The GM Flint Engine Operations plant is undergoing a $215 million renovation to build 3- and 4-cylinder Ecotec variants with displacements ranging from 1.0 to 1.5 liters and the 2016 Volt’s (1.5) is one of these new efficient engines..
Plans at this plant where the present Volt genset is now being built are underway with walls going up, assembly machines due to come in later, and a lot of excitement at the union operation, according to MLive.
“I think just our team alone, everyone is really excited because we’re really involved,” said UAW Local 599 worker Kim Hubbard on Monday Jan. 12, the say the Volt was unveiled.
The union employees are working hand-in-glove with GM engineers to make this an efficient assembly – of the assembly plant.
Hubbard and others are able to give real-time input on issues as they may occur in the assembly plant’s construction.
“A lot of times in the past you have issues that pop up in the assembly plant and it’s difficult to make changes there,” said GM Spokesman Tom Wickham to MLive. “We’re trying to pull all that further upstream.”
Hubbard mentioned workers first spent time in a factory in Japan and at Toluca Mexico where the Volt’s engine will first be assembled before Flint comes on line third or fourth quarter this year.
According to the operations launch manager for GM, Jim Stack, the transition for this factory has been unique.
Without stopping production, work is continuing on current projects including the present generation Volt.
“We’ve had to rearrange the plant. It’s been like a board game, you’ve got to find open spaces,” Stack said to MLIve. “That’s the one big challenge for us.”
This also helped the core team, he said, about new equipment coming in.
“For this plant, it’s a brand new assembly system,” Stack said.
Does this mean the Spark EV won’t be called a “compliance car” anymore? Has anyone any reliable info that the car is due in other markets?
Will neighboring East Coasters – including in the nations’s capital – scoot over the Maryland line to acquire this vehicle?
In any event, it’s a step in the right direction, don’t you think?
General Motors announced yesterday that the Spark EV will be made available this spring in Maryland.
This is its first East Coast market, and the third overall for the subcompact converted electric car outside of California and Oregon where it was launched in 2013.
The announcement coincides with this week’s Washington Auto Show, and reasons cited by GM for Maryland include a strong commuter market, relatively widespread charging infrastructure and strong dealership network as well.
Dealers will be specifically trained to sell and service this unique plug-in vehicle, said the automaker which saw 1,145 sales in its present two states for all of 2014.
“The Spark EV has been one of the most well-received electric vehicles in the industry and customer demand helped make the decision to expand its availability to Maryland,” said Steve Majoros, Chevrolet director of car marketing. “Following the introduction of the next-generation Volt and Bolt EV concept, this further reinforces Chevrolet’s commitment to electrification and delivering more choices where our customers want them.”
In our Detroit interview last week with Pam Fletcher, GM’s executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles, she noted plug-in proliferation has been seen as meeting resistance in some states due to local municipal unfamiliarity with some issues involving EVs.
She did not want to name states that are less enlightened than California, but it would appear Maryland is not one of them.
According to GM’s Manager, Electric Vehicle and Hybrid Communications Kevin Kelly, Chevrolet continues to assess further markets, but to date nothing else is being announced.
And, according to a GM-Volt.com reader – maybe you have heard of Raymond Ramirez? – GM will at least pass along his request to bring its EV to his home territory of Puerto Rico.
Ramirez may be the biggest supporter GM has who has not yet been enabled to buy a plug-in electrified vehicle such as the Volt or Spark EV because his territory is not a market in which GM sells or services these vehicles.
“Thank you for reaching out,” said Chevrolet communications representative Annalisa Esposito Bluhm to an e-mail by Ramirez. “I’ll send this over to our marketing and sales team – really appreciate your insights regarding electrified vehicles in Puerto Rico.”
Beyond that, the Spark EV has been rumored as coming by dealers in other states, such as Ohio, but to date these are not being verified by GM, and may be the result of miscommunication or other error.
