Commentary

GM Hopes 53-Mile Electric Range Gives Volt A Jolt

The second-generation 2016 Chevy Volt hybrid will go about 53 miles per full electric charge, General Motors said Tuesday — a 40% improvement over the current model that puts it into direct competition with pure electric vehicles and is expected to boost its heretofore paltry sales.

Chevrolet announced in May that the new Volt will start at $33,995 before incentives and tax rebates, which is $1,175 less than the 2015 model and $7,005 less than the first 2011 Volt, as Car & Driver’s Clifford Atiyeh reported at the time. 

“With a full federal tax credit of $7,500, the vehicle can be priced as low as $26,495,” reports MLive’s David Muller. “In California, the car's largest market, state and federal credits can bring the starting price down to $24,995.”

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But, writesCar and Driver’s Alexander Stoklosa, “There it is, right on the EPA sticker, arguably the most important metric by which the second-generation Chevrolet Volt will be judged: The EPA-estimated distance that the car can travel on electricity alone per charge.”

Although the $100,000 Tesla Model S gets as much as 265 miles per charge, “the more affordable EVs have a range … considerably closer to the new Volt’s 53 miles,” points out Charles Fleming for the Los Angeles Times.

“A Toyota RAV 4 EV, for example, can travel a promised 103 miles before it runs out of juice. A Kia Soul EV can do about 92 miles. A Fiat 500e, Mercedes-Benz B-class, Nissan Leaf, Volkswagen e-Golf and BMW i3 Hatchback all get around 80 miles per charge. Not far behind are the Ford Focus Electric, Smart Fortwo and Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which can be driven between 60 and 80 miles before they need to be plugged in again.”

“Chevrolet expects many next-generation Volt owners will use power solely from their batteries for more than 90% of trips. Today, Volt owners use battery power on 80% of their trips,” GM said in a release announcing that it would “offer customers more of what they want: range, range and more range.”

“That’s not an idle boast. I drive the first-generation Volt in Los Angeles and 80% is actually low for me: it’s closer to 90%,” writesForbes contributor Brooke Crothers. “So the additional EPA-estimated 15 mile range would be just tacking on a bigger buffer in my case and getting it closer to 100%.”

“We pushed to get every one-tenth of a mile we could,” Pam Fletcher, GM's chief engineer for electrified vehicles, said in an interview at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminar in Traverse City, Mich., with Gannett’s Becca Smouse and Alisa Priddle. To do so, it developed a new Voltec extended range propulsion system.

“We knew we had to get 50 miles,” Fletcher said.

The Detroit News’ Melissa Burden reports that sales for the vehicle “are down sharply this year at 6,935 through the first seven months” —  a decrease of 34.8% from 2014. But it has never met expectations, in fact, with former CEO Dan Akerson expecting production to be 60,000 vehicles a year by 2012. 

“Chevy cut the Volt’s $40,000 price by $5,000 in 2013 to help increase sales,” Burden writes. But discounts alone weren’t cutting it. Customers “were very clear when they told us that they wanted more range, and a fun driving experience behind the wheel,” Andrew Farah, the vehicle’s chief engineer, says in the release. “We are confident that the 2016 Volt delivers both.”

For example, “the car’s noticeably quicker, too, boasting a 19% improvement in its 0 to 30 mph time (now 2.6 seconds) and 0 to 60 mph (8.4),” writesWired’s Alex Davies, and has other “little improvements like an (uncomfortable) fifth seat and more powerful electric heater in the seats and steering wheel.” 

Davies writes that GM felt that “five years into the car’s life, it’s time to conform a bit,” as it also updated the styling. “[Customers] don’t want something that screams ‘I’m different, I’m electric,’” Fletcher said.

When GM unveiled the new Volt at the Detroit Auto Show it also revealed an all-electric subcompact car called the Chevrolet Bolt, “ CNN Money’s Peter Valdes-Dapena reminds us. “The Bolt is expected to go on sale in 2017 with a starting price around $35,000, roughly the same as the Volt. The Bolt will go about 200 miles on a charge, according to GM, but won't have a gasoline engine to provide added range.”

Just how much the revamped Volt and the promising Bolt help GM molt into a 21st century green machine remains to be seen.

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