Chevrolet to Redesign Their Electric Car For ’16

What changes will make it different?

Like a lot of concepts and prototypes, the exciting first incarnations of the Volt of 2007 looked significantly more futuristic than what actually went into production. Now the second generation is in development, so we expect a new look for the 2016 model year. It’s also likely that the car will have a different gasoline range-extending engine and will offer a greater range than it does at present when driven on pure electric power. Don’t expect the game-changing electric vehicle (EV) the industry is waiting for, but Chevrolet is nevertheless moving the technology further toward mainstream acceptability. There’s even the possibility that the ’16 model will get a fifth seat, which may not sound like a groundbreaking development, but it would appease a lot of people who don’t find the four-seater to be practical enough.

Why should I wait for the 2016?

The types of people who consider buying cars like the Volt are often different from the average American customer; thus, they have no problem waiting for something new. And for anyone who is doesn’t know much about extended range electric cars, holding out to learn about the new model’s capabilities is essential.

Should I buy a 2015 model instead?

Any technology that is in its infancy moves along at quite a pace. And when you also consider that this car is only available in certain “EV-friendly” areas of the country at the moment, there isn’t enough competition in sales to get you much of a deal on a run-out model-year ’15 version. Bottom line? If you’re toying with the idea of buying a Volt, your best bet is to wait and see what model-year 2016 brings.

Will the styling be different?

Style has always seems to be a long way down the designers’ list of priorities. Aerodynamics is obviously incredibly important to this type of vehicle and, therefore, is the biggest consideration. On the other hand, you can’t accuse the Ferrari or Lamborghini of being uninspiring slabs stylistically, even though they’re built to cut through the air. The spy shots we’ve seen so far of the Volt don’t suggest that the ’16 model is going to rival Italy’s finest in the style stakes, but it at least offers the prospect of significant improvement.

Any mechanical changes?

It sounds as though the model-year 2015 version’s four-cylinder, 1.4-liter gasoline engine is going to be downsized to a lighter 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder unit. The battery may also be upgraded to the new 17.1-kWh version, which would be a welcome increase in capacity.

Will fuel economy improve?

With the Volt being an extended range EV, there are a number of different economy figures to look at depending on whether it’s driving on electricity only or a combination of electricity and gas. The gasoline engine is primarily used to generate electricity for the electric motor, although the two can work together if the car is under a heavy load. Marginal improvements in fuel economy are probably going to be part of the model-year ’16 package, but the electric range is what probably will matter most to prospective buyers.

Will it have new features?

The Volt has a number of features that conventional cars don’t offer, but it’s also lacking a few that we now expect from similar classes of cars. There are sure to be added features in terms of connectivity, infotainment and safety, but the majority will likely be concentrated on the power plant.

How will 2016 prices be different?

This car is already quite expensive, especially compared to conventional gasoline models. But even though the Volt is a loss-making exercise for GM, we are hearing that the next generation could come in at less than the model year ’15’s $35,000 starting price. GM has stated in the past that it would like to take as much as $10,000 off the price, but we’re not holding our breath on such a drastic cost reduction becoming a reality.

When will it come out?

Word is that it will make its first appearance in January 2015, at the Detroit Auto Show. It should then be in selected showrooms by the fall of the same year.

Best competitors

Ford C-Max Energi, Nissan LEAF, Honda Accord Hybrid, Tesla Model S, Toyota Prius Plug-In

What change would make it better?

Chevrolet can make all the changes it likes to the styling, the interior and the standard and available equipment, but electric range is what this car is all about. The gasoline part of the power plant can be made lighter and more efficient, but the amount of range the battery offers is the real point of any vehicle where electricity is the primary form of propulsion.

Quick hit

A lot of people believe the Volt has a range of only about 40 miles, which, although completely inaccurate, is a damaging perception. In fact, on a full tank and a fully charged battery, it actually has a range of around 380 miles. Chevrolet is probably guilty of poor marketing in this area. The carmaker would also benefit from making the car available in more areas of the country. But that will depend on whether the automaker sees the car in terms of electric mobility evangelism or pure capitalism.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]