Imagining Volt v2.0

By Bill Moore

Posted: 27 Jul 2010

Television talk show host, comedian and automobile aficionado Jay Leno apparently is underwhelmed by the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. He told The Detroit News that it reminded him of the Chevy Cobalt, or worse, the Toyota Camry. Apparently, he doesn't find the car's 40 miles of electric driving range and ability to be charged from the power grid all that compelling; and this from a guy who owns an original, early 1900's Detroit Electric.

He's not necessarily alone in that criticism, though it's detractors, skeptics and critics likely haven't had the chance to actually drive the car as did Leno. Many are just disappointed with its ho-hum styling, especially after GM debuted the original concept car whose pulse-raising, muscular styling cues would later be reflected in the new Camaro. After the boys in the wind tunnel got finished with the car, all those testosterone pumped curves and bulges got smoothed away into a clearly unisex family car, all in the name of aerodynamic efficiency of course.

So, now that General Motors has the Hamtramck assembly line starting to hum, churning out small lots of Volts for its engineers and marketing folks -- and we now know the car's MSRP ($41,000), it's time to look beyond Volt 1.0 to its successor, Volt 2.0.

From previous comments by GM managers, we know that the company is already working on future iterations of the car. The on-again-off-again Cadillac Converj signaled one possible direction GM was thinking about taking the technology; the Vauxhall/Opel Ampera, pictured above, is another direction. That car will see production in the UK and Europe a year after the Volt here in North America.

So, what might a Volt 2.0 look like in the future is a good question ask today. Let's begin inside the car. Volt 1.0's interior has one serious flaw: it can seat only four adults. That monster 16kWh battery pack that forms the keel of the car, protrudes into the passenger cabin and divides both the front and rear seats. There's no room for a fifth passenger, or that unlucky "middle child" who always finds his or her siblings taking the choice outside seats. Volt version 2.0 needs to change that. The best way to achieve this is to immediately dump the T-bar battery back in favor of a flat design that fits under the car like the Nissan LEAF or Renault Fluence that will be put into service by Better Place in Israel and Denmark in 2012. Unlike the LEAF that has to accommodate a 24kWh pack, Volt 2.0 only needs to support a 16kWh pack; and maybe by the time 2.0 hits the bricks, GM will have garnered enough data to downsize the pack to 10 kWh and squeezed more energy into its cells. We know they are working on better chemistries and a smaller, 10kWh pack that could reliably deliver 40 miles of Electric First driving range should not only allow for improved interior packaging but also reduce the price of the car.

The next refinement that will find its way into the Volt will be a sport coupe model reminiscent of the Converj. Volt 2.0 Sport will enable GM stylists to begin to break free of version 1.0's "leaves-Leno-limp" styling. From the coupe, Chevy could begin to gradually morph the car into something that get's critics' blood pumping again, but not in anger. When they do, could a V 2.0 convertible then be far behind?

Volt 2.0 next needs to offer V2H (vehicle-to-home) charging capabilities. This not only sets the stage for the next step, Vehicle-to-Grid, where Volt 3.0 actually becomes an income earning asset, but provides owners with the ability to run their homes in the event of a hurricane, lightning storm, earthquake, or blizzard-induced power outage. The homeowner could tap into the car's battery to run lights, furnace blower and a few small appliances for a couple days.

Volt 2.0 will also be fully flex-fuel capable, running on anything from 100% gasoline to 85% ethanol, maybe even methanol. It might also be offered with a diesel option that is also certified to run on ASTM-approved B100 biodiesel and any blend below that. By the time Volt 3.0 arrives near the end of this decade, a hydrogen fuel cell option and/or a multi-fuel capable micro turbine will be available, as carmakers and consumers find petroleum based fuels ever more costly and hard to find. The multi-fuel capable micro turbine generator would offer consumers much needed flexibility in what they can burn depending on what's available in their communities.

Volt 2.0 still won't need to have fast-charge capability. Home charging with 110V and 220V will still suffice, especially if GM is confident that it can downsize the battery pack and still meet its 8 year, 100,000 mile warranty goal while more deeply discharging the smaller battery pack.

The one element I don't want GM engineers to change is that spacious hatch back cargo compartment. As a Prius owner, the ability to haul large, bulky items by laying down the back seats and opening that cavernous fifth door will be an important selling point for not only version 1.0, but all succeeding upgrades.

Oh yes, and while you guys are at it, make sure Volt 2.0 comes in cheaper than 1.0.

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