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GM’s Chevy Volt Vs. Nissan Leaf: The Mass-Market Electric Vehicle Wars Begin

Last updated by on 18 Comments

The Mass-Market Electric Vehicle Wars Commence

The GM Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf will both enter showrooms at the tail end of this year. And with GM announcing the Chevy Volt price this week, you can finally find out how much each would set you back to live the “the green dream”. I’ll give a brief run-down of the price, specs, and features of each vehicle and try to decipher which might be the better buy. It turns out that they might not be as far out of your league as you may have initially thought…

Chevy Volt

Chevy Volt

  • Chevy Volt Price: GM announced yesterday that the Chevy Volt purchase price would be $41,000 (they have since dropped the price to around $34,185).
  • Electric Vehicle Tax Credit for the Chevy Volt: The Volt qualifies for a full electric vehicle federal tax credit of $7,500 (bringing MSRP down to $26,685). It might be eligible for state credits as well, depending on the state (note: Oregon is offering $1,500 off, Georgia is offering $5,000).
  • Volt Lease Price: $269/month, 36 months, $2,499 down.
  • Luxury Standard Features: Just about everything, including 8 airbags, 5 years of OnStar, Bluetooth capability, 30 GB hard-drive for music storage, 6 speaker Bose sound system with subwoofer, remote start, navigation with voice recognition.
  • Warranty: 8 years, 100,000 miles on all electric components.
  • Mileage Range: 40 miles electric (gas and emission free) + 300 miles on internal gas engine to power electric drive.

Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf

  • Nissan Leaf Price: $28,800.
  • Electric Vehicle Tax Credit for the Nissan Leaf: The Leaf qualifies for a full electric vehicle tax credit of $7,500 (bringing cost down to $21,300). It might be eligible for state credits as well, depending on the state (note: California offers a $5,000 credit for the leaf, and not the Volt).
  • Leaf Lease Price: $350/month, 36 months, $2,000 down.
  • Luxury Standard Features: Bluetooth, navigation system.
  • Warranty: 8 years, 100,000 miles on all electric components.
  • Mileage Range: 100 miles electric (gas and emission free). No internal gas engine for extended range.

Chevy Volt Versus Nissan Leaf Review

I have been clamoring for electric vehicles for a long time now. The Tesla Roadster (out of most mortal humans price range at $108,000) and the unreleased Tesla Model S (a more modest $49,000 before incentives) both get 300 miles on a charge. So the technology is there to provide a 100% electric vehicle that can take you just about anywhere in a day. But neither the Volt or Leaf were able to come anywhere near that range.

So, I’m conflicted. I like the fact that the Leaf is 100% electric (no emissions). However, the range pretty much makes it a commuter car only, unless you have friends every 90 miles or so that you would allow you to charge up your car on an extended trip.

For that reason, I like the Volt’s extended range capabilities. However, the 40 miles on one charge is not jaw-dropping impressive, especially when you consider than the older lead-acid batteries on the EV1 had a range of 70-100 miles, back in 1996. For anyone with a decent commute, you wouldn’t be able to go 100% electric on the round trip unless you had somewhere at work to plug in. If GM could have just pushed it up to 60 or 80 miles on a charge, it would have provided a lot more convenience.

Both vehicles are cheaper than I was expecting them to be, when the tax credit is factored in (and much cheaper than the EV1 that GM leased in 1996, which was $400-$550/month). If you can nab an extra $5k state tax credit, you’re looking at a $20,000 cost on a new electric Leaf. Not bad for an all electric right out of the gate! The purchasing tax incentives and lower sticker price lead to the Leaf being the better deal of the two for buyers.

With GM subsidizing the Volt’s lease price to make it equal to the Leaf (excluding a + $500 on the down payment), it makes it the better leasing option because of the super standard options and extended range. Plus, it’s easier on the eyes.

If either GM or Nissan read this and would like to let me indefinitely “borrow” either vehicle, I might be able to review in more detail. Make a believer out of me. (Note to GM: I’m in the Detroit area).

Not that either is more cost efficient than buying a used Honda Civic, so don’t blast me on that. But which of the two would you buy?

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18 Comments »
  • Budgeting in the Fun Stuff says:

    I have a 25 mile round-trip commute, so both would work for me, but I hate my Chevy Aveo for a variety of crappily-made reasons, so Chevy will not get my money again…ever. Plus, the Leaf is cuter to me and more affordable. I’d go with the Leaf.

    Of course, I really am looking at my options right now and I’m leaning towards a hybrid…I really love my husband’s Prius and he consistently gets more than 45-48 mpg…500 plus miles on one tank. :-)

  • Wizard Prang says:

    The Volt looks bigger and heavier – not a good combination for an electric car.

    I’m just sayin’

  • Paul says:

    As a car guy and automotive blogger (shameless plug! get it… plug?) I have to say that I really see the Volt as the real player here.

    Though the Leaf is a HUGE step in technology, and a wonderful piece of engineering, my view of the overall goal needs to be wider adoption of these types of vehicles. Unfortunately, people are not “ready” for a full electric vehicle. Though I think the Leaf is the more interesting development, the Volt is certainly a better “mainstream” vehicle.

    I tend to be “anti-hybrid” in the method that the Prius uses (incredible inefficient and an environmental atrocity to build) but moving people to the Volt style hybrid (always running off electric power and using gas as a generator) is the way to go.

