2013 Chevrolet Volt - Driven, December 2012Enlarge Photo
There's been very little news lately about the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, and its sales in 2013 sales were stagnant.
In fact, the most recent item of note was a $5,000 price reduction on the 2014 Volt last August, to bring it closer to the center of the volume-car market.
But behind the scenes, Chevrolet is preparing the next iteration of its pioneering plug-in car.
Based on published articles and a host of private conversations with industry analysts, electric-car advocates, and--yes--a few General Motors employees, here's what we know so far about the next Volt.
First 2011 Chevrolet Volt delivered to retail buyer Jeffrey Kaffee, in Denville, NJ, December 2010Enlarge Photo
GM will almost certainly unveil a redesigned Chevrolet Volt at next January's Detroit Auto Show.
Whether it will carry a 2015 or 2016 model isn't yet clear, but we're betting on the latter, which would give the first Volt a five-year life.
We'll learn more this summer, depending on whether Chevrolet issues details for a 2015 Volt very similar to the current one.
The main reason for redesigning the Volt is to get the cost down. Way down.
Departed GM CEO Dan Akerson said a number of times that the goal for the next model was to take $10,000 in cost out of the Volt.
We don't have confirmed numbers on what today's Volt costs to build, but Akerson himself admitted last May that GM loses money on each one.
Will the new car be profitable? If GM follows the same model as Toyota did with its Prius hybrid, a second-generation Volt might turn profitable sometime during its model cycle.
First 2011 Chevrolet Volt built on production tooling at Detroit Hamtramck plant, March 31, 2010Enlarge Photo
More important to consumers, we suspect that Chevy will keep the price at $35,000 and may cut it further.
Our ideal target would be $29,995--and, remember, the new Volt will still qualify for a $7,500 Federal income-tax credit plus various state and local incentives.
But GM may well keep the 2016 Chevy Volt at around $35,000, as a premium offering. We'll have to wait for that one.
It's safe to say that a longer electric range may be the top request for the new car from owners of the current Volt.
We don't think that'll happen; we think GM will stick with its original 40-mile range.
(The 2011 Volt was rated at 35 miles of range, which rose to 38 miles for 2013 and later models.)
As GM has said for many years now, almost four-fifths of U.S. vehicles travel 40 miles a day or less--which means that greater electric range applies to a smaller and smaller proportion of vehicles and uses.
Even now, Volts cover three-quarters to two-thirds of all their miles on grid electricity used to charge their battery packs, with the gasoline range extender used for just one-third to one-quarter of total miles driven.
Moreover, the goal of radically cutting the Volt's build cost argues against adding any range. GM needs to make its battery pack smaller and much less expensive to get there, so we'd lay money on keeping the current 40-mile electric range.
2011 Chevrolet Volt MPV5 concept, Unveiled at 2010 Beijing Motor ShowEnlarge Photo
The current Volt is a compact five-door hatchback, and we expect the new 2016 Volt to retain its dedicated shape.
Just as for two generations of Toyota Prius, the high vertical tail of the Volt is the best way to cut the energy used to overcome aerodynamic drag at 30 mph and higher.
But today's Volt has just four seats. There's no central rear seating position because the T-shaped battery pack that runs down the car's center tunnel gets in the way.
That missing fifth seat has turned out to be a deal-breaker for some buyers who'd otherwise love to have a Volt, and GM knows this.
Some analysts have suggested that GM might offer two Volts: a four-seat hatchback with a range of more than 40 miles, and a five-seat version that sticks to the 40-mile rating.