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Chevy Volt Versus Nissan Leaf: Let the Race Begin

Posted by: David Welch on December 23, 2010

Chevrolet started rolling the first Volts off the assembly line and onto car haulers on Dec. 13, sending them off to anxious customers who have been waiting months for their electric car, or advanced hybrid or whatever you like to call the Volt. That same day, Nissan delivered its first Leaf electric car to a customer in San Diego. Normally, handing over the keys of a new model’s first buyer is about as scintillating as ribbon-cutting ceremonies photographed in community newspapers.

In this case, the first deliveries kicked off a closely-watched sales race that will begin to answer some big questions about fuel-efficient technology and what consumers really want. General Motors has argued that the Volt is the way to go. You’ll never get stranded in a car that recharges the battery using a gasoline engine. Nissan differs, of course. As long as there’s a tailpipe, it’s not the genuine green article. As an aside, Toyota’s Prius is no longer in the conversation. Unless the Leaf and Volt end up with major quality or performance problems, Toyota has dithered away its position as the unquestioned technology kingpin.

Which car will win? The Leaf is the cheaper option, costing almost $33,000 before federal tax incentives, compared with $41,000 for the Volt. But I think the Volt is a better proposition for most consumers. Nissan says the Leaf can go 100 miles on a charge. But if you drive a pure EV hard on the highway, where the regenerative brakes will do less recharging, you can get a lot less. If the driver has a lead foot or if the weather is especially cold, that will also drop the car’s range. For consumers with a short commute—and if they only drive to work and back everyday—it’s a great option. For the rest of us, that just won’t do. The Volt can go 379 miles on a tank of gas and a full battery charge.

There’s something else about the Volt. If you strip away the green allure and techno-geek appeal, it’s just a really good car. I tested it out last month. It’s smooth, quiet and handles nicely. The Volt is not a car for smoky burnouts, but it has a nice amount of zip. Its interior has a certain Star Trek appeal. The flat control panel that turns on the audio or environmental control with a touch, as opposed to pushing a button, is very avant garde. The two video screens provide all kinds of information and the graphics that show the flow of power from the engine to the battery to the wheels and motors is nicely done. There is one flaw. GM has a ball on one screen that moves up and down and when you’re driving most efficiently, it hovers in the middle. It was confusing. But overall, the car has the kind of futuristic feel you’d expect from this kind of car.

I have not tested a Leaf. But I have driven a Mini E and felt the specter of range anxiety. I got the car with a full charge, which means it should go up to 156 miles. Like any electric car, it can be considerably less if you drive it more on the highway when you use more power and the regenerative braking system does less recharging. I drove it until the battery was down to 83%. The next day, I had a 10-mile trek of mostly suburban streets and it got down to 67%. The battery still had plenty of juice. The real problem is that you can’t just drive all day without planning out your trip and when you will recharge. You have to plan around range and allow some leeway in case you get fewer than 100 miles. That gives the Volt or any other hybrid a huge advantage for most car buyers.

This gets hotly debated in the green blogosphere. I think the Volt will be more successful. Now, let’s sit back and watch.

Reader Comments


December 23, 2010 5:07 PM

The Volt aimed high with tech and cost of components but this can be overcome with massive demand. Just give me the Volt technology in a light SUV and a solar panel on the roof in place of those useless roof racks. Oh and ignore the EPA ratings on any of this. They are definitely overpaid leaches. At least the reluctant Toyota engineers and managers can go work for naysayer EPA jobs and count carbon footprints for a living.


December 23, 2010 5:15 PM

Neither car will be a big seller because of the price. Americans aren't going to buy an untested car that costs $33,000 to $41,000 when they can buy fuel efficient cars like the Honda Fit for around $15,000. Bring the Tata Nano over to the USA and watch how they would sell. Happy Holidays!

J r

December 23, 2010 10:05 PM

$41,000 Volt vs $18,000 Civic. Lets see, that's $23,000 difference. how many more years would you have to own the Volt to justify the cost? And, let's not forget about the maintenence schedule on that Volt? thanks...sticking with my Civic!


