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Chevy takes electric avenue.


IT may be our roads are going to get somewhat quieter in the not too distant future.

And it''s all down to the current charge towards electric vehicles.

Well, maybe not so much a charge, more of a small trickle, but one which will undoubtedly generate further over the next few years.

One model which we will see on our roads sooner rather than later is the Chevrolet Volt - the European Car of the Year for 2012.

Along with its Vauxhall Ampera stablemate, the Volt offers a real answer to switching to electric.

For unlike anything else yet available, the onboard electric motor not only gets its power from a bank of lithium-ion batteries housed underneath the floor pan, but when the juice runs out, a small 1.4-litre petrol engine cuts in to act as a generator supplying power to the electric drive unit.

With the battery fully charged, which can take as little as four hours from a 16-amp power supply or six hours from an ordinary home supply - the Volt has a maximum range of up to 50 miles, more than enough to see the majority of UK drivers through their day.

Recharging costs work out at around pounds 1 depending on the tariff used.

Once the batteries are depleted, the engine then bursts into life to extend the car''s range by another 250 miles.

Using the engine, the Volt can then run indefinitely just by filling up the petrol tank as in a normal car.

The Volt went on sale in America in 2010 and surveys show that the average owner travels more than 1,000 miles before having to fill up the petrol tank.

However, drive less than 50 miles a day, or charge the batteries at the office or workplace, and the Volt can be driven on electric power alone.

I have just reacquainted myself with the Volt after having put it throught its paces in Switzerland towards the end of last year.

This time it was on home ground on the flat plains around Cambridge and Bedford and I am as impressed today as I was when I first drove the car.

The Volt chews up the miles smoothly and silently.

Even under hard acceleration virtually no noise encroaches into the cabin. And its the same outside.

So much so that Chevrolet have fitted a buzzer which allows the driver to manually warn pedestrians that the Volt is approaching. Top speed has been electronically limited to 99mph, while the Volt can accelerate from a standing start to 60mph in nine seconds. The power flows in immediately and it is even possible to spin the front wheels if you give it full welly.

The heavy battery pack gives the Volt a low centre of gravity, which in turn gives the driver a feeling of confidence no matter what the road conditions are like.

Like its Vauxhall cousin, design and build quality are a little bit special. The four-seater space-age cabin features two seven-inch, multi-coloured, touch-screen display panels which replace the normal dials we have been so used to for so long.

The first one, the driver information centre mounted on the dash board, reveals the car''s speed, driving efficiency, battery state of charge, fuel range, and trip information.

The second screen on the centre stack, is the main interface for infotainment, climate control functions and the optional satellite navigation system when fitted.

It can also be set to show real-time energy flow between the battery, drive unit, engine and wheels.

The Volt has an on-the-road price of pounds 28,545 which includes a maximum Government grant of pounds 5,000.

Initially however, it will not be available at every Chevrolet dealership, so a little homework will be required in able to source a vehicle.

For that money, owners get full leather upholstery, rear-view camera, Bluetooth, MP3 CD sound system, 17-inch alloy wheels and cruise control.

Safety issues have also been well catered for, with anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, traction control and eight airbags fitted as standard. That''s enough to make sure the Volt scored a top five-star rating in Euro NCAP testing.

While other electric vehicles are struggling to make any sort of impression on the sales front, the range-extending Chevrolet Volt is a totally different kettle of fish, so don''t be surprised if this GM wonder machine becomes the catalyst that kick starts the electric revolution.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Apr 27, 2012
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