Holden today unveiled its first electric car – the VOLT – to the Australian media. EFTM was there, and we got to take it for a spin to see whether it was radical or just wrong.
First, a quick recap for anyone asking: “What is an electric car? Doesn’t Toyota already have one of those?” No, the Prius is a hybrid, using both the electric and petrol engines to drive the wheels and move you forward. The difference here (as with other electric cars) is that the electric motors are the only source of drive for the wheels.
That leads to plenty of concerns about the viability of electric cars, with the largest being the ‘range anxiety’ known to exist when driving around – you find yourself worrying the battery is going to go flat and leave you stranded.
General Motors attacked that problem head on by adding a petrol engine to the vehicle. The difference here is that engine does not and cannot drive the wheels of the car. Its purpose is to act solely as a generator. Providing a charging source to the battery to extend the range of the vehicle from 50-80km up to 500km or more.
So what happens if you run the battery totally flat? Do you need to run the petrol engine for a while to create enough charge to get going again? Turns out the answer is no. If the battery is flat, the petrol engine will provide enough charge to the battery system to not only power the electric motor/s but also to charge the battery at the same time.
The VOLT actually has two electric motors, one of which works alone between 0 and 80kph, with a second motor helping out from 80kph and up.
Anthony Albanese the Federal Minister for Transport and Infrastructure was on hand for the launch, as was the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, and the Ambassador for the United States of America, Jeffrey Bleich. All of course singing the praises of this amazing new car.
Let’s not get too excited though – it’s not available here for 12 months. And we have no idea at all what it will cost. Holden claims the full charge (over four hours) would cost just $2.50 – and while I’m sure that’s possible, I’m also sure it requires you to charge in off-peak and have smart metering to take advantage of.
Leaving that aside, let’s look at the car itself. Strangely it seems to carry the industry trend of a ‘huge arse’ on non-standard cars, such as the Prius and some of the Honda hybrids. Given the battery is under the back seat and centre stretch of the car (it’s in a T shape) it can only be an aerodynamic decision. However on closer look inside the boot, it seems the 12V battery and tyre foam kit are there so the boot isn’t any bigger as a result. That said, I don’t mind the look at all.
Jump inside and you’re presented with fancy patterns on a smooth plastic surface in the door inserts, as well as a candy style interior with white plastic throughout – but I should stress, it’s not a cheap look, it’s a stylish look. The white is an interesting choice because the ‘soft touch’ buttons around are hard to read with blue light on a white dash.
Put your foot on the brake and press the ON button and you’re immediately blown away by the on-board computing in this vehicle. The centre console screen is a familiar sight in these style cars showing active power usage and drive train information, while the full LCD dash display is nothing short of complex. Controlled by a scroll wheel to the outer side of the dashboard (where you might find the light dial on many cars, between the drivers window and the drivers steering wheel) the three dimensional options screen is a mind blowing experience. I’m sure it gets simple, but it was nothing of the sort for the 10 minutes I was inside.
The park-brake is a button control on the centre console, while the gear stick when in park tucks very nicely away into the centre console. My problem with the gear selection is that there is no indication except for a small set of letters (P N D R) in the top right of the driver dash LCD screen. I guess you’d get used to that.
As with a hybrid, the deceptive silence is something drivers and passengers (let alone pedestrians) will take some time to get used to. Not only when driving but also when you’re finished, you can easily forget to turn the car off! Throttle down and you’re away with a hum and a buzz and nothing more. The steering feels smooth and the comfort for driver and passenger is excellent.
Being left-hand-drive, we were not able to venture onto the open roads, so the course was a small circuit inside an old railway shed at Everleigh in Sydney. The screech of the tyres as they turned on the smooth concrete surface was all that could be heard from the fleet of VOLT’s on the day.
I tested the acceleration which to me seemed excellent, little or no obvious lag from stabbing the throttle to go time and while no acceleration figures are mentioned we were hitting 35kph in the short few meters before the enormous BRAKE NOW sign above us.
Overall I was impressed with the car, the look and the drive. However I wouldn’t take the word of anyone who has not been on the open roads in the GM Chevrolet VOLT overseas because today’s unveil was hardly a test drive.
The total range for this vehicle can go above 600km with the GM team testing the vehicles between Melbourne and Sydney recently achieving some impressive results. When you compare that to a Commodore doing the whole trip on a full tank there is a long way to go – but that’s not the market for this car.
No price was even hinted, although with build quality like I saw today and the technology involved, I’m expecting it to be $65,000 and up, which, if you’re into saving the planet amay seem like a great price, but for the average motorist who needs value for money this may be difficult. Let’s hope for some aggressive pricing because if this was $45,000 or less it would be hard to turn down.