August 01, 2013

Horse 1521 - Is The Volt Cool?

Today I saw not one but two Holden Volts in Mosman. The experience was a little eerie I must admit because the first one I encountered was in a quiet street and it slinked sliently, slowly seeking a spare space like some slimy silver serpent, spitting out smug.
The other nearly bowled me over on a pedestrian crossing doing 50km/h. I hadn't heard it at all and the driver was looking downwards; probably texting. I can only wonder what is going to happen when some hooded youth who is listening to music meets one of these things; I suspect that in a contest between Volt and Hoodie, Volt wins.

Of course, I ask the question of the Volt (as in fact I do with practically every car on the road) "Is it Cool?"

The default criteria for a car being "cool" generally revolve around the sorts of people who are likely to buy it. European hatchbacks are cool, most people movers and SUVs are not. Diesels and Hybrids are normall not cool and neither are American cars generally because they're prone to falling to bits easily. German cars are usually cool, except for 3-box sedans like the 3-Series, A4 and C-Class which are bought by annoying business people and middle management.
So when looking at whether the Volt is cool or not, the first thing to do is to review what it is: an American built hybrid hatchback. On the face of it, it's not looking good.

Sometimes when asking what something is, it cab be useful to review what it is not.
The Holden Volt is not a Toyota. Toyota's Prius which is its hybrid, is like most Toyotas, uncool. There are exceptions like the GT-86 and even Corollas from the 1970s but in general, most Toyotas from E90 onward are as fun as long division (admittedly there are people who actually like long division; they're weird) ; the current adverts for their Camry even celebrate this fact by using the song "Hip To Be Square".
Although the Holden Volt on the other hand will probably attract the hug-a-rainbow crowd, the people who want to look oh so trendy and eco-friendly whilst also owning a massive kill-o-barge SUV and also the same sorts of people who think that hypermiling is a fun fun game, it's also likely to be bought by geeks and nerds   because of the technology. The question then is, are geeks and nerds cool? Well, not really but it's the geeks and nerds who have not only made techy things like iPods, WiFi and laptops possible but also   even things like plastics, dyes, fabrics and medicines even exist.
Score 1 for the geeks and nerds.

Is the car inherently cool? Well... no.
This question revolves around the question of styling, which actually has very little to do with the mechanicals underneath.
Previous Holdens like the Torana A9X and the Monaro GT350 had a look about them which said: "If you don't fear me, I'll bite your face off". Other Holdens like the VB-VL Commodore give away their German ancestry and all looked proper and correct. Still other Holdens like the FJ, FC, FE etc. shared design trends with those coming out of Detroit and although they too (like cars coming out of Detroit) had a tendency to wallow about, even on a dead straight bit of road, they still demanded to be looked at.
The Volt says... er... Okay, stylistically it comes from the same family as the Cruze, Barina and Spark (all being Daewoos), which I suppose means that... it's sort of anonymous.
I kind of like Opel's Corsa and the Adam is so cute I wanna give it an ickle bitty blankie but if I had a Volt sitting in the driveway, I don't think I'd be filled with that same sort of joy. I know I felt it with the Mk.1 Ford Ka that I had and both the current Ford Fiesta and Mazda 2 do it for me, but the Volt? Not really.

Does the car sound cool? There are very few engine noises as symphonic as a Jaguar V12 expect for possibly a Ferrari V12. There's something sort of visceral about the utter gall and rudeness of a V8 under full power and yet even they will settle into a nice burbly rumble. There's even something to be said for the homeliness of a clattery diesel.
The Volt though has a 1.4L GM Family 0 engine, which also features in the Opel Corsa, Opel Astra, Holden Barina and Holden Cruze. Yet the Volt which is roughly the same size as the Cruze, tips the scales at a massive 1715kg which is a full 103kg heavier than a VF Commodore. At 111kW at its peak, it's not particularly powerful but at 370Nm of torque, it's comparable to the Cruze's 2L diesel (360Nm). Unlike the Cruze though because electric motors deliver maximum torque at zero revs (thanks to  John Ambrose Fleming's left-hand rule for motors), it should win most traffic light grands prix to about 15km/h.
Basically the Volt is a mid-size family hack, which sounds... of not very much.

So then, the Volt is a kind of bland looking car, which is slightly geeky and might accidentally run someone over because it is so quiet. But is it cool?

In all honesty... YES!!!

What?! I don't hear you ask.
There are a few cars which are inherently uncool but cross the line twice. Volvo traded off of this for a very long time and it eventually built the 240T and 850T5, both of which earned the name "terror taxi". Saab spent most of their existence building cars which were hideously flawed; yet still carried off a quiet sort of confidence that no other company could achieve.
The Volt could have been better styled but that might compromise its slipperiness through the air. The Volt could have been fitted with a different set of dials and instruments but that would have changed its geeky nerdy personality, which it wants. It could have even had fake engine noises both inside and out but that's sort of silly.
The Holden Volt ends up being cool simply because it is none of the things which would otherwise make it cool. This means that it's going to end up with a sort of exclusivity like the Kia Magentis, Holden Piazza, BMW 3 Series Compact (E36) and the Ford Laser Lynx. Volts will be remarked at by other road users but only people who own a Volt will know the weird satisfaction they have from owning one.
The Volt is cool because the people who give cars reputations for being uncool, won't buy them.

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