Today General Motors revealed the next-generation 2016 Chevrolet Volt will receive a substantially improved Voltec powertrain providing better efficiency and performance.
The system pioneered in the first-generation Volt introduced December 2010 has been entirely re-thought, and updates have been made to improve battery chemistry, T-pack configuration, electric drive components and range-extending gas-powered generator.
A higher percentage of U.S. content is also being brought to bear.
The new car will be seen in January, but details released today imply GM is serious about improving the car that simultaneously performed less than hoped for in the sales arena, while winning many die-hard fans as well.
The Volt was already the top-EV-range plug-in hybrid with double that of the nearest U.S. competitor, and more range is coming says the automaker, without releasing the specific range in miles.
GM pared weight and cost from the battery by replacing the old LG Chem chemistry with revised LG Chem formulation good for 20-percent better storage capacity by volume.
Cell count was cut from 288 to 192 saving 30 pounds (13kg). The pack’s bulk is positioned lower for improved mass centralization.
The previous pack had already been well engineered with thermal management, and out of the total kilowatt-hours – it started at 16.0, grew to 16.5 and now 17.0-kwh – a conservative percentage was held back to ensure longevity and GM says it did err on the safe side.
GM says around 20 million battery cells have been produced, there are over 69,000 Volts on the road, and problems have occurred at the rate of less than two per million cells produced.
“It would have been simple for us to tweak our existing battery to provide nominally increased range, but that’s not what our customers want,” said Nitz meaning they could have reduced the buffer of unused storage capacity to the existing pack to improve range without hurting anything. “So our team created a new battery system that will exceed the performance expectations of most of our owners.”
While other companies like Tesla, BMW and Nissan and others are out there with battery using cars of their own, GM three times described its battery technology as “industry-leading.”
The Volt’s new drive unit will be manufactured at its Powertrain plant in Warren, Mich.
Just as GM did not state the new Volt’s electric range, it is not just yet spelling out fuel or electric efficiency and speed capability, but does say efficiency is superior, and electric acceleration is 20 percent improved.
The new system is being touted for less noise, vibration, and harshness, as well as superior packaging, and is 5 to 12 percent more efficient while being 100 pounds (45 kg) lighter.
“The Traction Power Inverter Module, which manages power flow between the battery and the electric drive motors, has been directly built into the drive unit to reduce mass, size and build complexity while further improving efficiency,” said the company of a thorough redesign.
Now both motors can be utilized together for a “boost in performance,” but GM’s Manager, Electrification Technology Communications, Kevin Kelly clarified this. When asked whether 20-percent improved accerleration meant 0-60 time is 20-percent better, he said GM is not necessarily positioning the Volt to win more stoplight drag races.
“It means we have improved overall acceleration, not specifically 0-60 time,” said Kelly. “In fact, most of the improvement comes at the lower end of the acceleration curve, as that’s where owners told us they wanted better response.”
GM also cut use of rare earths, and one motor is rare-earth-free.
The range-extending engine is a 1.5-liter non-turbo Ecotec four-cylinder that runs on regular gasoline instead of premium as did the 1.4-liter before.
Efficiencies are gained through a direct injection fuel system, high 12.5:1 compression ratio, cooled exhaust gas recirculation and a variable displacement oil pump, among other latest technologies.
“Using the 1.5-liter engine as the range extender assures owners they can go anywhere, anytime without having to worry about whether they have enough power to go through the Rocky Mountains or on a spontaneous weekend getaway,” Nitz said. “It’s all about keeping the promise that the Volt is a no-compromise electric vehicle.”
GM’s move follows that of the third-generation Toyota Prius which in 2010 increased the engine displacement from 1.5 liters to 1.8 liters and in doing so the engine did not have to rev as high, worked in its sweet spot more often, and netted improved fuel efficiency.
GM said it upgraded the new car based on real-world details gleaned from a case study of 300 model year 2011 and 2012 Volts in California for over 30 months. GM knows its battery was reliable, delivered EPA spec or better for EV range and fuel efficiency in charge-sustaining mode.
However where it fell perceptibly short next to the country’s best-selling hybrid, the 50-mpg Prius, was in charge-sustaining mode and to add insult to injury, drivers had to buy premium fuel.
Volt fans have vehemently defended this saying the point is to stay off gas, and true enough, no plug-in gas-electric car can do this more effectively, Volts have averaged more EV miles than gas miles with long times between fill ups, but it was not a clear win in the eyes of some.
GM also knows it needs more rear seat space, but the T-pack that impeded a middle rear seat appears likely to impede again, but GM’s Kelly neither confirmed nor denied this.
He did confirm however it will be a 2016 model year – something largely assumed, but not previously stated by GM, and the car is due not especially long from now.
“Next-gen Volt will launch sometime in second half of 2015,” Kelly said.
That the car’s powertrain is improved is clear. We’ll be looking to see if more revelations are forthcoming between now and when – as Kelly confirmed – the production-ready new Volt is shown at the North American International Auto Show in January.