By contrast to the Spark EV’s now-three-state presence, Nissan has proliferated its mid-sized by volume Leaf to 50 states, and is by far the EV sales leader. Ford also has attempted to sell its converted Focus Electric in all U.S. states, even cutting the price twice down to a present base just around $30,000 before potential subsidies, but has had difficulty selling it.
The Spark EV however has a peppy drive train capable of an outsized 400 pounds-feet of torque, and lessons learned from this limited-market car are being passed into Chevrolet’s Bolt EV Concept.
With an 82-mile range, and pricing that after subsidies can net to around $20,000, the Spark EV stands as a potential alternative for commuters, does have quick-charge potential for intra-day charging, but much longer trips would likely still require a longer-range vehicle.
I listened to this 33-minute recorded interview five times over, and really tried to balance this. It is more than your usual quickly written post.
I asked at Detroit Monday the 12th if they wanted me to talk to Tim Mahoney. No, said the media reps, talk to Steve Majoros. So I did. This is a good deal of what he said.
As Chevrolet formulates marketing plans for the 2016 Volt launching the second half of this year, it has a head start over generation one, but if there ever were a vision of the Volt surpassing Toyota Prius sales, that’s a premise Chevrolet doesn’t even want to entertain.
In a half-hour sit-down interview with Steve Majoros, Chevrolet director of car marketing, he accentuated the Volt’s positive prospects, set the tone of the automaker’s present vision, while acknowledging challenges remain.
The plug-in extended-range electric car is a full evolutionary redesign now offering 50 miles all-electric range – beating the present Volt’s 38-mile rating and more than doubling any plug-in hybrid sold in the U.S. It is clearly a solid product with improvements throughout.
But the Volt must now overcome a checkered history having been singled out in ire over bailed-out General Motors over which former CEO Dan Akerson during 2012 decried it was being made into a “political punching bag.”
What do you want to bet the president won’t do any photo ops with the 2016 Volt?
Since launch, the Volt has had a kind of polarizing effect or been an either/or equation between those who comprehend and like it – and those who don’t.
Marketing plans now include spending more getting the message across during the five-passenger car’s “launch window.”
Chevrolet is already branching into new media including a dedicated Volt web page, brief video spots, social media like its FaceBook page, live web chats, and more.
Advertising will see a “geographic” concentration and undisclosed is Chevrolet’s commitment to nationwide ads although it says the restyled Volt ought to appeal to a “mainstream” audience, and as plug-ins catch on, it has a car it wants the country to know about.
Past, Present, Future
Developed as a concept show car for the 2007 Detroit Auto Show with former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz as its chief protagonist, there’d been talk into this decade of the production Volt superseding the Toyota Prius as the alternative energy car of choice.
Lutz had been goaded by both Tesla’s Roadster and the green cred locked down by the Japanese hybrid. He was also irked by negative perceptions against GM, and the Volt he’s said in a few different ways was GM’s answer to the Prius.
2007 Volt concept. While GM showed an MPV5 crossover concept in 2010, it has not produced any other “Voltec” variants with which a paradigm-changing goal could be better accomplished. The Volt’s drivetrain architecture is adaptable, and fans have long asked GM to make various body styles for more customer needs to be met, but the Volt and up-market Cadillac ELR are the only GM products with this unique propulsion system.
“Because I wanted to leap-frog ‘em. See, I asked myself, if I were Toyota and had done the Prius and had gotten all these accolades for it, what would be my next move?,” said Lutz to SF Gate in 2011. “And I told myself, my next move to stun the motoring public around the world would be an all-electric vehicle. So I said, ‘Why don’t we go all-electric with lithium-ion batteries?’ A lot of people in the company said, ‘Well, lithium-ion isn’t ready yet, it can’t be scaled up for automotive use.’”
