TOBY HAGON December 09, 2011
Holden says the Volt electric car will seduce technophiles.
Take note iPod generation – your car has arrived.
The car Holden hopes will change the perceptions of its brand has landed in Australia a year before it goes on sale as a potential game changer for the industry.
And Holden is hoping people will queue to own what many see as a revolutionary vehicle that could spawn a new breed of cars that run on electricity around town but still have the range to head away for holidays.
Running mainly on electricity but with a conventional engine that can extend the driving range by recharging the batteries, the Volt is a new breed of plug-in hybrid vehicles that has spawned copycats from other car makers.
“The Volt is for the same people that queue up for iPads and iPhones,” said Holden’s director of marketing, sales and aftersales John Elsworth. “It’s for technophiles, people who want the latest gadgets the day they’re released.
Elsworth says the experience of the Volt in America is that there are many “normal, private customers who want the latest and greatest gadget”.
Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux says the Volt is a crucial car for the brand.
“The Volt is a game changer for us,” said Devereux. “It’s really the only real-world EV [you can live with every day]. I hope it starts to change the perceptions some people have of Holden.
“It will be a harbinger of how we talk about Holden in future.”
The Volt goes on sale towards the end of 2012, but Holden is embarking on a year-long pre-launch campaign aimed at priming those prepared to pay – and, potentially, queue – for the latest gadget on four wheels.
Speaking of which, the pricing of the Volt hasn’t been set and a subject Holden isn’t keen to elaborate on, other than to say it will carry “a premium price”.
Elsworth hinted Holden would swallow a loss on the car that has the potential to rival the environmental credentials – and marketing might – of the Toyota Prius hybrid car, which is often held up as the poster child of green motoring.
“We’ll price the car so it’s a relevant car in the market,” he said. “If you price it to a point where you recover the cost of the technology … it won’t sell. Most companies who do a product that’s quite ground breaking will struggle to make money in the early years of the car.”
In the US the Volt is priced from $39,145 but its price can be reduced by a government tax credit of $7500; Australian governments have so far shown no interest in encouraging the take up of electric vehicles.
Best guesses are that the Volt would be priced between $50,000 and $60,000 in Australia, taking into account local taxes, import tariffs and the mark up that often applies to cars sold here.
Elsworth says the Volt will also appeal to companies looking to make a statement about their green credentials, in much the same way as the Toyota Prius.
“There’s businesses who want to be seen to be making a statement about their company. Their CEOs are very active in wanting to drive an environmentally friendly car. There’s lots of growth in that segment of the market.”
As for the technical details, the Volt drives its wheels only with an electric motor and can do so for up to 80km before being recharged. Recharging takes about four hours.
Beyond that it has a 1.4-litre petrol engine that acts purely as a generator to charge the T-shaped batteries that run down the centre of the car and under the rear seat. It allows regular use for extended distances.
The addition of the engine – which many owners in the US are still to use – eliminates the “range anxiety” associated with pure electric vehicles, whereby people start worrying whether they’ll make it to their destination before running out of charge.
How much fuel each uses is a moot point - with the Volt it depends on how it's used and for how long. The Prius uses an average of 3.9 litres per 100km according to the government test (in regular driving they use more) while the Volt uses no fuel for short trips.
Once the batteries have been depleted the Volt uses about 5.9L/100km (40 miles per gallon) running on petrol during freeway driving compared with the Prius' US claim of about 4.9L/100km (48mpg).
The Volt has recently been embroiled in controversy over the safety of its battery pack in a crash. A car that was crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration caught fire weeks after the test when it was unattended due to the chemicals in its lithium-ion batteries.
At the recent Los Angeles motor show General Motors’s executive director of electric vehicles, Jim Federico, said changes had already been made to the post-crash procedures involving discharging batteries.
“The only new news to come out of this is you’ve got to follow protocols,” said Federico. “The [testing agent that crash tested the car, NHTSA] did nothing wrong – the protocol wasn’t developed yet.
“The big deal is it’s a new technology. If you follow the protocol, you disconnect the battery just like you disconnect the battery in a gas [gasoline] car.”
Questions have also been raised about how long it took to disclose information about the crash; the US Government was a shareholder in GM at the time of the crash.