Today at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, General Motors is revealing its all-new 2016 Chevrolet Volt in advance of its going on sale after this summer.
This is the first plug-in car to undergo a full redesign, and the new second-generation Volt’s 18.4-kwh battery – up from 17.1 kwh –increases electric range from an official EPA-rated 38 miles to an unofficial-but-expected 50 miles.
The front-wheel-drive compact hatchback’s new 1.5-liter Ecotec generator now runs on regular gas instead of needing premium, and combined fuel efficiency on gas is expected to be 41 mpg – an increase from 37 mpg for the present Volt.
Built on a new Delta II platform, the formerly four-passenger car features a rear bench seat for three abreast and a total of five-person capacity.
Overall vehicle weight was pared by 243 pounds while making it 3.3 inches longer, 0.8-inches wider, and interior passenger volume is similar with rear legroom increased by 0.6 inches and rear headroom decreased by 0.2 inches.
The first Volt was called a revolution, and this is perhaps an evolution – though on paper it’s altogether better having been tweaked inside, out, and under the hood in response to extensive data and feedback from existing Volt owners.
“The 2016 Chevrolet Volt provides our owners with a no-compromise electric driving experience,” said Alan Batey, president of GM North America. “We believe our engineering prowess combined with data from thousands of customers allows us to deliver the most capable plug-in vehicle in the industry.”
Chevrolet’s present Volt was first launched December 2010 after an accelerated development process by a troubled GM going through bankruptcy and restructuring. It was based on the 2007 Volt concept developed the year prior and thus the Volt is approaching half a decade on the market and a full decade since its inception.
The Volt has created raving fans and top customer satisfaction ratings, as well as detractors. By anyone’s reckoning, its all-electric range has been heads above any other plug-in hybrid on the market by a wide margin. The nearest competitive “Energi” siblings from Ford are rated for 19 miles all-electric range.
Extended Range EV
The Volt’s “extended-range electric” powertrain is architecturally unique, as it runs as a pure electric car for 50 miles and total gas plus-electric range is now increased to 420 miles. Its new top speed is 98 mph and while the battery is charged the gas engine does not come on even if the accelerator is pressed to the floor. This differentiates it from every other plug-in hybrid and makes it its own unique type of vehicle.
Its new 0-60 time is quicker by a half second at 8.4 seconds estimated, and the 0-30 time has been cut by 30 percent to 2.6 seconds. “Instant torque” from the electric drive makes the Volt feel peppy and reportedly handling dynamics are sharper than one might expect as well.
The automaker says the electric range also increased “30 percent” from 38 miles to 50. While technically correct, when last summer the 2015 Volt received a 17.1-kwh battery – a 0.6-kwh increase from the 2013-2014 Volt – GM chose not to re-certify it with the EPA as it anticipated the 2016 Volt. If the 2015 had been re-certified, a known-reliable source has told us it could have conservatively been EPA rated for 40 miles. This means EV range for the new car is effectively 25-percent greater between an unofficial 40 miles to 50 miles.
Battery and Charging
The LG Chem-based battery pack designed and assembled domestically by GM has seen its capacity increased to 18.4 kwh. It now uses 192 prismatic pouch cells which is 96 fewer than the 288 of the current generation. Its weight was reduced by more than 20 pounds but is still in a familiar T shape, with slightly altered dimensions.
Recharge times are estimated at 4.5 hours using optional 240-volt level 2 electric vehicle service equipment (EVSE, or the charger). Or, by plugging the redesigned cord into 120-volt, 12-amp house current it takes 13 hours. GM has increased the cord to “maximum” length and revised the 120-volt supplied unit while also stowing it in the rear hatch area in a more easy access position. Many present Volt drivers only use house current for their daily charging and don’t use a level 2 EVSE.
The new Volt also uses GPS-enabled location-based charging.
“Owners will now be able to set their charging preferences exclusively for “home” charging and the vehicle will automatically adjust to that setting when it is at “home” based on GPS data,” said Andrew Farah, the Volt’s chief engineer. “The new Volt will give owners greater flexibility for charging on their terms and make public charging easier.”
The familiar dome-shaped charge indicator light visible through the windshield has been replaced with a horseshoe shape, and will show the approximate charge level through a series of flashes.