The Volt does use lithium-ion batteries, but Lutz was soon talked out of an all-electric car and the “extended-range” idea was introduced by former GM Chief Technology Officer, Jon Lauckner. GM’s first all-electric car, the EV1 had actually pioneered non-production range extenders – gas engines tacked on – to enable test engineers to drive longer stretches than its battery would allow.
So is the Volt a Prius beater? GM’s Pam Fletcher, executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles said in a separate interview she thinks in ways it is, but GM acknowledges it’s not been a compete home run.
The Prius Liftback is due for a fourth generation revision later this year. It may get over 55 mpg but is not a plug-in and has negligible EV range.
In its favor, a strong case exists the expected-to-be 41 mpg Volt offers a drivetrain that can save more fuel for most drivers than a 50 mpg Prius Liftback. Aside from design, performance, handling, and other features, one big advantage is its 50-mile EV range, enough, studies say, to satisfy daily driving requirements for three-quarters of Americans.
According to GM’s OnStar data, the Volt now goes an average 900 miles between fill-ups, and up to several months for some owners, while burning nary any gas – something the Toyota can never do.
But the Prius Liftback has had an 11-year head start, Toyota was never demonized to the degree GM has been, and the Japanese hybrid sells 123,000-145,000 units annually compared to the Volt’s 19,000-24,000. This it does despite being itself perceived as a premium product over say, a Corolla or other lesser priced conventional car.
The Volt however isn’t the only alternative-energy car that doesn’t hold a candle to it in the sales arena – none of them do. Out of 90 cars tracked on the HybridCars.com dashboard, the Prius Liftback outsells the next-best seller – its Prius c sibling – by three to one.
These are the facts, but Majoros and Chevrolet are focused on present circumstances and not open to discussing a theoretical mission to leapfrog the Prius Liftback.
“What Bob Lutz or any people said 6 or 8 years ago, I wasn’t part of those conversations, I don’t know what they said,” said Majoros. “To think that a, to me, going back in history, that Volt – where we’re priced and the technology and the promise that we make – against a $20,000 Prius, was going to supplant that – that doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.”
We reminded him the original goal for the Volt was to be introduced for under $30,000. If one subtracts a $7,500 federal tax credit, that could have made it a stronger value proposition next to the Prius.
But the Volt was launched at $40,000-plus in December 2010 and was panned as a high-priced Chevy compact until its price was officially cut to $34,995 in August 2013.
The Volt’s chief engineer Andrew Farah said GM has cut an undisclosed dollar amount of production costs from the 2016 Volt. This, one might surmise, could make it more possible to achieve once-upon-a-time pricing targets but GM has not announced the price and may not for a while.
Beyond Lutz’s hyperbole, an indicator GM once had higher aspirations for the Volt to be a volume seller was its projection of 45,000 U.S. sales for 2012, its second year. These were subsequently abandoned and the Volt never sold better in one calendar year than the 23,461 units delivered in 2012. Sales were essentially flat at 23,094 in 2013, and dropped to 18,805 in 2014.
Chevrolet’s Present Reality
Instead of acknowledging the Volt was ever meant to surpass Prius sales, Majoros noted a paradigm change of a different order. The reality is the Volt has long-since become the limited sales, but yet-pregnant-with-potential tech thesis that it is. And, it has a sizable almost devout fan base, is for now the top-selling plug-in car in the U.S. with around 75,000 sold, although the Nissan Leaf is due to overtake it this month or next.
Majoros said the Volt’s challenges from its launch included Chevrolet having to find and nurture this owner base, and it is now in better position for what’s next.
“So the advantage we have going into generation two here, is 75,000 approximately thrilled owners, a product proposition that every day gets better understood,” he said. “Its differences against a Prius and various variants, or other competitors, an i3 or whatever it is, we can help educate and understand and give people a sense that, and say, it’s a, the original mission of a no-compromise EV was true back then and its more true today.”
Now faced with the pros and cons he has been dealt – not once-upon-a-time talk that may have been based on insufficient information – Majoros noted before Volt came along, there was no real market for it.
