Plug in for a stylish drive

By David Linklater

A 'frighteningly expensive' newcomer is a very likeable addition to the electric car range

Holden Volt Photo / David Linklater
Holden Volt Photo / David Linklater

Holden tells us journalist types that New Zealand is the ideal place for electric cars because not only is 80 per cent of our power generated from renewable resources, but 85 per cent of Kiwi homes have a garage - and therefore the basis of an excellent recharging infrastructure without really trying.

That's all very well, but I don't qualify. I do have a garage - a double one - but half of it is full of a Skoda and the rest is home to a city of boxes full of stuff simply too precious to dispose of. I know this because I've been told several times. Failing to make this groundbreaking electric car welcome in the car-home (as I like to call a garage) is a roundabout way of giving the Volt a great compliment. Because, quite aside from the extended-range aspect, having a garage full of boxy car and boxes was no impediment to electric motoring.

Volt is the only electric car on the local market that can be charged using a standard three-pin power supply, so I threw the cord through the kitchen window and plugged it in next to the Nespresso, whenever I happened to be home.

This was not merely a matter of convenience but also a stunningly clever metaphor for the cost of a recharge: Holden reckons it costs about the same as a cup of coffee to charge the Volt from empty. Coffee is cheaper at home of course, but then you have more of it. So I reckon we're still about right.

I do like the Volt. It's frighteningly expensive at $85,000 (unjustifiably so compared with the American price) but a tantalising glimpse of a zero-emissions future where sustainable cars don't have to be desperately uncool.

Volt has style, a sense of humour (it has lots of unnecessary digital readouts and makes Star Trek noises when you turn it on) and it's even pretty good to drive. The silent running is surreal, the steering and chassis are decent - if only the regenerative brakes had an ounce of feel. But they don't so beware when parking. Volt is a car I would happily drive every day and feel good about it - not merely because it's clean and green. It's fun, too.

Unlike me, most people will simply charge the Volt at night, while they sleep. Even in the haphazard way that I did it (daytime, occasional, partial), I never once ran out of power during my weekly commuting activities. Nor did I ever see the distance-to-flat read any more than 60km (Holden claims you can do 87km on a full charge), which shows you that most electric cars would serve the needs of most people.

However, most will also bring you out in a cold sweat when you think about running the thing flat unexpectedly and having to wait several hours for a recharge. Volt's on-board petrol generator gets around that problem by giving at least another 500km range, which means you can use it as a long-distance car as well.

Not that I did. But having the petrol engine there waiting does mean you can use all of the electric range with no risk, which is also a nice thought: the internal combustion engine is encouraging you to make the most of electric propulsion. Certainly no excuse to pop home for a really big coffee in the middle of the day.

First Volt bolts

Holden New Zealand has just celebrated the first sale of the Volt electric car here, driven off the lot by an Auckland IT consultant.

In Australia, more than 100 Volts are on the road dealer cars, media drives and the majority sold to private buyers and companies.

Holden Australia has just run a cheeky advertising campaign to promote the thriftiness of the Volt.

The company put hidden cameras in a Tasmanian service station. When customers went to pay for their petrol or diesel, instead they were charged just $2.50,
which is what it costs to charge the Volt.

-Liz Dobson

- NZ Herald

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