Who's really getting electric cars right?

Chevrolet Volt

The Chevrolet Volt is getting a bad rap because most reviewers are drawing faulty comparisons with the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf.

They whine about the Volt's price and praise the other electric cars for "getting it right."

But putting price aside for a moment, I question the notion that Chevy somehow got the Volt all wrong.

Each of these cars actually runs differently, and I think the Volt offers the best combination of range and low-cost operation – by which I mean it burns precious little of that ridiculous $4 a gallon gas.

The Leaf is powered by an electric motor and pure battery power, with a range of roughly 80 miles between charges.

That means you'll never buy a gallon of gas, but there's no flexibility in how far you can drive. Drain the batteries and you're done for the day.

The Prius is a traditional hybrid using an electric motor in tandem with a gas engine to power the wheels.

You can go a long way and you'll get very good gas mileage, but you're still burning gasoline every time you pull out of the driveway.

The Volt is powered by an electric motor and has the capacity to operate on only its batteries for up to 50 miles. Then its gasoline engine kicks in to generate electricity, recharge the batteries and keep you rolling for up to about 370 miles.

Many drivers rarely go more than 50 miles a day and never burn a drop of gasoline, just like with the Leaf. (I've read stories about electric car fans who bought one of the first Volts late last year and are still on their first or second tank of gas.)

But on those days when you need to go more than 50 miles, or more than 80 miles, the Volt can get you there. No worries.

That's why I think Chevy's engineers have found a very intriguing compromise between a pure electric car like the Leaf and a traditional hybrid such as the Prius.

If the Volt's critics had a better appreciation of how most of us drive, they'd appreciate the Volt a lot more.

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