“Back in 2010 we had no owner base, right? We didn’t know how to market this thing, right? it was like where do I go and how do I find these people and what do I say to them?” Majoros said. “We’ve all gotten collectively smarter and I think the public consciousness is that much smarter” he said citing public awareness of plug-in cars.
“It’s such a rabid enthusiastic educated audience that its our job to make sure that we can get the right information out and utilize the sources that have been very successful for us and the types of customer that want to understand this product,” said Majoros.
Either way, the Volt for its maker is now a green halo, sold nationwide, but advertised for now only in California and tech events. The good news for fans is the Volt is still here, and appears to have been altogether improved.
Why Buy a Volt?
Gas is now hovering at $2.05 per gallon. Majoros correctly observed plug-in car sales have proven more resistant to fluctuations in fuel prices than regular hybrids because of the type of clientele they’ve been able to attract.
Still, we asked, will $2 per gallon gas hurt Volt sales?
“I don’t think so,” said Majoros. “Eighty percent of trips taken in a Volt are done in all-electric. These people are gas averse; they don’t want to use any gas.”
Put bluntly, the Volt is not being marketed as the cheapest thing to own and operate. Low operational costs are just one aspect of its total appeal. Surely, it does stand to save fuel, and Fletcher estimated owners could now drive 90 percent gas-free, and she estimated, the new Volt may average 1,500 miles between fill-ups to its 8.9-gallon gas tank.
But spliced into that fuel-saving message, the Volt offers an environmentally cool solution. It also has 10 airbags, nearly all of GM’s suite of sophisticated technologies and connectivity, and more “upscale” amenities and design features.
GM has been saying it for a while, and Majoros drove home the point: The Volt is attracting new faces to Chevrolet that could pay dividends across the brand. Volt buyers have traded in Acuras, BMWs, Audis, Mercedes – and Prii. Some of them never darkened the door of a Chevy dealer before it had this newfangled plug-in car.
“If you look at the demographic composition of these customers within the Chevy portfolio, they’re some of our highest household income, highest percent professional managerial, younger in the portfolio; the types of vehicles they’re trading in to come into the Chevy family,” said Majoros, “they’re the types of customers you want to bring into the franchise.”
Indeed Volt customers are often atypical for the bow-tie brand. The Volt is appreciated on a level that Cadillac aspires its cars to be, and this is not lost on Majoros who pushed for marketing photos and written copy evoking luxurious and upscale imagery.
“We’re going to meet market demand and were going to try to create market demand,” said Majoros. Presently over 40 percent are sold in California. Chevrolet will tailor messages both for those who already know the Volt, and alternately try to simplify terms for those who have yet to see how the car may benefit their lives. Earlier granular-level, tech-geek-pleasing detail of how the advanced drivetrain works is being shied away from for the second wave of potential customers. Rather, messages like you don’t need to use (much) gas, and can drive most of the time on electricity, and other basic ideas are being refined and shared.
At the same time, Majoros said price will remain important as Chevrolet is supposed to be synonymous with “good value.”
“I’m not ashamed to use the word ‘upscale,’ I don’t want to equate upscale with a trigger of price, a trigger that I’m going to go now and compete with Buick, Lexus whatever,” he said subsequently adding, “Volt has a nice way to cast a shadow across the Chevrolet lineup that provides a different dimension to our brand.”
The Volt therefore amplifies the tech, design, and style perception for all Chevy vehicles to some point, and so for Chevrolet, this is not necessarily a matter of making the Volt a high-volume car that can usurp the Prius.
Instead of a solution for the masses, like a virtual green Model T, the Volt has long-since morphed into a precious niche product seen for its intangible as well as tangible benefits both to the people who buy it, and those who market it.
If it can break out of that, then that would be great for Chevrolet which says it believes the new Volt can do better, but ultimately it is wait-and-see.
