Meet the new Volt, not the same as the old Volt. That appears to be the story when General Motors introduces the 2016 Chevy Volt at the Detroit Auto Show in January. Today we're getting some more details on the guts of the new plug-in hybrid, and it turns out they're going to be much improved from the current Volt, which first went on sale at the end of 2010.
Sure, the first-gen Volt did get some improvements along the way (a slightly larger battery pack, lane departure warnings) but the new Volt – which will go on sale in the second half of 2015 – marks the first time GM has been able to return to the drawing board and really make the improvements that its customers want. That's how Larry Nitz, GM's executive director of vehicle electrification explained it to AutoblogGreen today when explaining the all-new Voltec extended range electric vehicle (EREV) powertrain.
"In the Gen 2 is we gave the engine a little more power, a little more torque, a little more displacement, more capability." – Larry Nitz
Nitz said that the new Volt will be better in almost every sense: a bigger battery, longer EV-only range, 20 percent better acceleration in the low speed range and higher overall efficiency. This is due, in part, to the Volt's two motors being able to both act as generators and power the car. As we noted this morning, the 2016 Volt will use a larger, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, a version of which is already used in the Chinese-market Cruze. Nitz said that this has a number of benefits, including more power and quieter operation. "Some people would say, why did you make [the first-gen engine] so big. I would say, why did you make it so small?" he said. "It works good, our customers love it, but the reality is that if you go a little bit off and use the car a little harder, you can get the engine to need to operate at a higher speed. In an EV, that's quite noticeable. So, what we did in the Gen 2 is we gave the engine a little more power, a little more torque, a little more displacement, more capability and what it has marginally enabled is not only is it more efficient but it's also quieter." Nitz wouldn't talk about how the new powertrain might affect the two other products that use the Volt's underpinnings – the Cadillac ELR and the Opel Ampera – but if you've got a quieter option, we assume that's something ELR drivers would enjoy. But that's a story for another day.
Today was all about the Volt in GM land, and the changes announced came from years of study of the almost 70,000 Volt drivers out there. GM has obviously talked to other owner groups about their cars, but for the new Volt, the company went off the deep end. It looked at aggregate data from all of the Volts where the owner opted in and studied 300 drivers in detail as it began thinking about how to design the new Volt. The company also talked directly to owners, and this conversation lasted until late in the design process. Some changes were suggested – and implemented – in late 2013, Nitz said.
Peter Savagian, GM's general director of electric and hybrid vehicles, said that, "It warranted extra study because the Volt was a new breed of GM vehicles, that the user would decide how to fuel it, off the grid or off the pump. We made a lot of presumptions back in 2007-2008 and those presumptions were first-order engineering guesses. We were real anxious to see if what we assumed was correct. We got some surprise there, and the biggest one was that people really want to drive electrically and they seek out opportunities to charge. In fact, they charge more than once a day, on average."
"The biggest surprise [with first-gen Volt] was that people really want to drive electrically." - Pete Savagian
To that end, the new Volt gets the bigger battery we mentioned, but GM isn't talking details just yet. The press release (available below) says that, the new pack's revised cell chemistry, "increases storage capacity by 20 percent on a volume basis when compared to the original cell, while the number of cells decreases from 288 to 192." But that doesn't tell us exactly how much bigger than 17.1 kWh the 2016 Volt will come with.
As for further details, we'll just need to wait. Nitz said that GM isn't just being coy about the improved range numbers. It's still waiting to hear from the EPA what the range will be. "We're cautiously optimistic with out work but we can't let it out what it is until we're complete," he said.
Debuting in 2015, new model will have increased EV range
WARREN, Mich. – When the next-generation Chevrolet Volt debuts at the North American International Auto Show in January, it will feature an all-new Voltec extended range electric vehicle (EREV) propulsion system substantially developed from Volt owners including data collected on their driving behaviors.
The Voltec system includes the battery, drive unit, range-extending engine and power electronics. The new system will be more efficient and offer greater EV range and fuel economy compared to the current generation.
