So says GM, although the EPA has yet to confirm. If it’s true, then you’re looking at the first car with triple-digit gas mileage, fully four times the amount of its nearest competitor. Actually, it’s even better than that: It can run on electricity alone for up to 40 miles, so if your round-trip commute’s within that range, you don’t need gas at all. Thrilling news, not because the Volt’s going to solve America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil overnight but because the baseline technology’s now not only available but almost cost-effective. Why do I say almost? Let’s do the math. Initial sticker-price estimates are $40,000; assume it’ll be a bit more than that, then deduct $7,500 for the federal tax credit you’ll get for buying one. Let’s say that leaves us with a cost of $35,000. Figure a new car with standard fuel efficiency will get 20 mpg and run you $18,000. Now assume gas prices of $3 per gallon. Buying the cheaper car will save you enough money to afford 5,667 gallons of gas, which, at 20 mpg, means it would be a better deal than the Volt for the first … 113,000 miles. That also doesn’t account for (a) the (comparatively tiny) cost of electricity to charge the battery, (b) the headaches for apartment-dwellers in finding a place to charge the thing, (c) the possibility of higher maintenance costs as the Volt’s new technology suffers glitches, and (d) the strain on urban electrical grids a decade or two down the road when these suckers become popular.
But never mind that. Like I say, we’re thinking big picture here, and the big picture for what this’ll do to Islamic oil autocracies once the technology becomes better and cheaper is sweet. Exit question: Shouldn’t Iran pessimists be looking especially carefully at this rig? If you believe some sort of confrontation in the Gulf is inevitable and you realize what’ll happen to oil prices if the Straits of Hormuz are closed or, god forbid, a regional war breaks out, then suddenly the Volt doesn’t seem like a terrible deal. Especially if you toss a little Carter-esque Hopenchange stagflation in there for old time’s sake.