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The All New 2016 Chevy Volt – Interviews with the Designers and Engineers

The All New 2016 Chevy Volt – With Interviews from the Makers.

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I’ve spent the last couple of days here at the 2016 North American International Auto show interviewing a variety of GM folks deeply involved with the 2016 Chevrolet Volt.  A list of whom are below:  Through their accounts, I have compiled an in depth guide into the story behind the Chevy Volt, design decisions, GM’s thought process and everything you might want to know about the Volt.  Of course if you have additional questions feel free to leave a comment!

Interviewees

Larry Nitz:  GM’s chief powertrain engineer

Pamela Fletcher:  Executive Chief Engineer – Volt

Andrew Farah:  Chief Engineer – Volt

Darin Geese:  Product Manager – Volt

Tim Grieg:  Interior Designer – Volt

Crystal Windham:  Director of Interior Design Chevrolet

John Cafaro:  Executive Director of Design Chevrolet

I’ve arranged the story in the form of an FAQ, though the details are not verbatim, rather they are a summary of all the conversations above.

Q1:

I’ve heard a lot of discussion around the 2016 Volt to be changed significantly for more mainstream customers?  What was the overall design intent for gen 2 Volt?

 A1:

The Gen 2 Chevy Volt was designed for the same set of customers that the Gen 1 Chevy Volt was.  The intent was the deliver a better car in all respects.  GM’s design intent is not to “water down” the Volt or to change the identity or functionality of the Volt in any significant way, but to build it faster, stronger, more efficient, and more convenient.

Q2:

What are some key design changes that support the above design direction?  And where did they come from?

 A2:

GM heard the feedback from their existing Volt customers as well as collected driving usage data that enabled targeted improvements to the Volt.  All said it’s very impressive the data and feedback they assimilated and what that means for the car.  Below are some examples of feedback / data and how they addressed it.

1.)   The 5th (4.5?) seat addition.

The decision to add the 5th seat was driving by owner feedback that sometimes they just need a little extra space to bring someone else for a short ride around town.  For example, an extra kid from school who needs a short ride – or going on the lunch during work hours.  The Gen 2 Volt provides a bench as well as a seatbelt for that occasional 5th passenger.  While not truly a complete 5th seat, it adds value to Volt customers by providing a place for either a child seat or even a tightly fit adult.  I was able to see 3 adults fit in the back of the Volt, although without great comfort, it can be done safely.  The adult sitting in the middle seat can straddle the battery or kick their legs up.

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2.)   More EV Range:

Any EV driver you ask will pretty much ask for this.  It’s like asked who likes dessert? Even though the Volt has a backup gas generator, we love to play the I bet I can get home without using gas game.  And who doesn’t like more EV range?  GM said:  How about another 30%?  I’ll take that!

How did they do it?  Actually it took 3 very different things to make it happen.

New battery chemistry and pack design:

This by itself did not gain the full 30% increase in range.  The full battery is now 18.4 Kwh v.s. the original Gen 1 Volt’s 16 Kwh:  A 15% increase.  Note that the entire battery actually weighs less now! By 30lb too (around a 8% decrease)

Part of this is because they now use larger format cells.  (20% bigger cells) this along with the fact that the new cell chemistry has more energy density means that the battery now has 96 fewer individual cells, which means less extra materials needed for cooling.  Also because a battery is only as strong as it’s weakest link (1 cell) having fewer cells means that the entire pack on average has more useful energy which increases the average capacity of a battery pack.

Bigger gas generator: 1.5 liter v.s. 1.4 liter (total power increase from 55 kw to 75kw or a 33% increase!)  You might not think this would increase range EV range, but it does!  Why?  Well with a bigger generator the Chevy Volt can use up more of it’s “battery’s reserve energy” without worry that the gas engine will not be able to keep up or run out.  This means that from the same battery, more energy is usable.

Greater drivetrain efficiency:  The completely redesigned Gen 2 Chevy Volt transmission is 12% more efficient at converting the existing energy in the battery into power to the wheels.  The details behind how they achieved this will be released later this year, but basically they rearranged entirely how the power split works.

When more information is available, I will write a more complete article on the gen 2 powertrain and some of the cool things they did to make it happen.  (e.g. collected real world vehicle usage data that helped GM re-engineer their algorithms.