"Our Volt owners truly love the EV driving experience, with more than 80 percent of all trips being completed without using any gasoline. We've used their real-world experiences to define the next generation Chevrolet Volt," said Alan Batey, head of global Chevrolet. "By putting our Volt owners at the center of what we do and leveraging our electrification engineering leadership, we've been able to raise the bar and will exceed their expectations with the new Volt."
Enhanced Battery System Capability
General Motors' industry-leading battery technology has been improved for the next-generation Volt. Revised cell chemistry, developed in conjunction with LG Chem, increases storage capacity by 20 percent on a volume basis when compared to the original cell, while the number of cells decreases from 288 to 192. The cells are positioned lower in the pack for improved (lower) center of gravity and the overall mass of the pack has decreased by almost 30 pounds (13 kg).
Approximately 20 million battery cells have been produced for the more than 69,000 Chevrolet Volts on the road today with industry-leading quality levels of less than two problems per million cells produced.
The battery system continues to use the Volt's industry-leading active thermal control system that maintains electric range over the Volt's life.
"The current generation Volt's battery has proven to provide our owners exceptional performance when it comes to quality and reliability," said Larry Nitz, executive director of GM Powertrain's electrification engineering team.
Based on a GM study of more than 300 model year 2011 and 2012 Volts in service in California for more than 30 months, many owners are exceeding the EPA-rated label of 35 miles of EV range per full charge, with about 15 percent surpassing 40 miles of range. Current generation Volt owners have accumulated more than 600 million EV miles.
"It would have been simple for us to tweak our existing battery to provide nominally increased range, but that's not what our customers want," said Nitz. "So our team created a new battery system that will exceed the performance expectations of most of our owners."
EV range estimates will be revealed in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
GM will manufacture the Volt battery pack at its battery assembly plant in Brownstown, Mich.
Drive Unit Focused On Improved Efficiency
Like the battery system, the next-generation Volt's drive unit was reengineered with a focus on increased efficiency and performance, improved packaging and reduced noise and vibration characteristics. The two-motor drive unit operates approximately 5 to 12 percent more efficiently and weighs 100 pounds (45 kg) less than the current system.
The Traction Power Inverter Module, which manages power flow between the battery and the electric drive motors, has been directly built into the drive unit to reduce mass, size and build complexity while further improving efficiency.
The boost in performance comes from both motors operating together in more driving scenarios, in both EV and extended-range operation. The ability to use both motors helps deliver more than 20 percent improvement in electric acceleration. GM engineers designed the Voltec electric motors to use significantly less rare earth materials. One motor uses no rare earth-type magnets at all.
The new drive unit will be manufactured at GM's Powertrain plant in Warren, Mich.
New 1.5L Range Extender
Energy for extended-range operation comes from an all-new, high-efficiency 1.5L 4-cylinder engine. The engine features a direct injection fuel system, high-compression ratio of 12.5:1, cooled exhaust gas recirculation and a variable displacement oil pump. The Voltec range extender runs on regular unleaded fuel.
"Using the 1.5L engine as the range extender assures owners they can go anywhere, anytime without having to worry about whether they have enough power to go through the Rocky Mountains or on a spontaneous weekend getaway," Nitz said. "It's all about keeping the promise that the Volt is a no-compromise electric vehicle."
The 1.5L engine will be manufactured at GM's Toluca, Mexico engine plant for the first year of production, then shift to the Flint, Mich. engine plant.
U.S./Canadian Content Increases
Since its introduction in late 2010, the Volt has established southeast Michigan as the hub of vehicle electrification development and manufacturing. The next-generation Volt will feature approximately 70 percent U.S. and Canadian components within its first year of production, a nearly 20 percent increase from the first-generation, Nitz said.
Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is one of the world's largest car brands, doing business in more than 140 countries and selling more than 4.9 million cars and trucks a year. Chevrolet provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature spirited performance, expressive design, and high quality. More information on Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.