2013 Chevrolet Volt - Driven, December 2012Enlarge Photo
News Flash: The next Chevy Volt will have less electric range than the current one, perhaps no more than 18 to 30 miles.
Or perhaps not.
We suspect that a comment by Thomas Sedran, GM's vice president of strategy and operations, is going to be one of those off-hand remarks that creates far more havoc and confusion than intended.
As quoted in the British magazine AutoExpress, Sedran suggested that 18 to 30 miles was "enough to get you in and out of town," after which the range-extending engine could kick on for any further travel.
He was referring to the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera, effectively a Chevrolet Volt electric car with different front styling, sold under the Opel brand in continental Europe and the Vauxhall brand in Great Britain.
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt has an EPA-rated electric range of 38 miles, after which its engine kicks on to generate electricity that will carry it another 300 or so miles.
We reached out to General Motors to ask if Sedran's comment was true. We got back a wordy but generic statement that didn't address the question:
GM is always looking at the needs and expectations of our customers around the world in future product planning. Voltec technology found in the Ampera and Chevrolet Volt is the leader in providing alternative solutions to our customers.
Not only are they the most satisfied owners, but the technology has demonstrated how electric vehicles make sense for today's customers. We have no future product announcements to make at this time.
Michelle Malcho, from the Volt Communications team, added that because she hadn't been part of the event where Sedran made his comments, she had a hard time placing them into context.
2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unitEnlarge Photo
But, she added, "I wouldn't read too much into his comments."
Our perspective is that while GM engineers are undoubtedly hard at work on the next-generation Volt/Ampera/ELR, core decisions like battery-pack capacity may not yet have been fixed.
With lithium-ion cell costs falling 6 to 8 percent a year, the battery pack in the 2016 Volt will be considerably less expensive than that of the original, launched in December 2010 as a 2011 model.
And second-generation Voltec cars will be produced in higher volume, leading to efficiencies of scale that further lower costs.
It's also possible that GM might opt to offer more than one battery-pack size, as Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] already does in its Model S electric luxury sport sedan.
2013 Chevrolet Volt, Catskill Mountains, Oct 2012Enlarge Photo
After all, company product lead Mary Barra said last November that GM would downplay hybrids to concentrate on Voltec range-extended electric vehicles--meaning a bright future for the Volt and its relatives in the General Motors product line.
In the leadup to the first Volt launch, an earlier generation of Volt engineers had said firmly that 40 miles was the right distance to maximize electric range which keeping costs contained. Future Volts, they said, would retain that 40-mile distance but with smaller, cheaper battery packs.
Sedran, by the way, is a turnaround specialist who joined the board of GM's European Opel/Vauxhall unit just a year ago.
According to GM, he is an automotive expert who "spent most of his career as a consultant at companies including Roland Berger and AlixPartners."