3.)   Better Driving Performance:

Guess what?  When the new Volt loses 250lbs it accelerates faster and handles more nimbly.  If the Volt were a person that weighed 200 lbs, that’s the equivalent of going from 200 lbs to 186 lbs.  (Do you remember how much better you felt when you lost 14 lbs?  That’s what I need to do next!)  Or for someone weighing 130 lbs it’s like dropping to 121 lbs – everything fits a little better and you feel quite a bit better about yourself!

By the way, the Volt does this without a lot of expensive materials.  They only use aluminum on the hood and hatchback lid.

On paper it’s 20% more acceleration from 0-30, the 0-60 is just a hair faster.  It should give you a noticeable oomph out of the gate.

4.)  A more intuitive / convenient user interface:

The Gen 1 Chevy Volt was iconic in its interior design.  The design philosophy was to make a statement about the Volt and in some cases function followed form.  Below are some key changes in the car that will help this:

Higher resolution and larger set of displays (Now 8 inches diagonal v.s. 7 inches) -  More is better!  How about even more?

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More conventional gear selector that is placed farther back instead of nesting into the center console.  This makes it easier to reach and move.  To me the original shifter was cool, but new customers may appreciate the familiarity.

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Getting rid of the capacitive touch controls and replacing key climate control featured with manual controls and are easier to touch, feel and reach instead of having to navigate through menus.  The design of capacitive touch was cool, but really not as easy to use.  I think people will appreciate this change as well.  Personally I am agnostic.

5.)  Easier to access 110v charger.  THANK YOU!! (It now is housed in a side storage area and the unit is much smaller.  See below.  It was a big pain in the butt when you had things In the trunk to get the charge cable out when it used to be below the trunk.  (It meant that you had to empty out the trunk and lift up the whole trunk floor to get at it).  Now it’s in a much better place.

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6.)  They replaced the stock Goodyear tires with more “normal” tires.  Why?  Well as I already found out, the stock Goodyear tires have the inconvenient tendency of getting flats more frequently and wearing out a little quicker than standard tires.  They were also a little noisier on the road than other ties and were expensive to replace.  The new tires are a little less efficient, but better in all other respects.  And with them you’ll still get your 50 miles EV.

7.)  There is regen on demand from the ELR (where you can slow the Volt down with paddles behind the steering wheel without using your friction brakes.  I think this is a very under-rated feature.  Having an ELR with regen on demand is really cool.  Only way to really appreciate it is to use it.   BTW:  Because the Volt weighs less than the ELR, the regen on demand actually slows the car faster, which should make it a lot more useful.

Q3:  How much will it cost?

A3:  Not released yet – which means they are gauging people’s reaction to see what the market will support  (at least they are doing this v.s. throwing out an insane price like they did for the ELR.  But if I were to guess (I guess right about the 50 miles of range after all) I’d say that GM won’t cut the price significantly over the best  Volt pricing today given that it’s a better car, but that it will match the current “best” deal on a Volt right now.  Today, you can get a relatively loaded Volt for about $40k before incentives and a base model for $32k.  I’m going to guess $39k for fully loaded (LTZ model) and $31k for a regular LT Model.

Questions? or your own 2 cents on what’s happened with the new Volt?  I probably have answers, just haven’t though to ask them yet.  Post your comment and I’ll try to get them answered!

2 Responses to “The All New 2016 Chevy Volt – Interviews with the Designers and Engineers”

  1. Thomas J. Thias says:

    Thanks for your great report. I tried to pull NAIASDetroit Press Days Credentials, reporting and publishing on my Twitter Electric Fueled Vehicle, Sustainability and Renewable Energy Feed, @AmazingChevVolt, but was unsucessful.

    Lol, get a load of who follows/suscribes to my Twitter, News/Opinion Feed. This was my arguement to NAIASDetroit Press Department.

    Still…

    Great time during Industry Preview Days on Thursday, 01.15.2015.

    My 2012 Chevy Volt Extended Range Electric Vehicle just passed 38,000 miles and I am over 550 Mpg Per OnStar data.

    Link Goes To My Volt Stats Dot Com Data Page-

    http://www.voltstats.net/Stats/Details/1068

    Great stuff, my friend! Your article is giong out in my next Tweet!

    Best-

    Thomas J. Thias

    Sundance Chevrolet Inc.

    517-749-0532

    https://twitter.com/AmazingChevVolt

  2. Bill Strom says:

    Why does Chevy continue to only have a 3.2Kw charger. Most of the other electric cars are twice that. It is inconvenient to wait 4 hours to charge when at a public charger. I can’t believe more people wouldn’t want the Volt to charge faster when the technology is there.

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