General Motors Tries Again for EV Leadership, with Volt and Bolt

By · January 12, 2015

General Motors CEO Mary Barra introduces the 2016 Chevrolet Volt

General Motors CEO Mary Barra introduces the 2016 Chevrolet Volt during its world debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich.

General Motors today unveiled a new and improved version of Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid at the 2015 Detroit auto show. The showing of the new Volt comes more than six years after the introduction of the first-generation Chevrolet Volt, which at the time was championed by the company as a game-changer. It has earned many devoted fans, but mostly failed to deliver the halo that G.M. was seeking.

The company will try again with the 2016 Volt, due in showrooms in the second half of the year. It will offer a significant improvement in all-electric range, as well as a more mainstream exterior design. Pricing information is not expected until the 2016 Volt is closer to going on sale.

To emphasize the company’s desire to take a leadership role in vehicle electrification, General Motors also introduced the Bolt (with a B)—a completely gas-free all-electric concept car capable of traveling up to 200 miles on a single charge.

A Bid for Volt Popularity

Changes in the Volt’s appearance are clearly targeted at appealing at a mainstream car buyer—rather than early adopters of new technology. Angular shapes, bold lines and futuristic interior features have been replaced by a wider stance, more curves in the rear, and a simplified dashboard. The changes result in an aesthetic that would not be out of place in the showroom of a Japanese carmaker.

The new 2016 Volt
The outgoing 2015 Volt model

Top: The new 2016 Volt.
Bottom: The outgoing 2015 Volt model.

The automotive world has dramatically changed since 2006—with electric car technology from Tesla and BMW now considered the vanguard, and carmakers with first-generation EVs needing to broaden the appeal of electric efficiency to mainstream buyers.

Volt sales fell by nearly 20 percent in 2014—dropping to 8,805, well below what General Motors had hoped for its much ballyhooed extended-range electric car. “I'm not looking to sell a half million Volts,” said Steve Majoros, Chevrolet's director of car marketing told Detroit Free Press. “But it's a space in the market that Chevrolet needs to occupy."

GM’s recalibration of expectations—and targeting of mainstream visual appeal—is combined with a host of significant technical improvements, including:

  • More Range: The second-generation Volt will travel about 50 miles purely on electricity stored in a new lighter 18.4 kilowatt-hour battery pack. That’s up from 38 miles in the 2015 Volt.
  • Quicker: The two-motor electric propulsion system is 12 percent more efficient and 100 pounds lighter than its predecessor. It can accelerate from 0 to 30 mph in 2.6 seconds compared with 3.2 seconds in the current model. At the same time, the new 1.5-liter gasoline engine replaces a 1.4-liter engine.
  • A (Nominal) Fifth Seat: GM is claiming that the new Volt is a five-seater. The center tunnel in the current model limits the vehicle to four passengers in all circumstances. Now, a fifth passenger can be accommodated if he or she is willing to straddle the battery tunnel. The backseat is unfriendly to a second row with three adults, but short rides especially for kids are now possible.

Other minor changes include the ability to use regular gas rather than premium; the availability of driver-selected regen braking levels; and a place to store the charging cable in the trunk, instead of under the load floor.

The new 2016 Volt
The new 2016 Volt

The new 2016 Volt.

Meanwhile On The Cutting Edge

Just as GM tries to evolve the Volt into a mainstream model, the company takes another stab at loftier EV goals with the Bolt—an all-electric concept vehicle designed to offer more than 200 miles of range starting as low as $30,000. This figure is likely to represent a net price after a federal tax incentive.

The anticipated launch of a vehicle based on the Chevrolet Bolt EV concept is about 2017.

Chevy Bolt EV Concept
Chevy Bolt EV Concept

The Chevy Bolt EV Concept

“The Bolt EV concept is a game-changing electric vehicle,” said CEO Mary Barra said. “Chevrolet believes electrification is a pillar of future transportation and needs to be affordable for a wider segment of customers.” Long gone are the company’s arguments against the limited range of pure EVs that were central to the Chevy Volt’s public relations campaigns. Now, GM is aiming to compete in an emerging race to offer a much longer-range pure electric vehicle at a relatively affordable price.

The Bolt is a concept car wrapped around the idea of more affordable EV batteries. GM designers used a sleek and funky small crossover design featuring limited overhangs, a high beltline, narrow grille and glass roof. Think of it—both in design and technology—as a middle ground between the Chevy Volt and Chevy Spark EV (with auto show razzle-dazzle thrown in). We also some limited influence from the high-tech geeky small EV looks of the BMW i3.

GM did not offer many details about the Bolt at the Detroit unveiling. The use of DC fast charging will be important to an electric car with a big battery, but the size of the battery or charging strategies were not outlined. The company did hint that the vehicle would be targeted for sales in all 50 U.S. states.

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