Fox Numbers Just Don't Add Up

By Bill Moore

Posted: 03 Mar 2012

Fox News' The Five cast member, Eric Bolling recently had the Chevy Volt for a week, courtesy of General Motors, who naively expected the celebrity to give a glowing report on their extended range, plug-in hybrid, or what I like to refer to as an electric hybrid.

But when it came time for Bolling to share his impressions with Fox News viewers, he continued to pan the car, complaining that for two days in row, in the middle of the Lincoln Tunnel between New Jersey where he lives and Fox's headquarters at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in downtown Manhattan, the battery ran out of charge. Here's his quote and that of his fellow Five cast member, Kimberly Guilfoyle.

Bolling: “The car ran out of electricity in the Lincoln Tunnel on my way to work.”

Guilfoyle: “I’d rather roller skate backwards in the Lincoln Tunnel than drive that thing and break down."

Bolling: “Why would you put out an electric car that gets only 25 miles?”

Apparently Ms Guilfoyle is laboring under the assumption that the Volt ran out of juice under the Hudson River and that Bolling had to be towed. In fact, Bolling's video of his second drive to work showed the car seamlessly switching from EV mode to hybrid mode. The Volt didn't "break down." Bolling made it to work and after one week reported his findings… the ones he wanted to find.

His chief complaint, as indicated above is that the car switched from electric to hybrid at only 25 miles. Next he lamented about General Motors receiving all that federal taxpayer money, a common talking point of the political right in America. Funny they never complain about tax breaks and subsidies for other corporations like Exxon and GE.

Mr. Bolling is certainly entitled to his opinions about the car and the federal government. What he is not entitled to is misleading his viewers about the Volt's capabilities. Let's examine his math, which based on his comments, seems fuzzy at best, if not down-right screwy.

First off, if you watch his video carefully, you'll note that when the car transitions from electric to hybrid in the Tunnel, his display shows that, in gasoline hybrid mode, he as some 216 miles of additional hybrid driving range available: a fact he doesn't point out.

On-air he explains that the car switched from electric to hybrid after only 25 miles, yet he states that his daily commute from home to work is, "according to GPS," 18.8 miles.

So, here's the conundrum. If his drive is less than 20 miles from his home in New Jersey to downtown Manhattan and he acknowledges that the Volt gets only 25 miles on its battery, what happened to those remaining five miles? He flippantly refers to a two or three mile detour to pick up donuts. Okay, we're still short two miles. If he drives 18.8 miles to work and the car gets 25 miles in EV mode, he should have been able to drive the entire trip as an electric car. Instead, within two miles of his work place, the car reverts to hybrid mode, which the EPA rates at 37 mpg (city/highway combined). Remember that number, it will be important in just a minute.

To account for the discrepancy in Bolling's math, we have to assume that he, in fact, lives 27 miles away from Fox headquarters: 25 to the middle of the Lincoln Tunnel and 2 miles from there to the Avenue of the Americas; not his very precise 18.8 miles. A chain email that circulated around the time of Bolling's on-air review of his week-long test drive, stated that Bolling only got 30 mpg average. That is, to be blunt, frigging impossible. Here's why.

Assume Bolling does, in fact, live 27 miles from Fox, not the 18.8 he claims, by his own admission, 25 would be in EV mode, which the EPA rates is equivalent to 93 mpg. The remaining 2 miles would be in hybrid mode: remember that's 37 mpg, according to the EPA. But in practical terms, for 25 miles, Bolling used no gasoline. Only within the last two miles did the car shift to hybrid mode and using EPA numbers, the Volt's 1.4L gasoline engine/generator would have burned just 0.05 gallon of gasoline (0.19 liter). Since the GM engineers designed the Volt to use only about half its 16kWh battery capacity, Bolling's hypothetical 27 mile commute into work would consume 8 kWh of energy. Allowing for battery charging inefficiencies, it's feasible that during his 12-hour overnight recharge session, obviously using a 115V common household plug, he actually used maybe 10kWh of electricity. That is roughly equivalent to less than 1/3 a gallon of gasoline in terms of energy content (one gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 34 kWh of electricity).

Let's follow Bolling's commute from home to work, the theoretical 27 miles commute. He leaves the house with a full charge -- that's his on-air claim. He navigates early morning traffic into Manhattan, entering the Lincoln Tunnel on the Jersey side. Somewhere under the Hudson, the car switches to series hybrid mode; there's still 8 kWh of energy in the pack. As traffic finally emerges up out of the tunnel, it's a short, less than mile drive to Fox headquarters. Ninety-three percent of his commute to work was in EV mode, burning zero gasoline. The last seven percent was in hybrid mode during which time the Volt consumed less than a liquid cup-full of fuel.

How's that work out in terms of fuel economy? If we just account for the cup-full of gas, that works out to be a whopping 540 mpg! If we add in the 1/3 gallon of gasoline represented by 10 kWh of electricity stored in the battery pack, Bolling's Volt would still get the equivalent of 90 mpg, three times the number stated in the chain letter email.

That 30 mpg number is much closer to the EPA combined city/highway fuel economy of a 2012 BMW 3 Series, the type of car Bolling might drive on his average commute. Officially, the EPA average is 28.5. So, had Bolling driven the 3 Series instead of the Volt, he'd burn three times the amount of fuel in a car that can cost as much as the Volt.

And speaking of costs, what did Bolling's commute by Volt cost him? New Jersey is a deregulated utility market and rates being offered residential customers are less an 12¢ per kilowatt hour. For the 10 kWh of electricity the Bolling family used to charge the Volt overnight, the bill would be $1.20. Add in the 0.05 gallons of premium gasoline ($3.65/0.05 = 18¢) and the total cost of his one-way commute would be less than $1.40 versus the gallon of fuel consumed at anywhere from $3.59 to more than $4.00 a gallon at current gas prices in New Jersey.

Yet, none of this made it into Bolling's report. It is obvious that he has personal issues with GM and the Obama Administration, to which he is entitled, certainly. He claims on-air to be an investor, so did he get burned in GM's bankruptcy? But it is also painfully obvious that his intention all along was to smear the car, rather than simply taking it at its face value.

Apparently this is what passes for “fair and balanced” at Fox News.

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