There's a growing hubbub in the plug-in vehicle community over what looks like some ridiculously cheap replacement batteries for the Chevrolet Volt going up for sale. GM Parts Online, for example, is selling a replacement Volt battery with an MSRP of $2,994.64 but, with an online discount, the price comes down to $2,305.88. For the 16-kWh pack in the 2012 Volt, that comes to a very low $144.11 per kilowatt hour (kWH). But is it a real deal? How can it be, when a Chevy dealer may quote you a price of up to $34,000 to replace the pack?
Battery packs in alternative propulsion vehicles are usually priced by the kWh and, historically, they've been thought to be in the range of $500-per-kWh for OEM offerings. Since automakers are understandably secretive about their costs, we still don't know what the real number is today, but we do know it varies by automaker. Tesla, for example, has said it pays less than $200-per-kWH at the cell level but, of course, a constructed pack would be more. Whatever is going on, li-ion battery prices are trending downward.
For a 16-kWh Volt pack, $2,305.88 comes to a very low $144.11 per kWh. But is it a real deal?
So, $144.11 certainly sounds great, but what's the story here? Kevin Kelly, manager of electrification technology communications for General Motors, reminded AutoblogGreen that GM Parts Online is not the official GM parts website and that, "the costs indicated on the site are not what we would charge our dealers or owners for a replacement battery. There would be no cost to the Volt owner if their battery needs replacement or repair while the battery is under the eight year/100,000 mile limited warranty coverage provided by Chevrolet."
A single price tag also can't be accurate for everyone, Kelly said. "If the customer needs to have their battery repaired beyond the warranty, the cost to them would vary depending on what needs to be replaced or repaired (i.e. number of modules, which specific internal components need replacement, etc.)." he said. "So, it's hard for us to tell you exactly what the cost would be to the customer because it varies depending on what might need to be repaired/replaced. As a result, the core charge would vary."
But, is the $2,300 price even accurate for anyone? Thanks to a reader comment, we see that this similar item on New GM Parts makes it look like the lithium-ion modules that Kelly mentioned – where a lot of the expensive bits are – are not included.
We called up Keyes Chevrolet in Los Angeles and were quoted a broad price range of between $3,400 and $34,000 to replace a "drive motor replacement battery" in a 2012 Volt. Tellingly, perhaps, the dealer we spoke with was not sure what replacing a 'drive motor replacement battery' (and the 'Grade B' version, at that) entails, and told us we'd have to bring a Volt in to see what's wrong with the pack to get a real estimate. We got the same confusion and numbers to replace the battery from Berger Chevrolet in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We asked GM to clarify what this $34,000 charge includes, but that information was not forthcoming.
Instead, Kelly told AutoblogGreen that looking at the highest price in the dealer catalog is misleading, since, "GM's strategy when it comes to servicing Volt batteries has been to repair, rather than replace. Technical support has been in place with trained service technicians at dealers specializing in repairing these battery systems. As part of the replacement and repair process, we provide the option of using refurbished batteries that provide the customer with similar or better range performance as they would expect from their original battery system. I should also point out that the quotes you received could include a possible dealer markup for out of warranty repairs. The high end of what you provided is not consistent with what we would expect the customer to pay."
"The high end of what you provided is not consistent with what we would expect the customer to pay" - GM's Kevin Kelly
So, what does a replacement Chevy Volt battery actually cost? No one seems to know for sure. Any of our readers have first-hand experience with this, perhaps from a crashed Volt that had a new pack installed? If you do, please let us know in Comments.