The Dealer Connection
Majoros asked us what some of the Volt’s biggest fans were saying positively and negatively. Having already shared some positives, a negative perception aired was that too many Chevy dealers are viewed as insufficiently motivated, or uncaring about the Volt, or competent to properly explain and sell it.
Majoros rhetorically asked whether this was a problem with Nissan and Toyota too, then followed that he believes it is, while citing known-excellent dealers like Capital Chevrolet which sold 75 Volts in December.
Learning from certain case examples like Capital, Majoros said Chevrolet essentially wants to synthesize and bottle what they are doing right and spread that wealth to the rest of the network.
“Trust me, we are investing significantly in dealer training resources, in tools to make sure that sales consultants know this is the type of customer that is going to walk through the door; this is what their expectations are; here are some things to help you to understand what their needs are; to help educate and train on what’s different because no doubt we have to have every sales consultant be able to say here’s what is different between gen one and gen two and this is a more complicated proposition.”
We then asked whether Chevrolet would ensure individual Volt sales people are compensated to hold new customers’ hands through what Majoros agreed can be a more-complicated Volt sale?
Majoros said dealers, as independent businesses, set their own compensation plans, and some would have varying opinions on whether they even wanted their sales consultants to be spiffed extra to sell a Volt.
Instead, Chevrolet is taking a paternal role offering advice, training and info as it can, assuming dealers’ self-interest and own business smarts will see them through.
“Let’s let individual dealers understand the market, let’s help them see the potential, let’s help train them and let’s put them in a position to succeed,” said Majoros. “And those that embrace that philosophy are succeeding. We need to replicate that formula and get it even broader, and utilize some of the best practices and things were doing to say there is a market here, there is a customer base, they have unique wants and needs. Here’s what we’re looking for, and here’s the way you manage that process from inception through delivery and the after-sales experience.”
As Chevrolet’s lead marketer setting the tone, Majoros says salespeople have only to gain in catching on and selling the Volt properly.
“Do I think it’s worth it for a sales consultant to understand Volt, understand the proposition to sell it?” he asked rhetorically. “Absolutely, because this market isn’t going away, its only going to get bigger.”
Have you noticed how the so-called “green car” space has gravitated to the upper scale demographic? There are two sides to the coin on that. It can be justified in that better off folks might also be better educated, more in touch with technology and environmental and other issues leading to petroleum savings (or elimination). And if cars are going to cost more at this stage, who better can afford them?
The negative or cynical view is automakers are going where the money is, doing what they can to meet regs and not really so concerned with being all-in to create down-market cars for the “masses.” At least there appears to be examples here and there.
But without taking any further stance here, following is a summary overview of eight new vehicles.
There are dozens of new vehicles at this year’s ongoing North American International Auto Show in Motor City, and as the town gets truer in a sense to its name – “Motor” – spliced among traditional models are several newly revealed electrified models.
Despite well-documented inexpensive gasoline these days, a complexity of variables keep alternative energy transportation relevant to automakers and a segment of consumers. These include emission and mpg concerns, desire for technologically advanced products and resultant new designs, unique drive and ownership experiences.
More could be said, but indicators are the need remains, and few in the know believe cheap gas will be with us indefinitely.
Among recent alternative-energy news, Tesla had its P85D and other variants on display, Jaguar Land Rover says it will offer a diesel variant of all its models, and really, things are happening in all technological arenas of the “all-of-the-above” approach.
To summarize some of the more noteworthy new releases at Detroit, we’ve compiled this subjectively arrived-at hierarchy – in descending order – of models that stand to most affect the market, or otherwise make some kind of a big splash.
8. 2016 Honda Fuel Cell Vehicle Concept
While competitors Hyundai and Toyota are just now revealing and selling their first fuel cell vehicles, Honda unveiled its second-generation follow up to its present FCX Clarity.
