WARREN, Michigan — Engineers from General Motors' Chevrolet division said that the next-generation 2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid — due to be unveiled at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show in January — has undergone a "complete re-engineering with an eye toward improving the distance the car can be driven under battery power and its overall fuel efficiency.
Chevrolet receives ongoing usage data from about 60 percent of current Volt owners, who've also uncategorically told the company their favorite aspect of Volt ownership is operating it in full-electric mode. The current Volt's electric-only driving range is listed by the Environmental Protection Agency at 35 miles. But Volt owners said they'd like more range — and Chevrolet plans to deliver.
Engineers just won't yet specifically say how much more electric driving range the 2016 Volt will deliver, though. Its revised lithium-ion batteries will be able to store about 20 percent more energy and are 12 percent more efficient than today's batteries. There's an all-new drive system that replaces the current single-motor drive unit with dual electric motors that also drastically cut the amount of costly rare-earth elements in their magnets. And the new batteries and new drive unit together cut about 130 pounds from their previous weight.
Still, Chevy isn't ready to expound on just how much all that amounts to in terms of official battery-only driving range. In a single day, many Volt owners exceed the car's EPA-rated electric driving range of 35 miles by charging at work or other places of opportunity throughout the day.
"Our customers crave EV (electric-powered) miles," said Larry Nitz, GM Powertrain executive director for transmission and electrification.
In addition to more electric range, Chevy said current Volt owners also indicated they'd like better fuel economy from the car's supplemental gasoline engine, as well as more power.
Chevrolet said the coming 2016 Volt answers both concerns with an all-new 1.5-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine that is at once larger but more fuel-efficient than the Volt's current 1.4-liter four-cylinder. And crucially, the engine now will run on regular unleaded fuel rather than the premium gasoline the Volt's current engine demands.
For the Volt, the engine is used primarily as a "range extender," operating as a generator to make electricity that's sent to the battery pack and on to the drive motor to continue electric driving once the battery pack's initial charge is depleted. It makes for an electric car "with no range anxiety," according to Nitz. But in certain conditions, the engine also can drive the Volt, either alone or blended with the electric drive motor.
That aspect of the Volt's operation, which most believe technically makes it a hybrid rather than solely an electric vehicle with an engine that acts as an electric generator — such as is the case for BMW's new i3 — also will be enhanced with the Volt's all-new engine, said Pamela Fletcher, GM's chief engineer for electrified vehicles.
"The engine will be connected to the wheels more than it was in the first-generation Volt," she said, adding that achieving maximum efficiency was the goal for the coming new Volt.
Between the all-new electric drive system and the new range-extender engine, Chevy expects the new Volt's overall fuel economy to be boosted from today's gasoline-only combined rating of 37 mpg and its 62 MPGe (mpg-equivalent) combined-composite rating.
Engineers said the upgraded drive components also will give the next-generation Volt 20 percent improved low-speed acceleration, while the larger range-extender engine will be quieter and more refined when running.
Edmunds says: Although the Volt's sales numbers aren't huge, GM shows it's committed by making a substantial investment in the plug-in hybrid's redesign. January's Detroit auto show unveiling also will be the public's first look at whether the Volt's styling has undergone a serious change as well.