Holden Volt: Tricky electric charges on home plug

By Matt Greenop

Holden's electric car is on the way.

Holden's Volt, unlike the two pure electric cars on sale here, will charge from an ordinary household 10-amp plug. Photo / Supplied
Holden's Volt, unlike the two pure electric cars on sale here, will charge from an ordinary household 10-amp plug. Photo / Supplied

Holden has finally lifted the covers on the full production, right-hand drive version of GM's celebrated Volt plug-in hybrid.

The company is still loath to use the dreaded h-word, preferring instead to call it an extended range electric.

The electric vehicle was first revealed in concept form in 2007 at North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It is already on sale in the US as the Chevrolet Volt and in Europe as the Vauxhall Ampera, and has undergone serious testing in New Zealand and Australia.

Driven tested the left-hand-drive car in pre-production form at Holden's Lang Lang proving ground near Melbourne this year, and although the finished version has the steering wheel on the right side, it feels as composed and "car-like" as that earlier model Volt, missing only the sound of an engine and transmission working in harmony, instead of the hushed sound of the petrol engine kicking when it's needed.

An all-too-quick drive around central Sydney this week served only to whet the appetite - we're really looking forward to getting some serious ks in the car on New Zealand roads to see how it performs in our real world driving conditions.

The good news is that we won't be waiting long - it's going to be on the road in New Zealand in November and will carry the price of $85,000 that we "guesstimated" this year based on the vague Australian pricing that was being hinted at.

This is obviously a huge investment for someone wanting to get into the electro-hybrid realm, and with Nissan and Mitsubishi's all-electric offerings in the $60,000 area and Toyota's Prius just over half that, it will be interesting to see how much of the buying public is prepared to vote with its wallets.

Holden New Zealand managing director Jeff Murray is honest about his expectations for Volt, admitting he's more excited about its "market-leading technology".

"It's not going to sell thousands or even hundreds," he told Driven. "But it does represent what General Motors is capable of and puts Holden right at the cutting edge of this technology."

The company is working with power suppliers and lobbying the government for incentives for buyers to look towards electric and hybrid cars, which could alter the car's cost over its lifespan.

Despite the meagre sales expectations, Holden's marketing plan for New Zealand will include a road show that will travel the North and South Islands, stopping in 22 centres to demonstrate the technology and its seamless integration into the car.

Only three dealers will be able to deliver the car, as technicians are being specially trained to work on it - only six people in New Zealand are able to fix a Volt.

When it needs to be serviced, Holden will put owners up in hotels if necessary. Engineers will be flown in if the car needs more than a simple service. The $20,000-to-replace battery is guaranteed for eight years.

The lithium-ion battery is a self-heating, self-cooling and self-governing triumph that GM had to develop in-house at great expense - especially in light of the company's bail-out from bankruptcy, which now has sparked debate in the US over how much the Volt cost.

The company has strongly denied claims that it costs more to build than it does to buy.


Electric but not as we know it

The Volt's charging system is set to suit the average home's power supply.

Holden's unwillingness to call the Volt a hybrid is understandable as it doesn't quite work in the way that we're used to hybrids behaving.

Volt's electric motors are always driving the wheels, while a 1.4L petrol engine (a version of the Cruze four-cylinder) is working as a heavy duty battery charger, or generator, to keep feeding the drive.

In electric-only mode, it's capable of around 80 or 90km but will kick in the petrol generator when battery charge levels hit pre-determined levels. Add a tank of gas to this and the Volt range leaps to 600km. Regenerative braking will also top up the battery's charge.

But most Kiwis do less than 30km every day, so it's possible that some Volt owners will hardly ever delve into the fuel tank.

It plugs into a standard household 240v, 10amp electric plug, unlike Nissan's Leaf and the Mitsubishi iMIEV electrics, which require a 15amp upgrade to your house and take them off the radar for many, such as those who rent their homes.

The Volt's power consumption is similar to a modern refrigerator or water heater, at 2.5 megawatt hours and it charges in six to ten hours.

Holden electrical engineering specialist Paul Gibson said that while the Volt is capable of ten amp charging, the factory sets it at six amps, meaning a ten-hour full charge.

"There are a lot of old houses from the 50s and 60s and we really don't know what the wiring in those houses is like," he said. "The best way to tell is for us to check the house's electrical system and then we can easily change the charge setting from inside the car back to ten amps."

Another fast charger is available to order, but it requires modifications to the home power supply - so it is reserved for those who are truly in a hurry.

- NZ Herald

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