This week Holden held a technology briefing focusing on the technologies of the Holden Volt and also an insight to technologies currently used in GM’s line up in the US and also future tech we may see in Australia.
The Holden Volt also known as the Chevy Volt in the states is a plug in hybrid. The power train is different from what we have typically before in Australia. The car has two electric motors, a traction motor putting out 111kw 370Nm and a 55kw generator. The volt also features an 1.4L, 63kw petrol motor but the way this system is different from cars like the Toyota Prius is that the wheels are powered by the electric motor at all times. This means potentially you never have to use petrol for up to 12 months. Because petrol goes bad towards 12 months the Volt will start using the petrol generator automatically if you haven’t refilled in 12 months.
The petrol is 95Ron and is kept pressurised to extend to life. E98 is not supported. Recharging uses a socket into the car and then plugs into your normal 10amp home wall socket charging completely from empty under 6 hours. Through a partner ship with Better Place, you can install a 15amp charge station which reduces the complete charging time to under 4hrs. With combined Electric range of 87km and range extender the volt can travel 600km.
Looking closer at the tech, the volt has a 16.5 Kw-h Lithium-ion battery, each cell is about the size of an 5×7” picture frame, quarter inch thick and weights about half a kilogram. The cells are water cooled instead of air cooled. The advantage of this improves battery reliability and longevity. Lithium-ion batteries have an issue with hot spots which are created when charging or using them. These hots spots damage cells and leads to battery degradation which water cooling improves. The system can also heat the batteries in cooler climates.
The Volt also has a couple of interesting safety features, using dual front cameras the Volt has Lane departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert. While also having the usual rear vision camera, airbags, etc. Tech we could see in future generations of the Volt and other Holden Vehicles is Traffic sign recognition, Side Blind-Zone Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control and Auto Collision Braking. These technologies can be found across a range of General Motors global brands.
An interesting peak into the future is V2X Transponders. This allows cars to communicate with each other, allowing early warning of collisions or hard breaking. This is a project underway by Choda/Uni SA.
Inside the cabin there are four seats, the middle seat in the back is taken up by batteries. In the front you have heated seats with manual adjustment to save weight, two 7” colour LCDs one for infotainment and climate control and the other for driver information such as speed, range etc. The centre screen is a touch screen allowing you to control most features, there are a bunch of touch controls high lighted by a white plastic.
Driving the Volt
Getting in the volt the 7” LCD lights up and the blue Start button starts pulsing. Pressing the button there is not much to let you know the car has started, the button turns to a steady blue and the display shows driving information. At first it’s a little over whelming looking at the dual 7” displays and the amount of buttons. A lot of information is display on both of these displays and the interface isn’t as intuitive as it could be. By the end of my experience with the volt, I was comfortable with the cabin and happy for the information to be there.
Before driving the volt I wasn’t sure wether I was going to like the silence of an electric vehicle or the way petrol motor works when in use. But I was quite surprised after my first drive and wanted to have another go. The volt has a few different options when it comes to driving modes. You have Normal mode, Sport Mode, Hold Mode and a “Low” shifter selection. In Normal mode the throttle is less urgent but is great for day to day driving. Sport Mode provides quicker throttle response which provides quicker acceleration.
A difference between Normal and Sport mode is noticeable but not like putting the Volt into Low selection. Hold Mode is for reserving the battery, changing to this mode starts the petrol motor and maintains battery level, this is useful for reserving battery power for later in your trip. Low Shifter selection is the most noticeable change in the Volts driving dynamics. Regenerative breaking is much more apparent and the car response is much more sporty, pulling away quicker and having better throttle response. This selection along with Sport mode creates an enjoyable drive. This is no sports car and it’s not trying to be but it’s fun. In my experience lane departure warning isn’t that useful especially in city driving but I found collision alert a nice feature.
The Volt shows a great step forward in electric vehicle. Full time electric has many benefits over tradition hybrids. The car is quite costly starting at $59,990 but the drive train is brand new. Expect the price to drop in further generations as GM learn and improve this new technology. Volt goes on sale November 1st.