Over the last few months, the APA has evaluated many of the hybrid and all-electric vehicles (EVs) on the market. We've posted several reviews by Staff Writer, Ron Corbett, on the APA website. These in-depth reviews include cars like the small Prius C, the battery-only Nissan Leaf, and plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt. You may be surprised to learn that as a group these advanced technology vehicles are selling very poorly.
After spending time behind the wheel in various battery powered and hybrid vehicles, the APA has come to realize that battery range is not the big limitation. By way of example, motorcycles typically will not travel more than 200 km between fuel stops -- that range is not much greater than the better EVs, but motorcycle riders can fill up in a few minutes and be on their way. An EV driver is faced with multi-hour charge times before continuing their journey (our test Leaf indicated 21 hours at 120 volts when nearly discharged), so it's recharging time, rather than battery range that is the major obstacle. Even in Quebec, where a city and highway charging infrastructure is being installed, an EV driver will still face a multi-hour wait before getting back on the road.
Gas-powered hybrids can solve the limitations of a full EV by switching to readily available and easily fillable gasoline when the batteries run down. After winter and summer tests, the APA came away very impressed with the Chevrolet Volt, GM's range-extended electric vehicle. The Volt is more versatile than a pure EV, and the could fill the requirements for a family's primary vehicle, unlike the all-electric Leaf and other battery-only vehicles. The Volt is comfortable and nicely finished, and the best handling of the "Green" cars. It's an early ticket into the coming electric vehicle age, before the charging infrastructure and battery charging technology are fully mature. At this time, its long-term reliability is unknown.
The Volt's principal limitations are a high price and small back seat. Plenty of cars and SUVs offer less originality and features than a Volt, yet they command higher prices on account of the public's greater willingness to pay more for all-wheel-drive, truck styling, and luxury features over "green" car technology. At this time, despite public concern over fuel prices, sales of the Volt have been very weak in Canada, although it is outpacing full-electric EVs like the Leaf and i-MiEV.
Other less advanced hybrids worth a look include the Prius C subcompact and Camry hybrid from Toyota. These vehicles can't be plugged in overnight, but their engines shut down at stoplights and they offer various fuel saving features that will lower your fuel charges by about 25 percent compared to the best conventional vehicles in their classes. The Prius C (for City) is a cruder package than the most sophisticated small cars, like the Kia Rio or Ford Fiesta, but it's a practical hatchback with very low fuel consumption, and at just under $21,000, it's the least expensive hybrid. The redesigned Camry hybrid is priced just $3,300 higher than a conventional four-cylinder base Camry, and offers competitive performance with no compromises. Unlike the hybrid versions of most other midsize cars, the Camry is actually selling well, accounting for about 20 percent of sales. Annual fuel savings work out to $500-$1,000, compared to a conventional four-cylinder Camry. For detailed information on hybrids and EV's, I invite you to check the Lemon-Aid ratings on hybrids and EVs.
Chevrolet Volt photos by Réjean Poudrette.