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Calif. likes the Leaf, Volt not so much

The Volt isn't eligible for a state tax rebate or for guaranteed access to the HOV lanes.

By Karen Datko Jul 28, 2010 8:58PM

Ah, here's some California dreamin' for you: Cruising alone down the HOV lane in your hugely discounted -- thanks to federal and Cali tax breaks -- 2011 Chevy Volt, without the gas engine coming on.


Yep, it's a dream. Unlike its fellow electric car -- the 2011 Nissan Leaf -- the Volt won't be eligible for California's $5,000 tax rebate for zero-emissions cars or the privilege of using the lanes reserved for hybrids and carpoolers (unless you're carpooling in your Volt).

In California -- one of a handful of states where the Chevy will become available later this year -- that gives the cheaper Leaf (sticker price: $32,780) a distinct advantage over the $41,000 Volt. (In contrast, the price to lease each vehicle is comparable.) They're both highly awaited and locked in a PR battle for coolest plug-in car. How could this happen?


The stakes are big. "Together, these developments represent a serious advantage for the Leaf over the Volt in what is almost certain to be the world's largest market for electric cars in the short-to-medium term," Edward Niedermeyer wrote at The Truth About Cars.


Actually, according to John Voelcker of, only cars with no tailpipes like the all-electric Leaf are eligible for a $5,000 California tax rebate. But the Volt, which can travel for 40 miles -- and go fast -- before the gas engine kicks on to recharge the battery, was thought to qualify for a $3,000 rebate. (Both cars are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit, and several other states offer tax incentives.)

However, the California Air Resources Board doesn't think the Volt is an Advanced Technology Partial Zero-Emissions Vehicle -- better (but not much more widely) known as an AT-PZEV. (A GM exec told The Detroit Bureau that adjustments are in the works to qualify the Volt for the AT-PZEV tax break in 2012.)

Brad Berman of offered some speculation on why that is:

  • The warranty on the Volt's electric-drive parts and battery is only eight years or 100,000 miles. "However, CARB requires that the emissions equipment of AT-PZEVs have a warranty of 10 years or 150,000 miles," Berman said.
  • The Volt's catalytic converter doesn't come on very often, meaning it's cold when it does and thus won't operate at maximum efficiency. Berman said that "CARB has to know that the emissions from the gas engine -- when it eventually comes on -- can meet state guidelines for air quality."

Bill Moore wrote at EV World that GM chose this course:

According to GM spokespersons Robert Peterson in Michigan and Shad Balch in California, GM decided in 2007 when it committed to series production of the Volt, to not seek California Air Resources Board AT-PZEV certification. Instead, the decision was made to certify the car in all 50 United States.

Meanwhile, the Volt's HOV status is still up in the air because of pending legislation, Voelcker said, but under current rules it won't be allowed. He summed up the current situation this way:

A car that must use its engine on the freeway will get HOV-Lane access, while the Volt -- which can run on battery power at highway speeds -- will not. So a Chevrolet Volt that does less than 40 miles a day may never burn a drop of gas, for instance, but will still be banned from the HOV lanes.

Wow, that makes sense.

Overall, it appears that the Leaf is in the catbird seat. But, remember that this is California, a state that's short on cash. Niedermeyer wrote:

Facing a budget shortfall in the tens of billions of dollars, California has only funded its plug-in tax rebate by $4m, meaning that if Leaf drivers use all the available funding, only 820 cars would have been subsidized this year. Next year, California is expected to renew the program for only $8m, meaning only about 1,600 plug-in purchases will be covered.

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