How Much Better Is The 2016 Volt?

On January 12 in Detroit, Chevrolet revealed a hand-built pre-production example of the 2016 Chevy Volt. It was developed based upon extensive feedback from owners of the first-generation Volt who’ve praised the car, but suggested ways it could be improved.

Detroit is where the first 2007 Volt concept was revealed, Detroit is where the original pre-production car was shown, Detroit is where General Motors’ corporate headquarters is – and this was the conspicuous new car’s day to shine.

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As a symbol of Chevrolet’s best engineering, alternative-energy tech, design, and connectivity in one rebooted product, the publicity show has now begun as Chevrolet’s marketers begin getting the word out approaching first deliveries the second half of this year.

Much is already known about the fully revised car although road tests and closer scrutiny have yet to happen. In anticipation of more info to come, we sat down with Pam Fletcher and Andrew Farah, GM’s two top engineers overseeing the project, and following are ways they say the 2016 Volt has been improved.

Electric Range

The Volt is all about its powertrain, and most importantly, its gasoline-eschewing electric range expected to be EPA-rated at 50 miles compared to the outgoing car’s 38 miles.

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A similar T-shaped lithium-ion battery rated at 18.4 kilowatt hours with fewer but more-efficient LG Chem pouch cells replaces the 2015 Volt’s 17.1 kwh while trimming overall weight by 20 pounds.

SEE ALSO: 2015 Volt Gets Larger 17.1-kWh Battery

Chevrolet officially cites a “30-percent” range increase but this may be 25-42 percent depending on model year of gen-one Volt discussed. The 2011-2012 Volt had a 16.0-kwh pack and 35 miles range. The 2013-2014 had 16.5 kwh and 38 miles rane, and the 2015 has 17.1 kwh — and GM never recertified it so on paper it has 38 miles range despite 0.6-kwh more battery capacity which should be good for 40 or so miles.

Cell storage capacity is 20 percent higher by volume; number of cells decreased from 288 to 192. Discharge rate is 120 kilowatts compared to former 110-kw. This aids performance.

Cell storage capacity is 20 percent higher by volume; number of cells decreased from 288 to 192. Discharge rate is 120 kilowatts compared to former 110-kw. This aids performance.

In any case, the 2016 Volt now uses a higher percentage of its total battery capacity as Cadillac did with the ELR, and leaves a slimmer “buffer” of unused energy.

You may note capacity increased only 7.5 percent from 17.1 to 18.4 kwh while 50-miles is an effective increase of 25 percent over the 2015 Volt that might have gone 40 miles.

More of the 2016 Volt’s newfound range and energy usage also comes from up to a 12-percent improvement in the drive unit’s efficiency – the “drive unit” is essentially the transmission paired with two integral motors.

The two-motor drive unit is 5 to 12 percent more efficient, weighs 100 pounds (45 kg) less. The Traction Power Inverter Module (TPIM), which manages power flow between battery and drive motors is built into the drive unit. This cuts mass, size, complexity, eliminates orange high voltage wires under the good, and improves efficiency.

The two-motor drive unit is 5 to 12 percent more efficient, weighs 100 pounds (45 kg) less. The Traction Power Inverter Module (TPIM), which manages power flow between battery and drive motors is built into the drive unit. This cuts mass, size, complexity, eliminates orange high voltage wires under the good, and improves efficiency. Both motors in the new drive unit operate together in more driving scenarios, in both EV and extended-range mode and performance is boosted with more than 20-percent better acceleration.

GM’s OnStar telematics data reveals present Volt drivers travel an average 900 miles between fill-ups and the new car should average 1,000 or more.

The 2016 Volt’s sealed steel gasoline tank has 8.9 gallon capacity and will require fewer gas stops assuming drivers plug-in to get their recommended daily allowance of 50 electric miles – a number that will diminish in cold weather, and will be exceeded under ideal conditions.

This would work out to around 112 mpg – plus electricity costs which are a fraction of gasoline costs even at present low average fuel prices.

The “Voltec” permanent magnet electric motors require less rare earth materials with one using no rare earth-type magnets.

The “Voltec” permanent magnet electric motors require less rare earth materials with one using no rare earth-type magnets.

In actuality, 1,000 miles between fill-ups is conservative, and GM’s Executive Chief Engineer for Electric Vehicles Pam Fletcher conjectured many drivers may see 1,500 miles between fill-ups for the extended-range EV.

Total electric plus-gas range is 420 miles compared to the former car’s 380.

In short, the new Volt is an EV with 50 miles range plus 370 miles gas range. The Nissan Leaf by contrast offers 84 miles combined EV range, but has no gasoline backup – or liquid heating and cooling for its battery which has not proven as durable as the Volt’s “pharmaceutical grade” pack and its mere two problems per million cells produced.

One carryover is the engine in cold weather will still come on, a condition known as ERDTT – Engine Running Due To Temperature. Fletcher said Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards mandate the defroster work fast enough, and the engine may be called into duty in cold weather to the chagrin of gas-averse Volt drivers.

One carryover is the engine in cold weather will still come on, a condition known as ERDTT – Engine Running Due To Temperature. Fletcher said Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards mandate the defroster work fast enough, and the engine may be called into duty in cold weather to the chagrin of gas-averse Volt drivers.

No other plug-in gas-electric car – excluding BMW i3 REx) offers this much all-electric range. If one’s driving is within EV range, the gas practically need never be used. This also means the engine gets spared, oil changes and maintenance come at long intervals.

