While there’s still more than a year to go before its scheduled launch, Chevrolet’s Volt is getting closer. From a concept unveiled in early 2007, it’s now a model that starts, stops and drives – and I got the chance to do that in Vancouver.
I went less than 20 kilometres at low speeds, but notably, it was what automakers call an “integration vehicle,” the first time the technology and design have come together. This isn’t exactly what will go on sale, but final changes will probably be minor.
While it has a gasoline engine, electric motor and lithium-ion battery, Volt isn’t a hybrid.
Rather, it’s an extended-range vehicle that always uses electricity to power the wheels. After it’s recharged by plugging into a wall outlet, it travels about 64 km.
Once the battery runs down, a 1.4-litre gasoline engine starts up and acts like a generator to supply more electricity. That’s a major difference from an all-electric car, which won’t travel any further once its battery is depleted.
Volt was designed to the 64-km threshold because, as GM says, 75 per cent of Canadians drive less than that each day. In theory, many Volt owners will never burn any gasoline, other than the occasional start-up programmed into the engine to keep its fluids flowing.
Driving it is unremarkable, and I mean that as a compliment.
It doesn’t feel much different than a conventional car, which should appeal to many buyers: No learning curve, no unusual requirements, and nothing unfamiliar. Press a button, put the shifter into drive, and put your foot on the accelerator pedal.
It feels peppy, and has a “Sport” button that adds a turbo-like power boost for hills and highway passing. Regenerative braking and deceleration put some charge back into the battery, and if desired, a special setting increases the threshold, with a sensation similar to downshifting a stick shift (powered solely by its electric motor, Volt doesn’t have a transmission).
The brakes feel conventional and, within the limitations of my short test-drive, the steering seems equally normal. Overall, it isn’t much different than driving a Cobalt.
Price will be paramount, but GM’s mum on that until it gets closer to market. Estimates predict it’ll be relatively expensive, with much of the cost in the battery.
Time will tell, but just as hybrids came within reach of most buyers, Volt and other electric vehicles may be poised to become just as common on our roads.