The FCV Concept signals the design direction of the alternative technology vehicle and plans are for this to go on sale in March 2016 first in Japan.
With no internal combustion engine, and instead powered primarily by gaseous hydrogen, Honda’s FCV Concept is an electric car of a different order.
It uses a fuel cell stack Honda says is more compact and powerful than the FCX Clarity’s, and is refueled in 3 minutes at a pressure of 70 MPa (10,000 psi).
Range is also increased over the former 240 miles to more than 300 miles.
This is a tad farther than Toyota’s “300-mile” range Mirai and the Honda is a five-passenger sedan instead of four as is the case for Toyota’s car now selling in Japan, with European and U.S. launch due later this year.
Of course, as everyone points out, there are perhaps a dozen or so fuel cell stations in California, and so infrastructure must be built out to make fuel cell vehicles take off.
Honda and others say they are abundantly aware of the challenges, and together with industry and government backing, they are pushing forward.
Despite backlash from battery electric vehicle advocates, general interest is significant among potential consumers who like the idea as it is being presented – range and fill-up time are similar to internal combustion powered vehicles they are already accustomed to.
The vehicles are also presented as having a low well-to-wheel carbon footprint – a statement not without opposition – and more certain is they emit nothing but water vapor from the tailpipe.
Advocates for fuel cell vehicles predict a protracted and costly time frame over the next 15 years saying the value and logic of what they are presenting will work itself out and a broader market will naturally follow.
7. 2015 Acura NSX
Acura’s NSX is back after a hiatus and while painted red, it is positioned as (potentially) green.
Using a three-motor hybrid system Acura says will have over 550 horsepower, the car routes all-wheel-drive power through a nine-speed dual clutch transmission.
Pictures barely do the NSX justice, and even if this is not your cup of tea, just the detail and artistry of the vehicle are worth a look.
For those who also like to drive fast, this screamer with the company’s torque-vectoring sport hybrid Super Handling AWD system is likely to please.
Its real environmental value may be rather minimal, as the car which will be built for global distribution exclusively in Ohio may turn in good EPA numbers, but that’s mainly when it’s not on the boil.
However the NSX does return a halo-effect to Honda’s product assortment that overall has environmental considerations in mind.
Alternative energy enthusiasts can only hope Honda hears them that they don’t want to let Toyota and others have all the hybrid fun.
The company does have more hybrid systems for ordinary cars costing far less than the estimated $150,000 of the top Acura, and these plus more electrified vehicles are anticipated when Honda decides it is ready.
6. Mercedes-Benz C350 PHEV
Mercedes-Benz showed its follow-up to its S-Class plug-in hybrid this week and the C350 carries forward many design cues.
Motivating the C-Class PHEV is a four-cylinder 1.9-liter turbocharged gasoline engine plus electric motor delivering a total of 275 horsepower and 443 pounds-feet of torque for a 0-60 time of 5.9 seconds and top speed of 130 mph.
All-electric range from its 6.2-kwh lithium-ion battery is allegedly 20 miles, though EPA numbers are not in.
Inside, the C-PHEV is roomy even in the back seat, and nicely appointed with several jewel-like touches and attention to detail.
Perhaps most importantly, Mercedes-Benz says this is still the tip of the iceberg.
As we’ve noted previously, the Germans have discovered the mandate-meeting and image-building aspects of plug-in hybrids, and Mercedes says by 2017 it will have 10 different models.
5. Hyundai Sonata PHEV
Adding to the also-just-introduced regular hybrid version of Hyundai’s redesigned Sonata is the plug-in hybrid.
Hyundai can now take its place alongside Ford, Toyota, GM, and others in the budding plug-in hybrid market with this one powered by a downsized 2.0-liter Nu GDI engine, 50-kw electric motor and six-speed transmission. This transmission is the only regular automatic among competitors which otherwise use continuously variable transmissions.