Fuel may be called into use in cold weather to augment the electric HVAC system, and because gasoline itself does have a shelf life.

The sealed system preserves the gas for up to one year, at which point the ECU will burn it off before it gets stale. Volt drivers who’ve made a game of beating the need for gas have gone for hundreds of miles and well over a thousand miles without using gas.

The 2016 Volt’s 25-30-percent extra e-range makes this all the more possible.

Gas Mileage

Fuel usage will be less because due to the 2016’s expected EPA-rated consumption boosted to 41 mpg combined compared to the former 37 mpg.

That’s four mpg better from an all-aluminum Ecotec engine seeing first North American usage in the Volt compared to the former 1.4-liter. Costs will be further reduced because it uses regular instead of formerly required premium costing on average 40 cents more per gallon.

The 1.5-liter Ecotec features direct fuel injection, high 12.5:1 compression ratio, cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and variable displacement oil pump, and uses regular unleaded gasoline. It will be initially built in Toluca, Mexico and after a $215 million renovation is complete, production will switch to the Flint, Mich. engine plant.

The 1.5-liter Ecotec features direct fuel injection, high 12.5:1 compression ratio, cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and variable displacement oil pump, and uses regular unleaded gasoline. It will be initially built in Toluca, Mexico and after a $215 million renovation is complete, production will switch to the Flint, Mich. engine plant.

The Volt’s engine by the way does not run when the car is operating on electric power in EV mode. It is in the car as a generator that produces backup energy to power the electric drive unit as well as maintaing the battery state of charge. The engine comes on when the ECU says the battery reaches its “empty” level.

Volt enthusiasts know this as charge-sustaining mode as the generator does not recharge the battery to full. Also not always explained is when in CS mode, battery power may still be drawn upon for higher load demands, such as flooring it to pass someone. In most cases in the drive cycle, even with engine running, the engine is not mechanically connected to the drive wheels and the car is being propelled electrically. At certain points between 55-70 mph or so, the engine can drive the wheels in CS mode. This was done for improved efficiency under these conditions.

Power

The Volt’s new 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).

Its new 0-60 mph 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. Top speed is now 98 mph, down a couple mph from gen one.

New Platform

The 2016 Volt is the first full redesign for any plug-in vehicle and has received the first North American application of GM’s flexible new Delta II platform.

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“The new platform allowed the team to look at every facet of the vehicle from the ground, up,” said Kevin Kelly, manager, Electric Vehicle and Hybrid Communications. “The benefits include improved handling, NVH [noise, vibration, harshness] performance and expanded use of high strength steel throughout the structure for reduced weight, to name a few.”

The new Volt now weighs 243 pounds less while being 3.3 inches longer and 0.8-inches wider.

Fifth Passenger Space

The rear seating area now has seatbelts for five but the middle spot is going to be most comfortable for a smaller person or child. It allows an easier time of attaching a child safety seat too, but otherwise was called a “convenience measure” by chief Volt engineer Andrew Farah.

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Rear legroom also increased by 0.6 inches while rear headroom actually shrunk by 0.2 inches. The Volt is still a compact car.

At customer request, Farah said the rear seating is “improved.” Touches include changing the rear door pad shape to let feet swing in easier, there’s more foot room when seated, and ingress and egress are overall better.

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“Trying is believing and all you have to do is get in a new one to notice the difference,” said Farah.

Design/Styling

Beauty is subjective but many people have said they like the new look.

Chevrolet says it folded in subtle cues from sportier cars in the GM family, and the sleek car is fresh inside as well.

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The new Volt offers Chevrolet’s full suite of technologies including 4G LTE WiFi that’s capable of wirelessly connecting multiple devices. The vehicle also has OnStar telematics, 10 airbags, numerous other safety features, and latest infotainment interface.

As was true on the generation one car, data is extensive including capability to set charging for off-peak hours, set the charging amperage (rate of charge), and monitor how efficiently the car is using energy among other things.

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“As a direct result of customer feedback we did things like added an optional illuminated charge port, revised the travel cord set storage location and added unique charging features like location-based charging,” said Kelly.

Being a new design, the 2016 Volt benefits from just beginning its life cycle and should keep the look for several years. How this will specifically affect resale value remains to be seen, but it should help.

Price

One pressing unanswered question is how much the 2016 Volt will cost and this will be announced closer to launch.

The Volt is being positioned as a “premium” car but observers are speculating it won’t cost much more if at all more than the present subsidy eligible Volt’s $34,995. Some also guess it could come in at less. GM did pare an untold amount of production costs from the new Volt while saying it has improved it in nearly every respect.

Symbolic Product

The first generation Volt received outsized publicity during the four years since its December 2010 launch, and even since GM began its development last decade. It’s been presented as an American-born solution, has been targeted by some who’ve spoken critically alongside seriously enthusiastic fans.

It’s as much a symbol as it is a product.

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As was the case before, it’s believed Chevrolet will provide Cadillac-like levels of customer care for Volt drivers including toll-free “Volt Advisors.”

GM has high hopes that having paid its dues, selling 75,000 to date, and folding in lessons and feedback it will be well received by existing fans and early adopters, as well as by “fast followers” ready to consider this evolved car.

The show car is as the production version will be but “under the skin” GM is tweaking and finalizing things. Fletcher was hesitant to say what percent production-ready it is now, saying engineers are still at work polishing it off for customers with high expectations.

“They want it to be perfect,” she said of customers.

And this goal, she said, they aim to meet.