How to Hack a Hybrid—and Get Over 200 MPG


My friend Bob is apostolic about the Chevy Volt.

He is such an unabashed fanatic about GM’s first plug-in hybrid that he once organized a Line6 music event for Chevrolet, which led to 15 of his friends owning Volts. When Bob first asked me about purchasing a Volt back in 2011 when it was introduced, I counseled Bob on leasing, not buying. Why? Simple. Hybrid tech was in its infancy, and the all-electric 35 miles of range that first version promised would gradually increase as battery technology evolved. And it would be better to lease and not be stuck with the auto equivalent of Betamax. So that’s what Bob did. He leased at a time when GM couldn’t give the Volt away because fuel prices had tanked the previous two years. He stole a $299 monthly payment that more than paid for itself with the gasoline he didn’t have to buy for his other car.

But wait—the Volt is not a pure electric, so how did Bob circumvent purchasing fuel for his Volt?

First, I connected Bob to a young, aggressive company building home charging stations, Chargepoint, and Bob had one installed.

Next, Bob made use of all the high tech available to him via the Volt and his iPhone to determine where along his driving routes he could find charging stations. Bob kept meticulous records of his EV range over the hills and valleys of his typical driving routes so he knew precisely how far afield he could drive before the Volt’s gasoline engine would kick in.

Bob and his wife used the Volt for every kind of driving, including longer trips, and still ended up with over 200 mpg. Bob explains: “With the Volt, you have no range anxiety, but you get anxious when you burn gas. You just don’t want to. The car is more pleasant in EV mode.”

When a new and improved second-gen 2016 Volt was announced, Bob was first on the list for purchase. And guess what: The EV range had increased from 35 to 53 miles, great for greenies.

So today Bob is driving into the sunset happily ensconced behind the wheel of his new Volt.

Well, not exactly. As informed as he is, Bob drove the 2016 Volt and really loved all the upgrades and improvements. But the new price had not been announced and rumors of much higher lease payments caused him to push the pause button. After driving a 2015 model last year for the first-generation Volt, Bob decided that the improvements from his 2011 model completely satisfied his needs, and the $150 monthly lease he was able to negotiate for a fully equipped end-of-year model, far outweighed the additional EV range the 2016 Volt offered.

So Bob is a completely happy camper.

But don’t try this in your Volt. I believe you’d find camping in the car a completely revolting experience.

John Dinkel is an automotive engineer, journalist, racer, consultant, industry observer, and critic. Follow him on Twitter.

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