December 23, 2010 10:33 PM

There is a seat for every saddle. Both cars will fit a certain customer. I drive fifteen miles a day with a few days a month that stretch to 45 miles. As boring as it may sound, many Americans have a similar routine.

About six times a year I drive a few hundred miles in a day, but I have often rented a car for those trips because it is better for me to do so, and this is an alternative for anyone considering an all electric vehicle.

More important, there are many Americans that will never own a GM product again after what GM did to the thousands of their former employees suddenly robbed of jobs, retirement, and health care - as promised.

I am disappointed that this article "sells" a comparison, yet the author drove only one of the two vehicles. I am surprised Businessweek would consider this appropriate.


December 23, 2010 10:35 PM

How can you choose one car over the other when you haven't driven both?

Congratulations on your future job at GM.


December 24, 2010 1:22 AM

Plug-in Prius 1,75L/100km
Ampera 1,9L/100km
Thats all Prius Rulz still. so no throne toss..

j r

December 24, 2010 11:06 AM

$41,000 volt...$18,000 Civic...Civic gets 35 mpg consistently. Volt..we'll be generous and say 50 mpg. I drive 1500 miles/month. Gas=$3.00...
Mathematically, I would have to keep that Volt 49 YEARS, to justify the cost!
Nice try GM!


December 24, 2010 1:36 PM

The Leaf will be very popular as a commuter car. Most people will simply keep a second car for long trips. The key metric is $20 to drive 1000 miles for the Leaf @ $0.08 per kw-hr. A normal car at 20 mpg for 1000 miles at $3 per gallon would cost $150. That's the equivalent to $0.40 per gallon for gas. What's not to like?


December 24, 2010 2:09 PM

Great article and mostly well covered. Both cars are a step in the right direction. Consumers just need to look at which suits them better and invest in that car, then all of us win.

One thing I would like to comment on is the spinning ball. Rather than a liability, this is a great asset and becomes like a game to see just how efficient you can be. I like how it gives feedback on how they are using energy - the car telling them "hey, I am REALLY working out here" I think it will contribute to fuel savings for anyone driving the car.

Merry Christmas to my Christian friends and Happy Holidays to everyone else!



December 24, 2010 2:16 PM

Mr Welch, do you know the difference between EV and Plug-in Hybrids? You are confused whether to call the Volt an EV or a hybrid. You got paid for this by Chevrolet didn't you? There goes our fair informative journalism. You lost your credibility with this article.


December 25, 2010 12:01 AM

I don't think Toyota has given away anything. And it's much cheaper. The leaf frankly makes very nervous and the Volt is too expensive. I am not sure how much it costs for a full charge. Thirty dollars? If that is the case I would be better off with the Prius. Can anyone tell me the cost per (including the car and rebates) mile over ten years for all these cars?

Prince Ray

December 25, 2010 12:18 AM

GM, Let the Race Began!.
On an earlier comment, I stated that America has the know-how, it takes a leader to step-up to the plate. At a vision of oil heading to $100 a barrel, more of us, will be looking and buying into GM again. Another ping in OPEC's bubble. America must stop bowing to countries that cater to terrorists. Such as Saudia Arabia.

Prince Ray

December 25, 2010 12:19 AM

GM, Let the Race Began!.
On an earlier comment, I stated that America has the know-how, it takes a leader to step-up to the plate. At a vision of oil heading to $100 a barrel, more of us, will be looking and buying into GM again. Another ping in OPEC's bubble. America must stop bowing to countries that cater to terrorists. Such as Saudi Arabia.

Jeff Conforti

December 25, 2010 12:39 AM

The Volt is the way to go. If you drive 15 miles to work, you will hardley ever use gas. If you get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on a 95 degree day, you can use the A/C and not worry about running out of juice because you have the gas engine to always back you up. The Leaf would be godd only in a city environment. If the Volt has no inherrent problems it will be a HUGE winner for GM. Even more so as fuel costs climb.


