Like a lot of people I could find a way to live with the Chevrolet Volt if only I could justify the $41,545 price tag.
I say this after toodling around Vancouver in a Volt this week. Among other things, I used a new Chevrolet Volt to give General Motors engineer Dan Mepham a ride to the Vancouver airport. After about 90 minutes of running around, the Volt’s in-dash readout said I still had 42 km worth of battery power left. Not bad. That sort of range suggests most of us could live with a Volt as an everyday city car.
The Volt, in case you’ve been living in a cave, is GM’s extended range electric car. Officially, the Volt has a battery-only range of 40-80 km, with another 500 km on tap from the battery-charging gas motor on board.
If you buy a Volt in Ontario, the province has an $8,230 handout for you; in Quebec, it’s $7,769. No other province subsidizes electric cars, not even British Columbia, where Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson likes to think of himself as the greenest mayor in Canada, if not the world.
GM Canada began shipping Volts this week, about a year after the car went on sale in the U.S. The early adopters won’t be worried about justifying the cost; they will be the true believers who want a green and clean car.
You won’t find many of them – the rest of us have to watch what we spend. Mepham says the Volt will pay back its “electric” premium over a similar-sized Chevy Cruze compact car in about eight years – if you live in Ontario and collect that government money.
Here’s how the Volt pays: fuel costs for the Volt run about 1-2 cents a km, versus 6-8 cents a km for a normal gasoline car. That’s with gas selling for $1.10-$1.30 a litre.
These are all projections, of course. Real running costs in Canada won’t be known until the Volt goes into real-world use. That starts now.
I can say this: the Volt is a completely pleasant four-door hatchback. The electric drive means performance is peppy, the seats are comfy, the instruments and controls are clear and cool, right down to the various performance readouts that fill you in on what’s happening with the electric drive and so on.
In our conversation, Mepham said he’s keen to debunk some myths and misperceptions about the Volt. I’ll pass these along now, while planning a more detailed test comparing the Volt with the Nissan LEAF EV for the future.
• Greenhouse gas emissions: In Canada, we produce far more “clean” electricity than the Americans. About 60 per cent of electricity in the U.S. comes from burning carbon-intense coal. But even in Alberta, where coal-fired plants produce most of the electricity, GHG emissions per km are reduced 25 per cent by using the volt compared to a gas car. “In B.C. and Quebec, GHG emissions are reduced 95-99 per cent.”
• The Volt has two electric motors and one gas engine. One electric motor powers the wheels, the other is essentially a generator that recharges the battery -- all 400 pounds of it. The gas engine is there to drive the generator that charges the battery, though very occasioanlly it will turn the wheels."
• That battery comes with a warranty lasting eight years or 160,000 km. GM expects its battery to be useful for a lot longer than that, though. Why? The lithium ion battery array has its own cooling system. Heat is the enemy of lithium-ion batteries, so cooling makes all the difference to battery life. That said, this battery is completely recyclable. “It’s too valuable to end up in a field or a landfill,” says Mepham.
• Oh, and the battery will recharge in about 10 hours when plugged into a normal wall socket. A 240V quick-charge cuts that time to four hours. The quick-charge hookup costs $490 plus installation.
A last thought about EV subsidies. In the U.S., the $7,500 tax credit can be applied to a three-year lease, which makes the monthly payment pretty darn manageable. In Canada, the Ontario and Quebec governments have not shared the details of their subsidy programs, but almost no one expects the subsidies here to be applied in the U.S. way.
In Canada it seems that EVs will have to sell on their own merits. Shocking. We don’t have Tea Partiers here, but it seems capitalism is alive and well in Canada.