The Sonata Plug-In Hybrid employs a 9.8-kwh lithium polymer battery to drive up to 22 miles on electric power. With a larger electric motor, the PHEV’s system exceeds the non-plug-in Sonata’s 193 total system horsepower with 202 horsepower.
Hyundai estimates fuel efficiency of 93 MPGe in electric mode. When driving in charge sustaining mode, the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid is slightly less efficient than the Sonata Hybrid, at 40 mpg combined, 38 mpg city, 43 mpg highway.
Sales are due early this summer, and pricing has not yet been announced.
4. Volkswagen Cross Coupe GTE Concept
More than a technology demonstrator, the plug-in hybrid VW Cross Coupe GTE comes before a production seven-passenger VW due for manufacture by end of next year.
The concept utilizes the modular MQB platform VW is able to use to create a wide variety of vehicle types and driveline configurations.
In this case, the Cross Coupe GTE offers a total of 355 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque. Its V6 is a 3.6-liter itself delivering 276 horsepower.
Electric range is said to be 20 miles. Zero to sixty time is 6.0 seconds.
On the efficiency side of the coin, the GTE can uncouple its engine via a clutch lockout to cut frictional losses in E-mode.
Other operation modes are Hybrid, Off-road and Battery Hold/Battery Charge.
Being a concept, we can only get so excited about it, but more importantly Volkswagen Group – which operates Audi and Porsche as well – has committed heavily to vehicle electrification this decade.
More plug-ins we can buy will be coming.
3. Audi Q7 Diesel Plug-in Hybrid
What’s not to like? Audi is promising what will probably be America’s first plug-in hybrid diesel – and it will be a seven-passenger SUV just like so many Americans prefer.
Of course, this is an upscale creation, not unlike Volvo’s XC90 gas PHEV, but the fully revised Q7 appears to be a step in the right direction, and folks of more modest means can anticipate trickle-down and lower-level imitators may follow.
The plug-in Q7 offers a total of 373 horsepower and 516 pounds-feet of torque. Electric range is said to be 34 miles.
Audi says this diesel engine is 23-percent more efficient than the previous diesel, and in general turbo-diesels are more efficient than gasoline engines.
Merging Audi’s highly favored TDI technology into a plug-in hybrid is a bold but not entirely surprising move by the German automaker which has lobbied Washington for better legislative treatment of diesels.
The redesigned Q7 also now promises more interior room along with a refreshed new look.
Creature comforts abound, and technology includes such things as Audi’s new MMI infotainment system and a new virtual cockpit.
Connectivity promises to be good, but for alternative energy enthusiasts, connecting to a plug-in charger is likely the best feature.
Pricing has not been announced yet, but will be made known closer to release later this year.
2. Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept
Look out all you competitors, says this “$30,000” (after subsidies) electric car with 200-mile range to the likes of BMW, Nissan, Tesla and anyone else.
“It’s only a concept” also said a GM rep to us in Detroit but the Bolt signals General Motors’ increased commitment to “electrification of the automobile” and it’s believed a production version could be here by 2017.
“The Bolt EV concept is a game-changing electric vehicle designed for attainability, not exclusivity,” said General Motors CEO Mary Barra. “Chevrolet believes electrification is a pillar of future transportation and needs to be affordable for a wider segment of customers.”
Inside is a wide-open floor plan thanks to a “flat pack design” for the battery assembly stashed under the flat floor.
Also known as a “skateboard” chassis, GM developed this for use by its hydrogen concepts that were never produced last decade. The “skateboard” has since been borrowed by Tesla and batteries in the floor are also seen in the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 – a car the Bolt closely resembles.
All these cars promise to be the next wave of EVs and the new baseline appears to be 200-miles range, with prices half the current Model S, and GM will be there.
1. 2016 Chevrolet Volt
The biggest alternative energy news at Detroit is arguably the all-new second-generation Chevy Volt.
