Worth the Cost? The Chevy Volt vs. the Nissan Leaf

July 29, 2010
Michael Sheehan

With great fanfare, General Motors unveiled the $41,000 sticker price for the Chevy Volt, its much-hyped extended-range electric sedan -- or about $8,000 more than the all-electric Nissan Leaf, which will list for $32,780. Are they worth the cost?

With great fanfare, General Motors has unveiled the sticker price for the Chevy Volt, its much-hyped extended-range electric sedan. With a base price of $41,000, it will cost about $8,000 more than the all-electric Nissan Leaf, which will list for $32,780. Both prices are before the $7,500 federal tax credit that you’ll get for buying an eco-friendly car. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price on the Volt is also almost $20,000 more than on the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic hybrid.

The Chevy VoltThe technology of these cars can be a factor in your choice. The hybrids generally are run on gasoline, using electric power only during the initial acceleration. Once the car reaches a certain speed, the gasoline engine kicks in. The all-electric Leaf runs on battery power alone. The difference in the Volt is a small internal combustion engine that powers a generator, which keeps the car’s battery charged. That boosts the car’s range from 40 miles to 300 miles. The all-electric Leaf will go an estimated 100 miles between charges.

The question of where and how to charge up your car may also give you sweaty palms. Among a slew of planned charging stations that have been announced is one in New York City, which opened in July, with 100 more promised by September of next year. That said, drivers may find it hard to find one for a few years. Until the charging station infrastructure is in place, Volt and Leaf owners will most likely have to fall back on charging their cars using household power, which can take up to eight hours. (GM has promised that the first 4,400 Volt buyers will be offered a 240-volt charging station installed in their home free.)

The charging station issue may ultimately drive your decision on whether to get into an all-electric car. Urban drivers may not flinch at the thought of a 100-mile range limit, but those who live in the suburbs or in rural areas may find the range too restricting. That would give the Volt an advantage with these drivers, because its 300-mile range is closer to the typical gasoline-powered car.

The Nissan Leaf The Leaf may win on cost, however. With the federal tax credit, the actual cost of the Leaf would be a tad over $25,000. Availability may be another issue. Although the first cars are scheduled to roll off the assembly line this fall, both the Volt and the Leaf will be in limited production until next year. Until then, they will be available only in select markets.