General Motors Inc. is looking for Canada's "greenest" car buyers as it prepares to launch the Chevrolet Volt electric plug-in vehicle in a clutch of cities next year.
The Volt will initially be sold at dealerships in seven urban markets that GM says have the right "social climate" - Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Ottawa-Gatineau, Vancouver, Victoria and GM Canada's hometown of Oshawa.
"It's the environmental attitude of these markets because these vehicles really are targeted to the greenest of consumers," GM spokesman Jason Easton said on Thursday. "We couldn't be everywhere."
One of the reasons GM needs customers who care passionately about curbing greenhouse emissions is that the cost of making the $41,000 (U.S.) Volt practical to operate could be quite steep.
Plugged into a conventional 120-volt outlet, the Volt takes 10-13 hours to charge, which could result in consumers paying high prices for peak electricity. For the first 40-80 kilometres, the Volt drives emissions-free off its lithium-ion battery. When the battery runs down, the car shifts to a gas-powered engine that extends the range another 500 kilometres.
If consumers upgrade their home's electrical system to 240 volts, the charge time drops to as little as two to three hours, allowing quick overnight charging, but only after spending $1,000 (Canadian) or more in equipment and installation. Sensitive to the hassle of long charge times, GM is exploring the idea of offering a "turnkey" sale of the electrical upgrade right at its dealerships.
GM estimates that a single overnight charge at off-peak hours would cost 70 cents to $1.20 at current hydro rates. That's offset by substantially lower operating costs, which GM says are about one-sixth the cost of a comparable gas-powered car in Ontario.
GM also announced Thursday that Hydro-Québec has committed to buying and testing 20 Volts as part of a program by the Quebec government-owned electrical utility to explore the impact on its grid and its customers as it begins "fuelling" cars.
"We'll be providing the fuel so it makes sense to get to know the different technologies," Hydro-Québec spokeswoman Stacey Masson said.
The utility's Volt purchase is one of five partnerships with electrical vehicle makers as it explores how to meet challenges of powering a large consumer fleet of plug-in cars. The utility is also testing the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius rechargeable vehicles.
Hydro-Québec estimates it could accommodate 1,000 electric plug-ins without making any changes to its power grid.
Toronto Hydro is similarly trying to figure out if it can cope with the imminent arrival of electric cars. It is offering 15 Toronto residents a chance to test the 2011 Smart ForTwo electric drive vehicle. The utility wants to monitor driving habits, charging patterns and impacts on the electrical grid.