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GM Canada president Kevin Williams with the first Volts to be delivered to Canadian dealers. (General Motors)
GM Canada president Kevin Williams with the first Volts to be delivered to Canadian dealers. (General Motors)

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Chevy Volts arrive at Canadian dealers Add to ...

GM Canada’s groundbreaking plug-in Chevrolet Volt began arriving at select Canadian dealers last week, while Nissan Canada announced a day later that it would launch a national customer test drive tour for the all-electric Nissan Leaf this week, to run over the next two months in cities across the country.

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“Today is an historic milestone for Chevrolet in Canada,” said GM Canada president Kevin Williams, at a ceremony in Oshawa. “Very soon, enthusiastic Volt customers will be able to eliminate gasoline from their daily commutes while having the flexibility to go further, something no other electrified vehicle can provide.”

Thus was fired the opening shot of the modern electric vehicle war in Canada.

However, the vehicles will account for only a microscopic proportion of the overall sales numbers for both companies in this country. Especially for the next year, as both gear up production for full national market launches by the fall of 2012. By that point, the Canadian EV market is also slated to include the Mitsubishi i-MiEV four-seat hatchback, Ford Focus EV and the Smart fortwo EV.

But the Volt and Leaf arguably have already accomplished their main corporate goals: highlight GM and Nissan as technological and environmental leaders.

Sure, valid questions remain over the cost and mainstream sales potential of all types of plug-in electric vehicles. But the sheer number of electrified cars coming to market, the huge government investments in batteries, EV chargers and EV research, the historically high price of fuel, the massive government incentive money being thrown at them all around the world, and increasingly stringent fuel economy and emissions regulations, all point to a much more co-ordinated effort to make EVs desirable to a mass audience in years to come.

The first few Volts are headed to Toronto, Oshawa, Ottawa-Gatineau, Vancouver, Victoria, Montreal and Quebec City. GM Canada says that the Volt’s all-electric range on a full charge varies between 40 to 80 kilometres, after which the Volt can travel another 500 km on its gas engine.

Nissan’s tour will stop in all 27 dealers in Canada certified to sell the Leaf, and will feature five-kilometre test drives in the car with product experts. The three-Leaf tour is in Quebec this week and next, moving to Ottawa on Sept. 23, then down to Toronto Sept 27 to Oct. 1 before it heads to Alberta and then British Columbia. Specific dates for each dealer and city, as well as test drive sign-up forms, are at nissan.ca/driveelectrictour as well as on Nissan Canada’s Facebook page for the Leaf.

Audi plans performance and A2 EV debuts

Performance S versions of the Audi A6 mid-size sedan, A7 four-door “coupe” and range-topping A8 sedan will all debut at the Frankfurt auto show, which starts next week, along with an all-electric concept version of the firm’s A2 hatchback.

The Audi S6, S7 and S8 will all use a variant of a new twin-turbo 4.0-litre V-8 that puts out 420 or 520 hp, replacing the mighty – and mighty thirsty – 5.2-litre V-10 used in the current S6 and former S8. The latest S6 and S6 Avant wagon will receive the 420-hp version, so down 15 hp and two cylinders, but up by eight lb-ft of torque, to 406.

Audi says the S6 offers a massive 25 per cent fuel consumption reduction over its Lamborghini Gallardo-derived V-10 predecessor, thanks to the addition of a start/stop system as well as cylinder deactivation that shuts down half of the cylinders when not needed.

The S7 will share the same power figures and just-under-5.0 second 0-100 km/h acceleration times as the S6, while the S8 bumps output up to 520 hp, while cutting the 0-100 figure to 4.2 seconds.

Other trick new technologies include an active noise cancellation system that automatically detects harsh engine sounds and sends a counteracting sound wave through the speakers, as well as a new eight-speed automatic.

Audi revealed a sketch of the A2 EV concept as well as many exterior and interior details about it. It includes a dark glass roof that can become transparent at the touch of a button – a trick seen so far only on Mercedes-Benz production models, including the 2012 SLK roadster and Maybach models.

A “dynamic light” starts right from the A2 concept’s new “matrix beam” LED headlights, stretching from the headlight’s eyebrows right through to the tail lights, a thick strip that pulses light the length of the car when the turn signals are used. A red bar of light also flows to this strip under braking, in proportional amount to the force of braking used.

But Audi is keeping details about its electric-only powertrain under wraps for now, saying only it is a powerful system to help it achieve a long range.

Brampton-built Chrysler models to receive eight-speed automatic

Speaking of eight-speed automatics, Chrysler will become the first Detroit-based auto maker to offer one, and it will first go into the Brampton, Ont.-built Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger.

The ZF-produced eight-speed auto will initially go into V-6 versions of the full-size sedans, both rear- and all-wheel-drive versions, and will result in a sizable 12 per cent bump up in highway fuel economy compared to the current five-speed auto, and an eight per cent increase in the city.

Combined with the new and highly impressive Pentastar V-6 that Chrysler introduced last year in nearly all its products, the 300 and Charger now achieve 10.9 L/100 km in the city, 6.4 on the highway, which Chrysler says is now best in class.

The new ZF automatic has also been licensed to luxury car makers including Audi, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Range Rover, Chrysler says. The first ones will come direct from ZF in Germany, although it will also be built eventually under licence from ZF in Chrysler’s Kokomo, Indiana, transmission plant.

Toyota sets new lap records in Nurburgring

Toyota has set impressive new lap times at Germany’s famed Nürburgring Nordschleife (north circuit), including a new lap record for electric vehicles and a new high-water mark for exotic super cars with its latest Lexus LF-A.

The Lexus LF-A Nürburgring edition beat its previously video-recorded lap time of the massive 20.8 km circuit with a remarkable yet to-be-confirmed seven-minute, 14-second time, according to a widely reported Twitter message from Lexus Europe.

It’s not quite official yet, as no video or official lap charts have emerged from Toyota or anyone else yet, perhaps because it was done in association with a piece for EVO magazine. Not only did the time beat the LF-A Nurburgring edition’s previously set time by eight seconds, it also leapfrogs the time of every other sports car available in North America, including the Porsche 911 GT2, the 2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 and the Dodge Viper ACR.

Toyota’s TMG EV P001 electric race car set a new EV lap record of 7:47.794, blowing away the previous lap time of 9:1.338 seconds.

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