The last time General Motors launched a Chevy Volt, it was operating without really knowing how people would use the plug-in hybrid. Sure, it had experience with the EV1, but the Volt was a new kind of car, and you can see in the archives just how much time GM spent explaining this fresh, new powertrain to potential customers. Then, once the vehicle was released, the company collected voluntary data from a large number of owners to learn about their driving and charging habits. The company also asked them what they wanted most in the new version. There's got to be an algorithm buried somewhere in GM headquarters that was used to take all of the numbers GM collected and spat out the headline figures for the 2016 Volt: 50 miles of EV range and 41 miles per gallon.

Another important number – price – is something GM isn't talking about yet (expect it in April or May), but the company is sharing some powertrain details about the upcoming car. At a preview lunch in Detroit last week for the SAE 2015 Hybrid & Electric Vehicles Technologies Symposium that's happening now in California, GM engineers Peter Savagian (who is presenting a paper on the new inverter used in the updated Volt) and Tim Grewe (talking about the entire second-generation powertrain) sat down with AutoblogGreen to tell us about the Volt's all-new propulsion system:
  • The overall gist is that the new Voltec 5ET50 drive unit is lighter, smaller and more powerful thanks to a redesigned two-motor traction drive.
  • As previously reported, the new engine is a 1.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder that offers 101-horsepower (at 5,600 RPM). Grewe said it's "great for range extension." The electric motor side of the powertrain offers 149 motoring horsepower from a two-motor, continuously variable transaxle.
  • Initially, the new engine will be made in Mexico. GM will move production to Flint, MI during the first year it makes the 2016 Volt.
  • The battery is slightly bigger in the new Volt – 18.4 kWh compared to 16.5 in the current-gen – and will have less range variation in the cold. GM is also using more of the overall capacity in the pack in the 2016 Volt than in previous versions, but is not saying how much more.
  • GM is not ready to publish acceleration times just yet, but the 2016 Volt has improved numbers, especially when going from 30-60 miles per hour.
  • Most everything on the new powertrain has become more efficient compared to the first-gen Volt. There are fewer losses from the engine, the inverter, the aerodynamic drag and transmission, for example. In some circumstances, there is a little bit more strain on the battery, but Grewe said that this extra work makes the overall system more efficient, so it's worth it. GM engineers took advantage of knowing what the battery can handle to get the improvements, he said.
  • Savagian said that putting the traction power inverter module (TPIM) inside the electrified transaxle is an industry first. Putting the TPIM inside reduces the number of cables and connections required, which frees up space and reduces weight and cost.
Listen to Grewe and Savagian talk about the Volt's new powertrain in the video above.

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