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Should You Buy a Hybrid or Battery Car?

A high price up front can save you money at the back end.

by on Mar.12, 2010

What's the actual cost of driving a battery car like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt? That likely depends on how and where you drive.

Reader Terry Beamon had a simple comment regarding my recent review of a prototype Chevrolet Volt.  “I think the price is too high for the average buyer,” he complained.

(Click Here for the review and all comments.)

I’ve heard that a lot from folks, whether they’re reacting to the reported $40,000 price tag for Chevy’s extended-range electric vehicle, or a more conventional hybrid, like the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight or Ford Escape Hybrid.  The simple fact is that most of these vehicles carry a premium over an otherwise comparable, gasoline-powered automobile – unless the manufacturer is subsidizing the product, as most analysts believe Toyota did with the first-generation Prius.

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The problem, says Tony Posawatz, line director for the Volt, is that “first-generation technology is usually quite expensive.”  And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to battery power.  The latest lithium-ion cells cost as much as $1,000 a kilowatt-hour, or kWh.  The Volt has about 16 kWh of batteries onboard; the Nissan Leaf, a pure battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, has 24 kWh.  If you’re troubled with the math, pull out your calculator.  Spoiler Alert: you will need this in a moment.