    From a personal finance point of view – the Leaf is the way to go. From a motoring point of view – the Volt is the winner (for now).

    As a motoring enthusiast, the real front of mind question for me is “how does one engage in that activity in a fiscally and socially responsible way?” Its one I will have to face in my writings in the coming future.

    • Huey L says:

      You are a moron sir. Don’t tell me what I am not ready for. I can decide for myself. Enjoy your H2.

      • Paul says:

        You absolutely can decide for yourself.

        To say that I am anti-hybrid = I have an H2 is ridiculous. I am VERY pro fuel efficiency but there are far more economical and ecologically friendly (no nickel mining in my car please) than hybrid.

        I am thinking a Cruz Eco or a Hyundai Elantra for example.

        • Dave says:

          Sorry Paul.

          I really need to side with Huey L.

          With speculators manipulating the markets, the eco system, the continued poor engineering and old mind set of detroit, I would never give GM or Chrysler another nickle, everytime they screw-up (endless list) the poor customer service.

          I am just waiting for the Leaf, I’ll buy it for my wife
          to use while I work abroad.

          Folks please think about it. Gasoline is $4.00 a gal and going higher. Think about next time you fill up at $75.00 or $80.00. No more 25 quick lube oil changes and other upkeep headaches.

          I am in the belief that battery storage & Tech inovations will increase the range of the Leaf.
          If you buy that GM junk, your stuck with it.

    • Kelis says:

      Posts like this bgirhten up my day. Thanks for taking the time.

  • Natalie says:

    I currently drive a Camry Hybrid and although I bought my hybrid vehicle the first month they were available I will not be switching to full electric just yet.

    I’m really concerned that people think this is a truly green option for the average person. I live in Las Vegas and our local power company is pretty progressive in getting clean power sources such as hydroelectric and solar, yet only 15% of our power is clean power. Electricity in most places comes from coal in the US. So, great, no gas is burned at your car, but instead you are getting coal burning at your power plant. This is not a step forward in my opinion. So unless your electricity is coming from your private solar array or wind turbine, I can’t justify a full electric vehicle… yet.

    Going green is a lot cheaper than these expensive options, but not as flashy. Buy a bike and a bus pass and use these when weather permits and a small car when it doesn’t. You won’t win any style awards but you will save both money and our environment.

  • BreathontheWind says:

    If the average commute is 40 miles then 50% of the commuting miles with the volt would use gasoline. And how many will never bother to charge it? We could do better. The idea of a series hybrid, like the Volt, is good but it might make more sense to put the engine in a detachable trailer so that the vehicle can run all electric around town and on commutes. Make the engine an option that can be rented and some won’t need to buy it at all. Presently it is a packaged option you pay for.

    The engine represents a liability in maintenance, pollution, fuel supply and cost. We trade that for an increased range. What we need to ask: “Is it worth $8000 plus all the ongoing costs?”

    When you purchase an electric car, you are also buying into your electrical power supply system. That system is getting ever cleaner. The volt engine will never be as clean as the day it rolls out of the factory. It makes sense to buy a Leaf today as its roll in the electrical system will continually improve.

  • Paul says:

    Everyone needs to remember that hybrids WON’T save you money – sure we have an environmental consideration, but as this is a personal finance blog, it is something that should be considered!

  • JonathanV says:


    I assume you mean 40 miles 1 way(if it were 40 miles round trip then the volt would use NO GAS)

    using that 40 miles one-way assumtion, the volt would use possibly 1 Gal or so in gas and the leaf, on a “bad day” (heavy traffic, cold, hot etc.) would NOT MAKE IT HOME! and would probaly use 8-10 gallons of Deisel in the tow truck to come out and tow you home.

    and may I add, its not 300-miles total range on gas, its INFINATE miles on Gas, as Gas is readily available at GAS stations conveniantly located everywhere in the country.

  • Brian says:

    The thing I want to know is how does the addition of heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer effect the range of these cars. I know the volt has a gas back up but that defeats the purpose of an electric car in my eyes

    Around our part of the country it’s really not an option to drive much without hear in the winter and air conditioning in the spring, summer, and good portion of fall. These are never mentioned in reviews or ads and is of primary concern to many of us.

  • Natalie says:

    I’m excited about the new Prius plug-in hybrid coming in 2012. I’m hoping they will increase the battery size for final production. The “beta” cars they have in test markets only go 13 miles on a single charge, but it’s still almost enough for my family’s daily commute.

  • Neutral says:

    I cannot comprehend how far GM can go with GM Volt story. Using a hybrid car in electric mode only, driving 40 mi/day commute, means to shorten the battery pack life to 2 – 3 years. In winter time and steep roads one charge cannot cover 40 miles distance. The electricity is not cheap and 50 % of electricity is produced by burning coal.
    Using as a hybrid it is a different story, but using a VW Jetta TDI Diessel, 50 mpg, 2.0L 140 hp engine, for $18,000 to $23,000 is a REALITY and not an UTOPIA.
    http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/reviews/diesel/4235586

  • Mac says:

    You are wrong about the model S the 58,000 model goes only 100 miles. The 90,000$ model goes 300 miles. There is also a 240 mile version for 70,000$.

    Please learn the facts before making very misleading statements like you do here.

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