Volt sure to generate interest
Volt out of the blue: Chevrolet Volt, which will wear a Holden badge in Australia.

Don't nod off, this is an electric car like no other. While pure-electric cars create range anxiety - by running out of charge after 100-150km - the Holden Volt keeps on keeping on.

You could even cross the Nullarbor in it.

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Built by Chevrolet, this 2011 World Green Car of the Year arrives in Australia late next year, though I've just had a spin in one in Sydney.

Not on the streets, mind you, but in a huge warehouse that's also used for filming MasterChef.

Its unique technology overcomes most objections to going electric, apart from price.

Like other plug-in electric cars, it has a battery pack (lithium-ion) that can be charged from a socket for about $2.50.

This will provide about 80km of motoring while releasing zero tailpipe emissions.

It has a vital point of difference from purely electric city cars, such as the little $48,000 Mitsubishi iMiEV and coming Nissan Leaf.

That is its backup 1.4-litre petrol engine, which only comes into play when the electric charge is spent. The engine doesn't drive the car. Instead, it acts as a generator to charge the T-shaped battery pack, which extends the driving range by about 500km.

So, if there's a service station within 500km - and that applies to most places - you're OK.

This provides the route flexibility Australians are used to. Decide on a whim to pop down to Albany for the long weekend. No problem.

If you had an electric-only car, you would need to own an additional vehicle, which would bring with it cost, parking space and green penalties.

So the Volt's two cars in one.

US entertainer Jay Leno has a stable of about 250 cars but the way he uses his Volt, at least, is green.

In the 16,000km he has travelled in Los Angeles' congested traffic in the past year, he is still on the original tank of petrol.

He tops up the charge overnight and at his work carpark, a bit like keeping a smartphone on the go.

The greatest gift Leno's Volt gives to Los Angeles is cleaner air, due to zero emissions from the exhaust when in all-electric mode.

The electricity he uses to charge the car leads to emissions from power stations, though the mainly off-peak usage is a plus.

A Volt being charged from a power station using green energy - such as hydro, wind or solar - would be the ideal.

Tasmania's hydro power and the Volt would be a perfect match.

A 111kW electric drive unit powers the Volt’s wheels at all times. (Photo License Agreement - This GM image is protected by copyright.)
Petro-electric hybrid models such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, whose prices are starting to fall to near those of conventional cars, operate differently to the Volt.

They are driven by a petrol engine with electric support.

They have an extremely short electric-only range, with some petrol almost always being used.

Coming plug-in petrol, diesel and LPG hybrids will have the ability to operate more in electric mode.

Someone travelling very long distances daily in the Volt would get limited benefits from the car's technology.

They'd be using fossil fuels most of the time and not recouping the Volt's price premium over a similar-size conventional car.

My bet is the Volt will sell for $55,000-$65,000, which would put it up against fancy machinery such as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series, which are also bigger.

And there's no government carrot like the $7500 subsidy provided in the US.

Many initial purchasers could be well-heeled technophiles; types who queue up for the latest iPhone or iPad.

The Volt is a very smart looker inside and out - sporty, modern, luxurious and extremely high-tech, without looking odd or driving unusually.

Sure, it's eerily silent but otherwise it's quick off the mark and handles with aplomb.

The cost of the technology will come down over time.

Holden emphasises the car is not a weird science experiment.

It sees the Volt's clever workings becoming part of the mainstream mix of powertrains on the market.


HOLDEN VOLT

Price: $55,000-$65,000 (predicted)
Manufacture: US
Local release: Late 2012 from selected Holden dealers
Power source: Lithium-ion batteries charged from a regular household socket and/or a 1.4-litre petrol generator
Range: 80km (plug-in power) plus 500km (petrol generator)
Recharging: 4-6 hours

The West Australian

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