The recent announcement of the $41,000 price tag on the Chevy Volt disappointed many fans—and spurred debate about the taxpayer dollars required to bring the plug-in hybrid to life. But the new Chevrolet Cruze shows how General Motors is hedging its bets on the Volt’s high-cost components by installing them on a high-volume model.
The Cruze, in its own right, represents a new front for G.M. As John Zinser, compact vehicle program manager at G.M., yesterday told a media audience at the vehicle’s San Francisco, Calif., introduction, “We’ve played in this market segment before, but we didn’t play strongly.” The Cruze represents the first truly competitive Chevy compact, designed to go head-to-head with the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra that lead the small car segment. And, based on an extended test drive, the car is the real deal—solid road handling, a refined interior with a high-level of standard equipment, and a spunky turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
No Car Is an Island
The 1.4-liter turbo-four Ecotec engine is the main intersection of Volt and Cruze. While G.M. will need about 50,000 of the Volt’s 80-horsepower normally aspirated version of the engine during 2011 and 2012, the Cruze will take nearly 300,000 units of a 128-horsepower version to meet its sales target through 2012. No car is an island; the volume production helps G.M. lower its cost for the Volt.
But the Cruze and Volt will have more than just the engine in common. Zinser said interior components and acoustic treatments used to lower interior noise levels are shared between the two models. A big under-the-skin common feature between the two is the rear suspension. Both will utilize similar electronic power steering systems. The Z-link design gives the Cruze more trunk space and allows the Volt to more easily package its complex propulsion system.
40 Is the Magic Number
The Cruze Eco— mates a six-speed manual transmission to the Ecotec engine— will have some advanced technology not found on the Volt—for example, an automatic air shutter system that aids the car’s aerodynamics. It uses sensors to sense wind and temperature conditions. Electric motors hooked to the sensors open and close the shutters, closing them at high speeds to reduce drag. At lower speeds, they are open to let in more air to cool the engine. That cool system adds nearly a half mile per gallon of fuel economy.
Another common bit between the two new Chevys, besides their similar profiles, is the number 40. Forty is the number of electric-only miles the Volts is promising. Forty miles per gallon is the distance the Cruze Eco model will travel using a single gallon of gas. In that sense, if you drive 40 miles per day, the Cruze Eco will consume one gallon of gas (costing around $3), while the Volt will use about 8 kilowatt-hours of electricity (ballpark that at $0.80). The Cruze starts at $17,000 versus the Volt’s $41,000. We’ll leave the rest of the economic calculations to you.
Check out G.M. videos promoting the Cruze’s design and technology.