When taking the decision to trade your gas-powered set of wheels for a more eco-friendly, all-electric option, you will find an increasingly wider range of green offerings on the market, from mild hybrids to full electric vehicles (EVs). Two of the strongest options to eat up significant miles on electric power alone are Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf is pure EV, the Volt uses a range extender to kick in after up to 60+ kilometres of EV driving.

But which one really is the best? Because there can technically be only one. Well, according to a study by the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) it all boils down to what your objectives and priorities are, because really, the differences aren’t that significant.

The data was collected in 2012 and 2013, from 4,000 Nissan Leaf and 1,800 Chevrolet Volt owners across the United States. The results of the study seemed surprising to some, but read as common sense to me. For instance, the INL’s document reveals that Volt owners will drive an average of 12,238 miles (a speck under 20,000 km) a year, which is about a thousand miles more than the national average. Understandably, the average number of miles driven by Leaf owners is significantly lower, 25 percent lower. There’s no inexplicable phenomenon here: the Volt benefits from a range extender (to end the electric/not electric debate), whereas the Leaf can only rely on its electric powertrain, which limits its range between time-consuming charging periods.

However, what might blow your mind is the all-electric numbers. If we are looking at the same 15,600-km average for the Leaf, the Volt goes down a serious notch to land at a 14,600 electric kilometres average, which is obviously less than the Leaf, but still pretty close considering the former Volt generation only had about 60 km of gas-free range. So it seems like everything the Leaf does, the Volt can do as well and even better. But consider this: 15,600 km a year is about 42 kilometres in a day. Any EV can do 42 kilometres in a day. That’s roughly 20 km going and 20 km back. Even the Volt can do that, especially if you throw the charging at work and home factor into the equation. Even some plug-in hybrids might get away with those numbers.

The actual useful information we can pull from this study is not how surprising it is that Volt owners will drive roughly the same amount of electric kilometres as the Leaf owners, but rather how well it illustrates both models’ capacities and their owners’ habits. For instance, Volt owners like to live more “dangerously” by being more prone to depleting the battery of their car (again: range extender). However, they will tend to charge their vehicle more often, 1.6 times a day versus 1.1 for the Leaf. Most EV owners will also choose to charge their vehicle at home (half of the participants charged at home only), or at work, leaving the public charging stations behind. This can be explained by the fact that unlike at a gas station, the car has to stay at the charging station for a period of time. The driver has to remain in the area for a while and unless said driver is Christmas shopping or working in the area, the convenience of those stations is rather limited. What the study also tells us is that people who opt for EVs tend to have shorter daily commute needs. And that in the end, the choice of an electric vehicle shouldn’t have anything to do with the electric range it provides as they all more or less will get you similar numbers (except if you consider buying a Tesla which currently plays in a league of its own).

The Volt provides more flexibility because of its generator, that’s no surprise. It knows no such thing as limits, that’s if you are willing to rely on gas to help you get wherever you need to be that’s further away than 60 or 70 kilometres. If on the other hand, the idea behind spending that much money on a single car is to never have to stop at the gas pump again, then the Leaf will be your pick. It’s all about setting priorities and preferences. Or liking the design of one over the others.

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