December 25, 2010 6:41 AM

Green? where does the electric come from??


December 25, 2010 10:39 AM

The Volt is all electric if you drive less than 40 miles a day... from what I see the electric drive range can be up to 70 miles. For a commuter car that would be most drivers.. and if you drive a little more you will still be getting over 100mpg or even the 230 mpg originally suggested is not out of the question. GM has already delivered hundreds of Volts to owners in the dead of winter. We will soon be getting owners reports.


December 25, 2010 11:06 AM

Nissan makes a big deal about the Leaf being green because it has no emissions, but they don't mention the emissions at the electrical generating plant.


December 25, 2010 11:34 AM

You need gas to back up the electricity... That's the best bet.... Volt is on the right path, but its price has to come down to $25000, otherwise not many people will buy it...


December 25, 2010 11:50 AM

What a dishonest piece of drivel. You tested the Volt but not the Leaf, yet you drew what you think is a valid conclusion. I'll be waiting for the first Volt recall with worm in mouth.


December 25, 2010 12:57 PM

Thats the problem with the leaf.
You are tethered to a charging station or outlet.
With the volt you arent tied down.
No new infrastructure needed.
Volt wins.

And as the iron/phostphate lithium batteries get more and more efficient.. the swapouts will be upgrades.


December 25, 2010 12:58 PM

Volt will flop. It's too expensive for an economy car. The Leaf is on the edge and probably too expensive too which most states are phasing out electric car rebates. Colorado is ending there's on July 1, 2011. So almost no one will benefit from it in Colorado and California will use up it's allotment after only 1800 buyers (no money to pay it out).

Sean Stevens

December 25, 2010 1:04 PM

I am very curious as to how you can come to a conclusion already when you explicitly say that you've never driven a Nissan Leaf before? Mis-leading title causes readers to assume that you are choosing the better choice between the two based on something other than pure opinion. Garbage writing.


December 25, 2010 1:33 PM

If they can get the price down around the $22,000 mark a total electric car would be the ideal replacement commuter vehicle. That little idea could save me and a great deal of other folks some money as most of today's driving is traveling to work.

George Petersen Jr

December 25, 2010 2:20 PM

In five years no one will remember either of these names or what they were ...


December 25, 2010 2:25 PM

We bought the Nissan LEAF on 12/21/10 in Nashville, TN, and have been driving the car just like a car. The Holiday's have prevented me from writing more updates on our blog. Our LEAF is not being treated like a special electric car. We have been driving it everyday since we purchase the car on 12/21. At the end of each day we have been plugging it in. We still have gas powered cars, and eagerly await the Federal Government's approval of the rapid charge 480v stations (that's a 30 minute recharge from zero - 100%). We will be selling both of our cars to buy one newer one - it will be a gas powered car too.

The anxiety mentioned in this article is just not present with owning the LEAF. We are not paranoid about driving range because we do not drive 100 miles everyday. If you drive more then 100 miles a day - then the all electric car might not be for you right now. Or, you should drive your gas powered car when traveling long distances. At least until the network of charging stations is installed everywhere.

When you visit the gas station today, and you just place a gallon of gas in your car that would be poor planning wouldn't it? Yet. Many people just show up and pay the attendant the amount of money they have at that moment. Why not just fill up? I never understood why someone pays just three dollars, or ten dollars for gas. Are they topping off? It is probably because they can't afford to fill up every time they visit the pump. These budget minded people have to plan their trips too.

The LEAF is not for everybody - just like the TESLA is not for everyone, or the Mercedes Benz AMG S55, or the Porsche 911, or the Suzuki SX4 Crossover, and even the Volt you are so fond of Mr. Welch. Cars are cars, and many people drive many different cars in our world. What do you drive Mr. Welch? Do you fill up everyday? Or, do you place a couple of dollars in your tank when you visit the gas station?

