Living with a Holden Volt – part one and two

Living with a Holden Volt – part one and two

volt1

Car and SUV recently handed back Holden’s Volt plug-in electric/hybrid vehicle after a two-month extended test drive.

Why did we do this? Because we already knew we liked the vehicle. We drove it on arrival over a year ago and enjoyed it, but questioned the $85,000 price tag.

Today there are still only a handful on the road, even with a $10,000 cut to the price tag, but the Volt signifies the first of what are likely to be a number of vehicles of the type, with hybrids and alternative propulsion set to become a bigger part of the New Zealand automotive landscape.

Mitsubishi launches its similar-in-concept Outlander PHEV plug-in to the market in April. It will bring a lower-entry point to the plug in market then ever before.

Mitsubishi’s head of marketing Daniel Cook predicts they will be popular, with a RRP starting from $59,990 for what he says will be “the performance model” of the Outlander range.

“This car truly heralds a new era of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which Mitsubishi sees accelerating to 20% of the market by 2020”, Cook says.

It will not be the last. Internationally a number of manufacturers have such vehicles on the way, and then you must consider the ‘normal’ hybrids.

Japan’s automotive market is currently dominated by hybrids. The three most dominant vehicles on sale are the Prius, at around 300,000 units a year, the Prius C/Aqua at 250,000 and the Honda Fit, which late last year overtook both on a month-to-month basis – with huge sales for a hybrid version.

Honda also sells a plug-in all-electric Fit, and plug in Prius models are hitting the roads in some countries.

Like it or not, and whether it is good or bad for our fleet and environment, New Zealanders will probably need to embrace a battery at some point, be their car new or used.

So over 1300 km we tried electric motoring and monitoring our electricity usage. We grew to enjoy the Volt and the electric lifestyle – but that is only part of the story.

There is one fundamental difference between the day-to-day operation of a petrol vehicle and an electric vehicle.

volt2You have to plug it in.

And if your mindset is that plugging in is like a normal fuel up, but taking a lot longer, Car & SUV quickly discovered this is totally wrong. For that matter the concept of how far an electric vehicle can go is also a little confused by how we fell into the usage of our test Volt.

To start at the beginning, Kiwi’s have the advantage when running such a vehicle over many in big cities that most of us have a garage, with easily accessible power points. In our case, we do, but being vehicle enthusiasts it has been long occupied by an 80’s Japanese sports car in a dismantled state.

No worries, as a quick check with Holden service tells us we can charge outside, even in the rain. Once the Volt’s plug is connected, to the fuel-flap style setup forward of the passenger door, it is a sealed unit. When not, it is exposed – our solution to avoid opening and closing the garage door that the cord ran under was a slightly modified plastic bin, in which the plug was secured when not in use.

A standard Kiwi house outlet is 10 amp, so you have the choice with the Volt of charging at that higher level,  instead of the standard 6 amp setting the car defaults to with its standard ‘portable’ charging system. Plug the car into a more-permanent charging station and it will charge at a higher level, but with the standard unit you have to change the setting every time.

A standard charge is about six-hours for about 70km range. Obviously most convenient overnight, but here is the dirty little secret we discovered during our time with the Volt: Aucklanders  just do not drive that far in one go.

volt3-1Our office is in downtown Auckland, and the Volt lived in Mission Bay. With carpooling duties, that is only around 19 km return daily. Hardly outer suburbs, but not exactly a short commute. At this, and with a meeting near town a day, I could have got away with charging every second day. Mathematically you are looking at Stillwater, Waimauku and the edge of Papakura as your limits for Auckland.

Come the weekend, and of course you want to go a lot further. But in practice we discovered you rarely want to go further in one hit. Go 40 km, come back, charge for a couple of hours, repeat. It works surprisingly well.

And it is natural. Our biggest discovery from driving the Volt is that you quickly fall into the plug-in habit. Before too long it becomes as normal as locking the door.

Gripe? The charge door is set on the driver’s side in left-hand drive markets, so we are not so lucky. I need the extra walking distance anyway.

 

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