More friendly audible tones are offered to warn against such things as leaving the charger door open before driving off.
An optional LED light to illuminate the charger port will also be made available.
Two-Motor Drive Unit
A new electric drive unit to be manufactured at GM’s Powertrain plant in Warren, Mich. uses two smaller motors and is lighter by a total of 33 pounds (15 kg). One motor does away with rare earth magnets.
The drive unit produces the exact same 149 horsepower (111 kw) as the the outgoing drive unit’s, but with increased torque of 294 pounds feet (398 Nm) compared to the 2011-2015 model’s 273 pounds-feet (370 Nm).
At the same time, the drive unit delivers improved noise and vibration characteristics that contribute to a quieter driving experience.
The motors can be used individually or in tandem, effectively delivering two torque paths to make the most of performance and efficiency.
At lower speeds such as city driving the Volt can now operate on a primary motor or it can split power between the motors at moderate speeds or fully engage both motors for higher-load/higher-speed driving, such as passing on the highway.
The Traction Power Inverter Module (TPIM), which manages power flow between the battery and the electric drive motors, has been built into the drive unit to reduce mass, and size, which contributes to greater efficiency.
“The blended arrangement of the two motors is a key contributor to the new Volt’s GM estimated 50-mile all-electric driving range,” said Larry Nitz, executive director of transmissions and electrification powertrain engineering. “The arrangement also enhances torque, giving the Volt a stronger feeling of acceleration and the ability to use both motors helps deliver nearly 20 percent improvement in low-speed electric acceleration.”
Carried over are four diving modes:
• Normal: Designed to make the most of battery range and efficiency during every day commuting.
• Sport: Provides revised accelerator pedal mapping for improved acceleration feel when passing or taking off from a stop.
• Mountain: Enables the engine and battery to combine power to achieve desired performance when traversing steep grades.
• Hold: Allows owners to use their battery power when they want to use it. Hold mode switches the Volt into extended-range operation, which is ideal for longer-distance highway driving.
1.5-liter Range Extender
The 2016 Volt’s naturally aspirated four-cylinder has four valves per cylinder, features a cast aluminum block and head, and serves as a generator that keeps the battery charged and powers the electric drive unit. So, the car operates as an electric car all the time, even with the gas engine supplying the electricity.
Only at certain operating conditions between approximately 55 and 70 mph may the transmission at certain points route engine power to mechanically drive the front wheels. An interview with chief engineer Andrew Farah revealed GM’s rationale is that when the gas engine is running, the priority is maximum efficiency. At certain points in a drive cycle, mechanically tying the genset to the wheels was seen as a more efficient use of energy.
The car is otherwise very nearly what’s known as a series hybrid.
The DOHC four-cylinder gas “genset” as it’s informally known is rated at 101 horsepower (75 kw) at 5,600 rpm. It features direct injection, a high-compression ratio of 12.5:1, cooled exhaust gas recirculation, double continuous variable cam phasing (DCVCP), and a variable-displacement oil pump to make the most of performance and efficiency.
The former 1.4-liter by contrast needed premium gas even though its compression ration was a lower 10.5:1. It produced 84 horsepower (63 kw) at 4,800 rpm and was rated 37 mpg compared to 41 mpg for the new engine.
This will be the first North American application for this member of GM’s new Ecotec family of small engines.
For the first year of production the new 1.5-liter genset will be manufactured at GM’s Toluca, Mexico engine plant, then this will shift to the Flint, Mich. engine plant.
Farah says in contrast to the first-generation Volt, GM ran the 2016 Volt through its normal full development process, letting the design team make it more integrated and polished.
The slightly larger Volt hatch riding on 17-inch alloys has been spiffed up inside and out to incorporate design from other members of the Chevrolet family including exterior cues from “performance” models (think: a whiff of Corvette) but it’s still recognizable as the Volt.
“The new Volt’s design is all about windswept surfaces so everything flows together,” said John Cafaro, executive director, Chevrolet Global Design. “It’s a theme captured from the flowing lines of the fenders into the hood, to the carved body sides which are aerodynamically tuned and aligned with Chevrolet performance DNA.”