Why not embrace the fact that an electric solution is being delivered by Nissan and GM. It is a new technology for the consumer - isn't that awesome?! Should we not be embracing the achievement of man? Innovation is driving job creation in my State of Tennessee thanks to Nissan and the LEAF model they are delivering today. Volkswagen is also building a NEW plant in Tennessee, and they have a great reputation for building efficient cars too.

We do not have an endless supply of fossil fuels on earth. We must innovate and develop new solutions, and we can not build a better battery operated vehicle if we do not buy them as consumers when they are made available like the LEAF is today.

Randy Ohara

December 26, 2010 1:58 AM

In California (at least for 2011); the Leaf provides one feature the Volt does not; the Leaf qualifies for a carpool sticker - which is a hugh incentive for those of us living in congested areas with HOV lanes.

Devin Serpa

December 26, 2010 3:42 PM

The Volt has less battery capacity, but virtually the same electric drive train as the Leaf. A gas Gen Set is not worth the price difference of Li Ion battery storage. Therefore the Volt is overly priced, top it off with too few options and it's not worth it. As for range, no one said an EV should replace every vehicle class. As for the 90% of those who commute less than 50 miles a day it does make sense. Remember Kuwait just said the world economy can withstand a $100/bbl price point. O RLY? Thanks for telling the world what to pay.


December 26, 2010 3:48 PM

Probably more appropriate to compare the Prius with the Volt. The Volt is a serial hybrid (gas engine acts as a generator for the electric drive motor) until highway speed when it turns into a parallel hybrid (like the Prius where the engine also drives the wheels). The Volt is new technology and will likely attract hybrid buyers who want to take the next step into plug in hybrids. The Volt certainly has the lead over the Prius as a plug in. The Prius won't be a plug in hybrid for a couple of more years. I really hope GM offers a cross over based on the Volt hybrid technology, that could be interesting. The Prius is far less expensive than the Volt, so that's something to consider.

The LEAF is an electric car and there will be other electric cars to compare it to in 2011 and 2012. The Ford Focus EV could be interesting.


December 26, 2010 5:40 PM

I hear thier are chargers to reduce charging time.


December 26, 2010 10:14 PM

""I have not tested a Leaf.""

Wait until you test the leaf then finish your story Period

Steve J

December 27, 2010 2:36 AM

You write an article about Nissan Leaf vs. Chevy Volt, and you haven't even driven a Leaf yet? Are you kidding me?

Well, I have driven the Leaf, and it is a great car. In this economy, $10,000 difference makes a huge difference. You don't have to make a lot of money to be green, and the Leaf is a great second-car or short-commute car.

The Leaf will be my choice over Volt for sure.


December 27, 2010 4:38 AM

Very bias comparison. You say the Volt is made for "most" people, when the Leaf gives you 100 miles aprox of pure electric driving, which is more than enough for most people, given the fact that most Americans drive aprox 50 miles every day, and personally I think no one drives more than 100 miles to work, in that case, it's time to move closer to work. Furthermore, there is a huge price difference between both cars, and given the $9,000 price difference, I could perfectly buy an used gas engine car with that money (in case I already dont have one) for long distance trips. Needless to say, I think the LEAF will be more succesful.

Jerry Ludwig

December 28, 2010 12:03 AM

I stoppped reading with "I have not tested a Leaf.". Once you admit that, there is little point to this article.


December 29, 2010 7:41 AM

Most late model gas powered autos have a fuel monitor to warn you when you are low on fuel. The Leaf with a full charge has a range of less than 100 miles. I very seldom allow my vehicles range drop below 100 miles and would not feel comfortable driving a car with max range of less than 100 miles.


December 29, 2010 10:23 PM

"The Leaf is the cheaper option, costing almost $33,000 before federal tax incentives" You should also have said that in Japan the Volt will have a $20,000 tariff put on it. Why do journalists always leave out the other half of the story?

