Leaf Vs. Volt: Who's the Green Champion?


For the last five years, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and the all-electric Nissan Leaf have been the two best-selling mainstream electric vehicles in the U.S. By the end of November, the Leaf had sold nearly 16,000 units while the Volt has sold close to 13,500.

2016 sees a totally redesigned Volt hitting showrooms. And even though the Leaf won't change its appearance, Nissan will be offering an extended range version. The 2016 Leaf will offer 107 miles of all-electric mileage. The new Volt improves its EV range and will be able to go 53 miles without ever needing to burn any fossil fuel. When the gasoline engine kicks in on the second generation Volt, it offers better fuel efficiency with an estimated 42 MPG. 

But, which is the “greener” option? 

Just looking at the electric range it might seem that since the Volt only has half the electric range of the Volt, the Nissan would be the clear winner. But based on data from the previous Volt, Chevy projects that 90% of trips in made by drivers in the new Volt can be conducted entirely on electricity. Since 78% of U.S. drivers don't exceed 40 miles a day, overnight recharges for a Volt mean it could effectively run months at a time as a purely electric car. According to Chevy, they predict that most drivers will travel 1,000 miles between fill ups. So, the estimated MPG numbers could change significantly depending on the number of all-electric miles traveled between visits to the gas station.

A 2015 Department of Energy study found the number driven in all-electric mode was almost equal between the Leaf and the first-generation Volt between 2012 and 2013: 9,697 miles for the Leaf and 9,112 for the Volt.

These numbers show the Volt, the plug-in hybrid with the longest EV range, operated primarily as an electric vehicle. When looking at the 12,238 total average annual miles Volt drivers covered, only ¼ were driven under gasoline power. The resulting fuel economy for the first generation Volt was 37 MPG.

When the 2016 Volt and 2016 Leaf make their way onto the market the numbers will undoubtedly change. Volt's improved EV range and fuel economy both get a significant bump in the redesigned model. Efficiency in EV mode also gets an increase to 102 MPGe from 98 MPGe. Based on the DOE study and Chevy research, the 75% of electric miles Volt owners traveled in their cars could reach as high as 90% in the new model.

Drivers of the 2016 Leaf will also cover much more ground with 107 miles of range in the SV and SL trims. Practically speaking, that bump in battery capacity will give drivers 20 miles extra miles. The longer-range Leaf's MPGe bumps from 114 to 124.

According to projections, it looks like the extended-range Leaf owners get a slight edge in the race to be greener. But this is a race everyone wins. As manufacturers build cars to reach CAFE standards and appeal to buyers, the cars on showrooms get better with each new model year.

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