2014 Chevrolet Volt. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Greg Wilson
As of the end of March, the Chevrolet Volt continued to outsell all battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in Canada, ahead of (in order) the Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, Ford C-MAX Energi, Ford Focus Electric, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and Ford Fusion Energi (source: InsideEVs.com). Even so, the Volt and its competitors account for only a small percentage of the overall Canadian vehicle market. For example, Chevrolet sold less than a thousand Volts in 2013, compared to over 34,000 Chevrolet Cruze sedans.
Hoping to increase the Volt’s sales in 2014, GM lowered the base price by over $5,000 (to $36,895). That, combined with ongoing green car subsidies provided by Quebec ($8,000), can bring down the base price of the 2014 Volt to under $29,000. Unfortunately for west coasters, British Columbia’s $5,000 Clean Energy Vehicle subsidy recently ended, and there has been no indication it will be renewed.and
Though Volt sales in Canada are on the upswing, they were down by 15 percent in the US in the first three months of 2014 most likely due to increasing competition from other electric cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles. To help spur sales, GM is planning to build a smaller and less expensive Volt to sell alongside the regular Volt, slated to go on sale in 2016. There are also likely to be improvements in the larger Volt’s battery power and driving range.
The current Volt, first introduced in 2011, falls into a vehicle category somewhere between a BEV and PHEV, but closer to a PHEV. The Volt includes a 16.5-kW lithium-ion battery, two electric motors, continuously variable transmission, and a 1.4L engine that acts as a generator to charge the battery once its charge is depleted. Fully charged, the Volt can run on battery power alone for between 40 and 61 kilometres, depending on temperature and conditions. When the 16.5-kW battery charge is (almost) depleted, the onboard 83-hp 1.4L four-cylinder engine automatically starts up to charge the battery. The engine runs continuously to keep the battery charged, but doesn’t recharge it completely – that has to be done with the wall charger in about 10 hours (110-volt) or 4 hours (220-volt). With a fully charged battery and a full tank of (Premium grade) gasoline, the Volt has a potential driving range of 400 to 500 kilometres.
Before heading out on the road, there are some practical issues the Volt owner needs to remember: the first is not to forget to plug the 5.5-metre charging cable into the wall socket overnight. Using a 110-volt household power outlet, it can take 10 to 12 hours to fully charge the battery. If you forget to do it, you’ll be running on gasoline the next day. A 220-volt charger is a better option, but for many city dwellers like me, this is not an option. I live in a highrise apartment building, and not only do I not have access to a 220-volt charger, but I’m lucky my underground parking spot is close enough to a 110-volt outlet for the cord to reach it. I can fully charge the Volt in about 10 to 12 hours (assuming one of my neighbours doesn’t unplug the cord because he’s angry at me for “stealing” electricity that the building owners are paying for) but that’s really too long to charge the Volt more than once a day.
This situation discourages city dwellers from owning a plug-in vehicle, which is unfortunate since electric cars are ideal for short drives in stop-and-go traffic. Without the proper charging infrastructure, apartment owners will find charging an electric car to be inconvenient or impossible.
2014 Chevrolet Volt engine bay, dashboard, charge state shown behind wheel, energy info on main screen. Click image to enlarge
But back to the Volt: during the week that I tested it, the outside temperature was between zero and five degrees Celsius, and I could drive about 50 km before the engine started running to charge the battery. However, I found that the engine would start at other times too for various reasons. After being parked for four hours at about zero degrees C, our Volt’s engine started even though the battery charge still had enough charge for another 19 km. As well, I found the engine would start when aggressive acceleration was needed, or when the battery charge was near empty, and sometimes for what seemed like no reason at all.