David Welch

December 30, 2010 5:21 PM

David Welch here. I wrote the blog post to which many of you are responding. Thanks for writing in. The most common gripe is that I have not driven the Leaf. True. I admitted that up front. It's off point. The Leaf may get 100 miles of range, but only in city driving and under ideal conditions. If you do a lot of highway driving or the weather is very cold, you may get considerably less range. It could be 60 miles or less. I don't need to test drive the car to know that.

Many people drive more than 60 miles to and from work. Others drive close to it and will want the freedom to go elsewhere without worry. This isn't a plug for Chevy, it's a fact of life about any pure EV given the limits of today's battery technology. The Leaf can be a fine choice for some consumers. I stick to my point. Due to the limits of today's batteries, many consumers will have buy something with longer driving range.


December 30, 2010 8:08 PM

Consumer shopping for hybrids has been on a long downward trend for over a year. Higher gas prices may change that...but the verdict so far among car shoppers..No Thanks.


December 31, 2010 11:11 AM

The people posting about the high cost of these cars don't understand the market. People aren't buying hybrids/electrics to save money on gas, they're buying them because they have high-tech bling factor. Go drive by any tech related company's parking lot, and you will see more hybrids than the average parking lot. This isn't because the cars are more economical, it's because the owners want to have the latest and greatest tech that's newer/cooler than their friends'.


December 31, 2010 12:33 PM

I installed a 5.4Kwh PV Array on the roof of my garage last December. It will provide most of the electricity to charge the lithium ion batterys in my Volt. I recommedn you do the same. When gas goes over $5.00 a gallon in 2011 it will be time to go solar and add a 2KWh PV array to your garage too. That way, all of your daily driving will be essentially free. Imagine That!!!

stuart speer

January 5, 2011 3:17 PM

I've decided to name the Volt "2011 Used Car of the Year." After a close review of its drive train technology, I dedided not to wait.


January 19, 2011 1:04 PM

I wonder how well the Leaf would do if you put a "Walmart" brand 3k generator in the truck to charge the battery as you went. Seems to me you could then rate the fuel milage by hours per gallon instead of miles per gallon.


January 19, 2011 1:07 PM

Shouldn't it be hybrid vs. hybrid, i.e. Volt vs. Prius, and not hybrid (Volt) vs.EV (Leaf). I would really like to hear from the Prius People on this -- are they really agreeing that the mighty king is dead? I hope not.


January 26, 2011 12:56 PM

Folks, the volt is a joke and the Leaf is in the right direction. Yes, we are at a transitional time where certain demands are not sufficiently being met with sufficient infrastructure, which is why the Volt is a good intermediate vehicle for the time being. However there are many ways to get off gas all together, and Tesla motors is really pushing the bar with infrastructure changes. It is becoming more and more infuriating to listen to people love on the Volt and its technology when Tesla is just about ready to start producing their $50k sedan that can seat 7 (5 adults and 2 children), has a range of 300 miles, can charge in under 30 minutes at 480V or in 3 hours at 240V, is 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, and has the luxury features and more in a car that you'd expect at a price of 50k. It looks like an Aston Martin/ Jaguar XF gave birth to this car. The Government owns GM and of course will try pushing Volt sales even though it's a piece of crap. Tesla has technology that is years (decades) beyond the crap coming out of Detroit (I live in Michigan!). Please look up tesla at and head over to the sedan section, the Model S and watch the youtube videos--it is an astounding car.

Tesla also has a high-end sports car that is 0-60 in 3.7 seconds, but costs 100k.

They are coming out with an all electric, 300-mile range SUV in 2014 to be priced under 30k

They are also coming out with a midsize sedan, all electric, over 400 mile range to be priced under 30k.

The cars hitting the news now are trash, and tesla has already shown they can push the bar and greatly greatly exceed it.


February 9, 2011 1:38 PM

All of these electric cars making the headlines are a great step in the right direction, but the rate is too slow. I should have been reading this article in the nineties, not now. Car makers should start moving faster to push their electric models onto the market. That means you, Toyota, VW.

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