unlike a normal hybrid, which is a complicated way of making a modern, bloated vehicle achieve similar mileage to a 1990’s era Honda Civic, the Volt is a real EV, capable of using no gas at all if your daily driving needs don’t exceed 40 miles or so. I didn’t buy it because I’m am member of the climate cult (I’m not), but because it is practical, convenient and, fortunately, fun to drive. Other than my twice weekly trip, I rarely drive more than 20 miles a day, so no problem with the range. But, unlike any pure EV, I can take a spontaneous road trip acroos the country without planning it around charging stations.

    Gen 2 Volts hava a slightly larger battery than the Gen 1, which gives a little more EV range. I would prefer to have a gen 2, but I couldn’t spend very much. Bottom line is that I love my Volt.



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