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First drive: Holden's Volt earns five stars all round

Hyper extended: The Holden Volt can travel more than 600km on a full battery charge and tank of petrol.

Top marks for Volt in safety, green car ratings as Holden gears up for launch


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30 Aug 2012

HOLDEN has received 900 expressions of interest from potential customers for its pioneering plug-in petrol-electric Volt that will go on sale for $59,990 (plus on-road costs) through a hand-picked, specially trained 49-dealer specialist network in November.

The feel-good four-seat small car has not only been awarded a five-star safety rating but also a five-star efficiency rating with an official fuel-economy figure of just 1.2 litres per 100km on the combined test cycle, making it the most fuel-efficient petrol-electric car on the Australian market.

Holden's Volt website has drawn a queue of early adopters wanting updates on the vehicle's Australian roll-out, which will follow the Australian International Motor Show in October.

However, the Australian branch of General Motors has declined to divulge sales targets for the Detroit-made range-extender hatchback, saying sales are difficult to predict as the revolutionary technology in the car might be scary initially to some buyers.

Describing the Volt as Holden's “iPhone 1”, Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux said that more than any other car sold by Holden, the Volt would require customers to drive it and experience the difference for themselves.

He said potential buyers were wary of electric cars and all-new technology, but Holden was confident that when buyers discovered that Volt offered no-compromise motoring of up 600km on a tank of petrol while doing most of their daily travel on electricity alone, the sales would come.

These customers will have to make just one choice – which colour – as the Volt comes in only one fully optioned model from selected Holden dealers in all states and territories except the Northern Territory.

Mr Devereux ruled out a cut-price model stripped of luxuries such as leather, sat-nav and forward collision alert to generate more sales, saying Holden wanted to make a statement with Volt, which he described as a “technological tour de force”.

Asked if the Volt would be profitable in Australia at the $59,990 price point, Mr Devereux said Volt would help to contribute to Holden's profitable future in Australia.

The Volt was awarded a five-star safety rating by the Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) today (see separate story).

Its green credentials were also emphasised by the release today of official federal fuel consumption test figures, showing the Volt qualifies for a nominal 1.2 litres per 100km combined-cycle fuel cycle reading, translating to carbon dioxide emissions of 27 grams per kilometre.

Drivers are unlikely to achieve those specific figures, however, as the car uses no petrol at all in electric mode up to an estimated 87km, and once switching to petrol range-extender mode, consumes about 4.2L/100km.

This is a a fraction more than the official published figure for the benchmark Toyota Prius hybrid (3.9L/100km), but the Toyota does not have the benefit of long-range all-electric motoring from a 16.5kW/h lithium-ion battery that can be fully charged from a 15-amp 240-volt socket in about four hours for a little as $2.50 (or six hours with a standard 10amp household socket).

Once the battery charge is depleted on a journey, an on-board 1.4-litre 63kW petrol engine – a version of the four-cylinder engine in the Holden Cruze – kicks in to generate electricity to continue the journey for a further 500km or more, depending on the driving conditions.

Under the federal government's new electric vehicle rating system, the Volt earns a rating of 135 kilometres per watt hour for the all-electric component of its range, superior to Nissan's all-electric Leaf (173Wh/km) and the same as Mitsubishi's smaller i-MiEV.

Holden says this gives the Volt the benefits of an electric car in daily commuting but without the range anxiety that so far has stalled sales of full-electric cars around the world.

In the United States, where the Volt has been on sale for more than a year, many owners pride themselves on not using any petrol in their daily commute.

GM has used its OnStar satellite communication system fitted to every Volt in the US to calculate that of the 191 million kilometres covered by Volts so far, 122 million have been on electricity alone.

Unlike plug-in hybrid vehicles destined for the Australian market in the next 12 months from makers such as Mitsubishi, the petrol engine in the Volt never connects directly with the drive wheels, which are propelled by two electric motors with a combined power of 111kW and 370Nm of torque.

One of the AC motors drives the car at lower speeds, with the second motor kicking in at 80km/h to maintain the acceleration, driving through a set of planetary gears instead of a conventional gearbox.

No official 0-100km/h figure has been released, although it is said to be about 9.1 seconds, marginally faster than the Cruze on which it is based, despite a 200kg weight handicap from the T-shaped battery pack under the rear seat and central tunnel.

The pack is water cooled and heated to avoid extremes of temperature that can degrade lithium-ion battery cell performance.

The electric plug and lead – stored under the boot floor – is plugged into a port in the front left fender, while petrol goes in a separate filling port on the other side of the car.

The car bristles with hi-tech features, many seen in Australia for the first time.

A click of a button on the key fob can start the climate control system remotely to heat or cool the car while it is still plugged in to the electricity socket in the home garage, saving electricity from the battery once driving.

The driver can monitor myriad efficiency and electricity/fuel consumption readings on two LCD screens, one in the central console and the other directly in front of the driver, doubling as a digital speedo and trip computer.

The driver can select from normal, sports and hold driving modes, with the latter used on a long trip to manually start the petrol engine and maintain battery charge instead of depleting the entire battery before the engine-generator kicks in.

This means the driver can save electricity for full-electric motivation once they reach their destination city, if they prefer.

The automatic-style transmission shift lever can also be used in two modes – drive and low. In this case, low mode is designed for city driving, increasing the amount of electricity from the regenerative braking system fed back into the battery.

As one of GM's most aerodynamic cars, the Volt has a low-hanging bib under the front bumper, but this has been fashioned from flexible rubber that can take scrapes and bumps.

The bonnet is of aluminium to save weight, while high-strength steel is widely used to cut kilos and increase the safety factor.

Holden was at pains to point out the safety of the high-voltage electric drivetrain, saying it has special cut-off switches and other anti-electrocution features.

To win the right to sell the Volt, Holden dealers had to commit to special training for service staff, along with unique equipment.

Despite its highly technical make-up, the Volt will be covered by the same $185 capped-price servicing with 15,000km/nine-month intervals as the Cruze.

In an Australian first, the Volt's audio, climate control and other functions are operated by a touch-sensitive centre console, under a system called capacitive touch buttons.

Introduced on new Cadillac models in the US, the buttons present a smooth surface on the pearlescent white console, which matches similar highlight trim on the doors.

In a first for Holden, the Volt offers a collision warning system – using a video camera mounted behind the top of the windscreen – that kicks in above 40km/h to mitigate against rear-end collisions.

Other high-tech safety features include lane-departure warning, tyre pressure readings, eight airbags and a “pedestrian-friendly alert” that beeps to warn walkers of the approach of the super-quiet Volt running on electricity.

Standard features include leather heated seats, keyless entry and start, sat-nav, rear-view camera, audio system with DVD, voice recognition and iPod and Bluetooth phone connectivity.

Instead of a three-passenger rear seat like Cruze, the Volt accommodates only two rear-seat passengers, with separate seats divided by a central armrest with a storage compartment and twin cupholders.

The Volt has no spare wheel, instead coming equipped with a roadside tyre repair kit.

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