I've driven several groundbreaking plug-in vehicles lately, namely the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt. The Volt is an electric car with a range-extending gas engine. It uses a bulky, electrical charging cord that winds around an electric panel contraption that my 9-year-old daughter said looks like a "man tool" (whatever that means). It's laden with “Danger! Risk of Electric Shock” stickers that can be a little, well, shocking at first.
My $19 hairdryer from Target has a cute electrical cord that retracts with the push of a button. My vacuum cleaner has simple, short arms that I wind the cord around to keep it neat and tidy. And my Apple computer has a cord that connects to the computer via a magnet.
Perhaps the emergence of plug-in cars should give rise to charging cords that are more manageable for the everyday family to use. Volvo seems to offer a solution with its XC60 plug-in hybrid concept. Volvo isn't rushing to market with a plug-in, so perhaps the company is taking extra time to Scandanavianize — or simplify — the actual cord itself.
The XC60 plug-in hybrid takes away much of the intimidation factor my family faced by using a standard electric cord (modified at one end to plug into the car) that plugs into a standard household outlet. It's the same as plugging a vacuum or any other household electric device into a wall; it's just in the garage. That's not so scary, now is it?
I spoke with Olle Odsell, Volvo's technical director, about the cord itself. While the XC60 plug-in hybrid concept's use of a standard wall outlet is great for the consumer, some work still needs to be done on the cord's storage mechanism. I asked Odsell about using a retracting cord like in my hairdryer, and he said that while it's a good idea, the concern would be making a cord retractor that can work seamlessly without getting tangled and breaking inside the vehicle.
If Volvo's engineers can make a car that stops itself to avoid collisions, it seems to me that they could make a cord retractor that works. Odsell's solution? Possibly an aftermarket product that hangs on your garage wall and retracts the cord there so it would be easier to fix if it breaks.
If electric cars are going to become the norm for American families, we will need to come up with a way to stow the cords and then pull them out again for use every single day. It's bad enough winding up my garden hose in the summer.