By John Stonier
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- General Motors issued a very special invitation to the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association last week to drive the two Chevrolet Volts visiting the city for the 2010 Winter Olympics. GM generously offered 40 of the Association’s 210 members a unique opportunity to learn more about the car while it is still in pre-production. The event also allowed GM to get feedback from enthusiasts with years of electric car driving experience.
GM has produced 80 third generation pre-production prototypes, two of which came to the Olympic city. This version of the Volt should be close to the final production car due to roll out of a Detroit facility later this spring. Of the 80 cars, most are used for testing and development purposes, but these two vehicles were finished for public display and will be prominently featured during the Olympic Games over the next few weeks. According to GM officials the first production cars will be available in Washington DC, Detroit and California later this fall. Canada should see our first Volts in showrooms later in 2011.
While in Vancouver, the Volt has special licensing arrangements for use only in designated Olympic lanes, and private roadways, so VEVA’s driving course was limited. However everyone had a chance to sit behind the wheel, glide the glossy centre console shift into drive and punch the accelerator to their satisfaction.
GM has put a lot of practical and innovative engineering into this metamorphosis from internal combustion to electric, even though the Volt still carries a piston engine under the hood. The serial electric design (all electric drive, with on-board gasoline generator to recharge the battery when needed) was chosen to take away the range anxiety that continues to pre-occupy the auto industry. As EV purists, VEVA members weren’t so thrilled with this extra complexity for the car. As a first offering from a major auto company, it’s a step in the right direction. A full electric vehicle is only more and better batteries away.
While our test drive opportunities were somewhat limited, VEVA members rated each of the following aspects of the car with one (needs improvement) to five(excellent) stars:
Safety 5 Stars *****
GM has done a very thorough job on safety with the Volt. Any powerful energy technology needs to be treated with respect, and here GM has excelled. The car is controlled by an array of computers that continuously check all of the five main systems on the car through the low voltage 12V system starting when you first turn the key. Not until all system and safety checks are completed does the high voltage traction battery become activated. When charging these checks ensure that no energy flows through the charging plug until all systems are properly connected, and when the plug is removed all high voltage energy is removed from the plug and surrounding area. You can’t activate the car’s traction pack unless the plug is removed.
Visibility from the driver’s seat is good. The colourful and crisp information displays show everything you need just below the sightline. Available all electric range (“AER”) distance is prominently displayed, as well as the gasoline range down to the kilometer, so Volt drivers never have to wonder how much juice is left. You might be distracted from the centre console touch screen which provides three menus displays and controls including energy flows, system status and other cabin features. In the event of an accident, inertial switches immediately open the high voltage contactors, de-energizing the motor drive and traction pack systems, while maintaining low voltage power to braking, steering and all other safety systems remains at the driver’s disposal. Under the hood the complexity is hidden by large plastic covers limiting access to the major components. Easy accessed 12V battery boosting points are prominent at the top of the compartment for the very rare occasion that you might need them (but very handy for giving boosts to drivers of conventional cars). Eight air bags and self-tensioning seat belts round out the main safety features.
Styling and Design 4 Stars ****