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Chevy Volt is Cheaper to Drive Than New Toyota Prius Plug-In

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author photo by Nick Chambers October 2011

As a fusion of an all-electric car and a conventional hybrid, a plug-in hybrid is a complex piece of machinery that requires some additional effort for consumers new to the world of electrified drivetrains to understand.

Now that there are two examples of them on the market, the 2012 Chevy Volt and the new 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In, a closer look at the two highlights how each one is good for very different needs.

All plug-in hybrids can travel for a certain distance using electricity from a battery that's been charged from a wall outlet. Once that battery is drained, the vehicle switches to operating in hybrid mode-burning fuel to extend the range of the car.

Because they are using two different energy sources-electricity and gasoline-with two drastically different pricing structures, it becomes a bit complicated to determine how much each one will cost to drive per mile. On top of this, not all plug-in hybrids are created equal.

According to the EPA, the Volt is capable of traveling about 35 miles on stored electricity and then returns about 36 mpg when burning fuel. The Prius Plug-In, on the other hand, can travel about 14 miles on stored electricity before switching to hybrid mode and returning an estimated 49 mpg.

Trying to figure out what kinds of driving patterns fit each type of vehicle best based on the above numbers is complicated enough, but the cars also have a major difference in purchase price to consider.

At first glance, the Volt's base price of $39,995 is much more expensive than the Prius Plug-In's $32,760. However, with its much larger battery the Volt qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit, whereas the Prius Plug-In only qualifies for a $2,500 one. This effectively brings the Volt to within about $2,000 of the price of the Prius Plug-in.

All those numbers may make your head spin when trying to compare them on purely a cost-to-operate-per-mile basis, but according to Pike Research analyst, John Gartner, as long you drive less than 70 miles between full battery charges, the Volt will be cheaper to operate. Gartner used an average gas price of $3.50 per gallon and an average electricity price of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour in his calculations, and notes that prices can vary a bit based on where you live.

Even so, the difference in price per mile between the two is not all that great- averaging less than a dollar over 120 miles-which means it would take a lot of miles to overcome the initial $2,000 difference in purchase price if you chose the Volt over the Prius. However, if you drive less than 35 miles a day-like the average American-you may never use gas at all in the Volt, adding up to some whopping savings over time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Chevy Volt is Cheaper to Drive Than New Toyota Prius Plug-In - Autotrader