A “NACA Duct” style roof is complemented by “a sportier, tapered rear-end appearance characteristic of premium sports sedans.”
Aerodynamics of course were closely sculpted too, and GM says it’s pleased with what it did.
“With electric vehicles, such as the Volt, aerodynamics play a more important role in efficiency than conventional vehicles,” said Nina Tortosa, aerodynamics engineer. “The knowledge we took from the first-generation Volt and other recent Chevrolet cars allowed us greater leverage to work with a more flowing design.”
Trunk space is the same as the present Volt’s at 10.6 cubic feet and this was a challenge as the tail was revised for aerodynamic considerations.
A longer, tapered tail generally means better aero performance but usually costs cargo room and looks slightly out of proportion. To overcome this, GM’s teams devised a rear end design using aero-optimized side panels that flow smoothly into a more rounded rear section with pushed-out corners.
Sculpted tail lamps using lessons learned from the Impala were also utilized as was a engine airflow new shutter system.
The result was a shorter front overhang and wider grille opening – attributes that would typically add to aerodynamic drag.
When less airflow is needed on the highway, the shutters close to block air from entering the engine compartment, reducing drag and enhancing efficiency.
Inside the new Volt, with dual-digital 8-inch displays, and 4G LTE WiFi capability improved integration will be found, Comfort and convenience features include:
• Standard rear-vision camera
• Center armrest that is longer and higher than the current model
• New storage bin in the front console
• Available heated rear seats
• Available heated steering wheel
• Available wireless smartphone charging
“The 2016 Volt maintains the high-tech interior design aesthetic of the first-generation Volt, but has more user-friendly elements creating an inviting balance between ambiance and functionality,” said Crystal Windham, Chevrolet Interior Design director. “The new interior will appeal to existing owners, but also to those who will be new to the Volt family because of its integrated, yet familiar technology.”
It does not look as though substantial improvements were made to the rear seating space, however, as head room has slightly decreased, and presently only so-so rear leg room is 0.6 inches greater.
On the plus side, the new bench seat will enable child seats to be accommodated with greater ease, and a third person may squeeze in the middle, or a center armrest can be folded down when the middle position is not in use.
Returning technologies and new amenities include:
• OnStar 4G LTE with three years of service and standard built-in Wi-Fi hotspot (with a three-month/three gigabyte data trial)
• Siri Eyes Free and text message alerts (requires compatible iPhone)
• Bluetooth phone connectivity
• Automatic climate control
• Keyless access and ignition
• Auxiliary 12-volt power outlets and dual USB ports
• Remote start
• Leather-wrapped steering wheel
• Premium cloth seats and available leather-appointed seating
• Available Navigation and Bose® premium audio
• Heated driver and front passenger cloth seats
• Available safety awareness includes front and rear park assist, forward collision alert and lane-departure warning
Hints of a premium product have been made.
“Like the exterior, the Volt’s cabin flows with sculpted cues, visual jewelry and a greater emphasis on form,” says GM, which touts a “premium” product with an “inviting upscale aura” inside and out.
“The upscale look and feel of the Volt is reinforced with three interior color choices: jet black, light and dark ash gray and jet black and brandy,” says GM.
Is GM setting this car up for a price increase over the present $34,670 or will GM price it low enough to expand beyond present limitations?
GM has not said, but it is known the re-engineering found ways to cut costs throughout, although Farah did not reveal the precise dollar savings on an otherwise improved Volt.
The automaker will not announce pricing until closer to launch. As a green halo to date, any talk of it ever being a Prius beater by sales volume has long-since been silenced.
It will arguably be a Prius beater in function, but also up in the air is whether new spin-off “Voltec” products may follow.
The automaker does say the Volt has brought new customers to the brand but it is making no sales projections like it did for 2011 and 2012 which were never met and for which it was criticized by many.
But there were myriad complexities effectively conspiring to create negative synergy against the first-generation’s launch – too many to summarize – but generally agreed is the Volt was a well-engineered car that has been polarizing for those who even know what it is.
Now for any fence sitter that thought about it but didn’t buy a first-generation product on principle, that objection has been erased.
Eyes will now be on how successfully General Motors markets the 2016 Volt, how it prices it, and whether it indeed will break into any definition of “mainstream” as GM has suggested could be.