New electric Holden Bolt that drives like a 'dodgem car'
HOLDEN is planning to introduce an electric vehicle that is as simple to drive as a dodgem car - and if you're prepared to take a leap of faith you may never need to apply the brakes.
The Chevrolet Bolt looks like an ordinary hatchback except it is powered by an electric motor with enough battery power to travel almost 400km between recharges.
Aside from its surprisingly zippy acceleration - it's almost as quick as a turbocharged VW Golf GTI hot hatch - it has one other cool feature that could change the way we drive cars of the future.
In one driving mode it uses the electric motor to slow the vehicle so dramatically you don't need to apply the brakes.
All you need to do is ease off the throttle and the car will brake heavily enough to apply the brake lights - just like a dodgem car which has only one pedal.
The technology is so effective it will even remain stopped at a set of lights without the driver needing to touch the brake pedal.
The only control needed is the accelerator pedal: push down for go and lift off to brake or come to a complete stop.
The boss of Chevrolet electric vehicles, Darin Gesse, says it's "like a bumper car” - what Americans call dodgem cars.
"They're a one-pedal operation, you either go or stop depending on how you use the one pedal,” says Gesse. "It's exactly the same philosophy with this car.”
You can, of course, slam the brakes at any time. However, on our brief test drive in Detroit it wasn't necessary.
After a short while it actually felt better to drive in "dodgem car mode” than in normal mode - without testing the cushion in the bumpers, of course.
Providing you keep an eye on the traffic lights ahead - and keep a safe distance from the car in front - you can bring the Chevrolet Bolt to a stop by simply reducing the pressure on the accelerator pedal.
It means you don't need to pivot your right foot between accelerator and brake pedals. You can just drive the car on the throttle.
Driving the Chevrolet Bolt this way saves about five per cent of energy because it recharges the battery pack more aggressively than if you coasted to a stop.
It also means you may never need to replace the brake pads for the life of the vehicle.
"You're not touching the brake pads so they (customers) may never see brake maintenance in the life of the vehicle,” says Gesse.
The Chevrolet Bolt sells for $37,500 plus taxes and on-road costs in the US, the equivalent of about $50,000 in Australia.
For now it is only being built in left-hand-drive for the US. The next generation model due in 2022 is expected to be available through Holden dealerships in Australia. The price of the technology at that stage is anyone's guess, but Holden is aiming to make it affordable.
Electric vehicles currently make up 0.6 per cent of new-car sales in Australia, but Holden believes the market will grow.
"Australia may be a little bit behind when it comes to electric cars at the moment but we need to make sure we're ready for them,” said Holden spokesman Sean Poppitt.
Holden said it has two examples of the Bolt electric car in Australia for evaluation and to help bring government agencies up to speed on the technology.
While the Bolt has more driving range than the average electric car - up to 383km in ideal conditions - it still takes up to nine-and-a-half hours to recharge from empty.
However, General Motors claims 97 per cent of customers say the range exceeds their expectations and about half of the 14,000 owners so far only recharge the vehicle once every three days. One in five owners stretch to five days or more before recharging.
It is understood General Motors does not make a profit on the Bolt - but it pays dividends because it has introduced new customers to the Chevrolet brand.
About 70 per cent of Bolt buyers have never owned a Chevrolet before.
"We don't talk about profitability on the vehicle but we do find that there's more than just profits, there's expanding our horizons and expanding our customer base,” says Gesse.
"We know 85 per cent of (Bolt owners) have another vehicle in the garage, and it's most likely an SUV, and we have plenty of those to offer them when that vehicle comes in for its trade in,” he said.