Autos

Recharged: What to Expect From Chevrolet’s Next Volt

2013 volt

Without beating too much around the bush, the Chevrolet Volt was supposed to be doing better than it is. Given GM’s lack of a competitive hybrid range to compete with Ford’s Fusion and C-Max and Toyota’s Prius family, GM’s ‘green’ aspirations were pinned to the little plug-in hybrid that, although it boasts impressive technological advancements, hasn’t caught on quite like it needed to. Even price cuts (a $5,000 price reduction on the 2014 Volt last August) haven’t spurred the sales to where Chevy hoped they’d be.

Nonetheless, GM remains committed to the amicable little car, and it’s replacement — the next generation Volt — should be arriving in showrooms next year as a 2016 model year. However, not a whole lot is known about the new car, but fortunately Green Car Reports has been able to shed some light on the subject using published articles and “a host of private conversations with industry analysts, electric-car advocates, and — yes — a few General Motors employees,” John Voelcker wrote.

The new Volt will “almost certainly” be revealed at next year’s Detroit Auto Show in January. It’s still unsure whether it will carry a 2015 or 2016 model year badge, but Voelcker says the money is on the latter, as it gives the Volt a five-year life span.

The biggest purpose of redesigning the Volt is to bring the costs of the car down. When it debuted, the Volt wore a price tag just shy of $40,000 — a price few were willing to pay for a compact car that, despite it’s electrification, still consumed gasoline. It’s now down to about $34,000 before tax incentives.

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Voelcker also notes that despite the demand for more electric-only range — which stands at about 38 miles currently — it’s unlikely that GM will make that a top priority, given the average commute and existing statistics from current Volt owners. “Volts cover three-quarters to two-thirds of all their miles on grid electricity used to charge their battery packs, with the gasoline range extender used for just one-third to one-quarter of total miles driven,” he wrote.

Given that four-fifths of U.S. vehicles travel 40 miles a day or less, by GM’s estimates, it’s implied that increasing the electric range only applies to an increasingly smaller fraction of the population. Therefore, it wouldn’t make sense for GM to sink considerable amounts of time and energy into expanding the range in EV mode.

As far as its body is concerned, Green Car Reports believes that it will retain its shape — not because it’s necessarily in love with it, but because the raised rear hatch — similar the the one found on the Toyota Prius — helps cut the Volt’s drag coefficient substantially when traveling over 30 miles per hour. However, Voelcker notes that GM might try to shoe-horn a fifth seat into the car, as the current model can accommodate just four people (the car’s T-shaped battery makes a fifth seat impossible.) So that could be in the cards.

Green Car Reports also says to expect LED running lights, and possibly LED highlights to match. Overall, though, don’t expect the Volt’s shape to change much — it’ll likely retain the same familiar stature we know now.

2013 Chevy Volt

The Volt will likely keep its battery pack relatively unchanged from the cells it uses now, but Voelcker notes that the Voltec engineers might be able to use more of the battery’s pack total energy capacity, known as “opening up” the pack’s state-of-charge range, he said. While the current pack is rated for 16.5 kilowatt-hours, it only uses a maximum of about 10.8 — 65 percent of the total potential.

This tactic is used to avoid capacity loss as the car ages. But with five years of Volts on the road, Voelcker notes that GM’s engineers now have enough data to justify opening up the battery more, to 70 or 75 percent without causing detriment to capacity loss later.

Lastly, the range extender — the small internal combustion engine that helps recharge the battery pack — will likely be upgraded from the current 85 horsepower 1.4-liter four to a down-tuned variant of 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine found in the Opel Monza, GCR notes.

Nonetheless, more information about the new Volt will likely leak out over the next 10 months or so, before its alleged public debut. Will the new car be enough to put GM on the hybrid map?