Chevrolet launched the original Volt in December 2010 during a low point in General Motors’ history, but the Volt was seen by alternative energy supporters as a bright point of light amidst GM’s bankruptcy and bailout.
This is the first plug-in to receive a full redesign, and pending EPA certification, the new Volt boasts 50 miles electric range – more than double any plug-in hybrid sold in the U.S.
The plug-in extended-range vehicle also operates on gasoline when the battery runs out, or with activation of a “hold” feature, to eliminate “range anxiety.”
A new 1.5-liter Ecotec engine tuned as a dedicated generator maintains the battery charge – though it does not recharge it to full – while returning an expected 41 mpg combined. Total range is 420 miles.
Inside the new Volt now features five-passenger seating – though the rear seat is only better, but not SUV roomy.
The driver interface and functionality appear altogether improved. Features include GM’s latest infotainment and safety tech, as well as amenities like heated steering wheel and heated rear seats.
GM has called the Volt a “niche” much to the chagrin of its biggest fans. It will spend more on marketing the new version, branching also into new media channels, and it’s hoped the Volt will break past only modest sales.
Pricing remains to be seen, but interviews with Pam Fletcher, GM’s executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles, and Andrew Farah who’s chief engineer for the Volt, have them saying when launched after this summer, the Volt will be a “good value.”
In sum, GM has addressed most issues raised from a large database of present Volt drivers. It has revised the look for more “mainstream” appeal, and after all the fear, uncertainty, and doubt – as well as hope, expectations, and high customer satisfaction – Volt is ready for generation two, better than ever.
General Motors has not announced the price of the 2016 Volt and so now it’s anyone’s guess what it will sell for.
The present car starts at $34,995 and the new 50-mile range model offers more, so could or should GM price it for more?
In an interview with Pam Fletcher and Andrew Farah, Fletcher said GM knows “price is important” and will make it a good value. Other well-respected observers – who I did not ask permission to quote, so will not name – say things like GM knows it hit resistance above its present price point, so it needs to keep the price in line with what it is now, or less.
But look at the promotional photos GM released. Look at the features. The 2016 Volt, already the top-EV range plug-in gas-electric car (not counting i3 REx) now blows every PHEV out of the water in AER.
GM has dropped the “U” and “P” word (upscale and premium) into its marketing copy, and Vice President, Chevrolet Marketing, Steve Majoros says that was his idea, as were photos next to upscale Colonial style townhouses.
The new Volt is packed with tech and amenities including a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, which incidentally now seat five – though Farah said the middle hump is a “convenience measure” for that occasional fifth person or child seat.
As it is, the car looks sharp … It’s all new … Beats the competition in several ways … Benefits from being evolved and revised from a first generation.
But, the sales question is an open one. The Volt never did take off for the moon even if it was a “moonshot” as GM now says, having co-opted a term Motor Trend used to describe the 2011 COTY.
The Volt remains the highest selling plug-in car in the U.S. by total volume since launch – and GM repeatedly said this fact in Detroit – but GM did not volunteer that the Nissan Leaf is due to pass it by January or February at the present rate of sales.
Fletcher said GM does not want to let that top-selling title go but by the time the 2016 goes on sale in the second half of the year it may need to play catch up.
Incidentally, no one let on that a “Volt lite” might be in the offing. Fletcher joked to Kevin Kelly also in attendance at the interview, “What’s that they say, tastes great, less filling?”
Nope, the only Volt lite for now is the 243 pound lighter car dropped a weight classification she said.
So it’s premium, nice, what should it sell for? $32,000? $35,000? $38,000? $41,000? Less? More?
Incidentally also, it will never be a Buick, they said. It is a Chevy. A tech-laden, cool Chevy that John and Jane Q Public have not always understood.
It will come in one nice trim level with a few options. GM hopes it may break into more of a mainstream level.
Of course marketing is the other factor. It’s long been said price is less important than how the car is perceived. I’ll have more on that aspect in another story.