Chevy Volt Deux
By Bill Moore
More EV-range, more pep, sleeker styling, and a fifth seat (sort of). What more can you ask of the completely redesigned and re-engineered 2016 Chevrolet Volt? Maybe a sub-$30K sticker price?
The only thing the new 2016 Chevrolet Volt electric hybrid has in common with its predecessor, we're told, is a single engine pan cover. Beyond that, the second generation (Gen 2) Volt is entirely new and more importantly, better.
It was no secret that General Motors was going to unveiling the 2016 Chevrolet Volt extended range electric vehicle (EREV) or what we at EV World prefer to call them, electric hybrid. (What was a surprise was the introduction of the Bolt).
What's the difference between an electric hybrid and a regular hybrid, you might ask?
The 2010 Volt, which the 2016 model will supersede later this year, introduced the world's first production series hybrid or what is also called a charge-depleting hybrid. Simply put, it means the gasoline engine (or diesel, as is starting to see use in Europe's electric hybrids) powers an onboard electrical generator that charges the car's large battery pack which in turn, propels the car's electric traction motor(s); hence the term 'series' hybrid: gas engine to generator to battery to motor to wheels.
The parallel, also known as a charge-sustaining hybrid, of which the Toyota Prius is the best known example, uses both the electric motor and IC engine in concert depending on the power requirements of the car. The parallel hybrid typically might have a few hundred meters of electric driving range because of its much smaller battery, whereas the series hybrid, with its much larger battery, can drive much further on its electric motor alone. The original Volt was projected to offer 35 miles of EV-only driving, later increased to 38. Chevy promises the new Volt will deliver 50 miles.
That increased EV-mode driving range was one of the most oft-repeated requests of current Volt drivers, GM explained.
"Give us more EV range," they asked.
How did GM engineers accomplish this? Two key improvements: (1) A new two-motor drive unit that is as much as 12 percent more efficient, while weighing 100 lbs. (45 kg) less than the Gen 1 unit it replaces; and (2) a lighter, but higher energy capacity traction battery. Interestingly, one of the motors uses no rare earth fmagnets, while the other uses fewer.
While the Gen 2 Volt's battery essentially retains the same 'T'-shaped configuration as the original model, which itself borrowed the concept from GM's 1990's-era EV1 electric car, the new pack is now rated at 18.4 kWh, instead of the current 16 kWh. Yet it uses only 192 LG Chem-manufactured lithium-ion prismatic cells. That's 96 fewer than the Gen 1 pack. The weight has also been cut 20 lbs.
Basically, LG Chem and GM figured out how to pack more punch into fewer cells, which are slightly thicker than the current flat-back version. (Note, Tesla Motors uses cylindrical cells adapted from laptop computers: think AA-like batteries. GM's cells more closely resemble larger versions of the battery in your cellphone).
The second big change Volt owners wanted to see was a fifth seat. The problem with the 'T'-shaped battery is that runs down the center console of the car, as opposed to the flat floor made possible by burying the battery in the floorboard like the Telsa Model S and the Nissan LEAF. The console tunnel approach effectively eliminates any leg room for a center rear seat. The Gen 1 Volt simply worked with this by calling the car a four-seater. For some owners that works fine. Most of the time, there's only one, maybe two people in the car.
Still, owners wanted the ability to put a fifth person in the car. GM's solution is to create a fifth seat that probably works best with a infant car seat. For the occasional older child or even adult, they'll have to share leg room with the passenger next to them. It's not the best solution, but it can work for short hops like taking a group of co-workers out to lunch or ferrying some neighborhood kids to soccer practice.
Of course, the biggest, most noticeable change is the styling of the car. It is a sleeker, slippery-looking design than the Gen 1, which itself spent more time in GM's massive wind tunnel than any previous model the company has produced. The new, swooshier-roofline allows the air to flow more easily around the car. The Gen 1 Volt has a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.28. GM simply states the Gen 2 has a "sleeker, sportier design." The actually Cd number isn't publicly apparent, at least not what we could find online. GM adds:
The 2016 Volt has an all-new, muscular design that incorporates Chevrolet performance vehicle DNA inspired cues refined in the wind tunnel.
All these refinements not only translate into longer electric-only range, but also improved hybrid mileage efficiency: now estimated at 41 mpg, up from the previous 37 mpg on the original model.
Another noticeable improvement is the replacement of the current premium gasoline- burning ICE generator with a new 1.5L four-cylinder engine that uses 'regular' gasoline. Not that owners are going to use that much of the smelly stuff. GM reports current Volt drivers complete 80 percent of their trips in EV-mode without burning a drop gasoline. With 50 miles of EV-range, that number should go even higher. As of October 2014, Gen 1 Volt owners have driven more than 629 million miles in EV-mode out of the more than 1 billion total Volt fleet miles accumulated to date. That translates into an estimated 32.7 million gallons of fuel saved, and that was nearly four months ago as of this writing.
None of this zero-emission performance is at the expense of driver adrenalin, GM would point out. In part because of the new dual electric motors, the new Volt will accelerate from zero to 30 mph (48 km/h) in very ego-salving 2.6 seconds; 19 percent quicker than Gen 1. Zero-to-60 mph is 7 percent quicker at 8.4 seconds. Okay, so you won't beat a Tesla Model S off the light, but you will just about smoke everything else on the road.
From the perspective of safety, the car also includes standard, as well as optional features, the latter including:
"Available active safety features offering lane keep assist with lane departure warning, side blind zone alert with lane change alert, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision alert with following distance indicator, front automatic braking, and advanced park assist with front and rear park assist (semi-automatic parallel parking)."
A rear-vision camera is standard, as are the 10 airbags, including driver and front-passenger knee airbags. GM has engineered in "expanded use of high-strength steel throughout the body structure improves strength and reduces weight," as well as improved the structural load paths and beefed up the rocker and side panel structures.
NHTSA and Insurance Safety Institute crash safety testing will come later, so we'll know those numbers in the near future. We, in the media, won't get a chance to drive the car until later this summer, likely in August, we were told. At that point, we should also know what the sticker price will be, how EPA officially rates the mileage of the car, and what its crash safety numbers are.
If you want more details on the car's specs, check out these GM press releases.
From what we've seen so far, Andrew Farah, the vehicle's chief engineer and his team have pretty much ticked all the boxes Volt owners were looking for and maybe then some. If 'range anxiety' is still a hang-up for you when thinking about buying an electric car, GM has just given you a stylish and, hopefully, affordable way to drive electric… at least 80% of the time. Or, put another way, how'd you like to get drive more than a 1,000 miles before refueling?
Tantalizing, isn't it?
Originally published: 23 Jan 2015
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