2016 Chevrolet VoltEnlarge Photo
Overall, Chevy says, the new Voltec drive unit is 100 pounds (45 kg) lighter than its predecessor, more powerful, and up to 12 percent more efficient.
With its power electronics mounted directly on the drive unit, the 2016 Volt no longer has so many orange high-voltage cables visible with the hood open.
The entire powertrain package, in fact, is smaller--enough so that the new Volt's designers were able to reduce the cowl height, giving the entire car a lower, sleeker, and less slab-sided appearance.
The new Voltec powertrain gets its energy from a liquid-cooled 18.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack in the familiar T-shape, again housed in the Volt's tunnel and under its rear seat.
Smaller battery, no plug?
So what does all this mean for future GM hybrids?
Well, suppose you removed all the plug-in gear and replaced the T-pack with a much smaller lithium-ion battery pack--of, say, 1.5 to 2 kilowatt-hours.
2010 Toyota Prius transaxle, at right, with larger, heavier transaxle from 2009 Prius at leftEnlarge Photo
That setup suddenly looks rather a lot like what's in the Hybrid Synergy Drive system that powers today's Toyota Prius.
But GM's electric output of 111 kW is higher that of the two motor-generators in today's Prius, at 60 kW (80 hp) for the one used as a traction motor and 42 kW (56 hp) for the generator.
With a slightly larger battery, our putative GM hybrid could arguably run more often on electricity alone.
And if GM has learned anything from its experience with the first Volt, it's that drivers LOVE electric power that comes without any accompanying engine noise or vibration.
2015 Toyota Prius LiftbackEnlarge Photo
Facing off against Toyota
Could a Voltec-based conventional hybrid system provide more electric-only driving with similar fuel economy to Toyota's hybrid lineup?
What vehicles might it appear in? We doubt Chevy will do its own dedicated hybrid, a la Prius.
Instead, it will likely reserve the special bodies for its signature plug-in vehicles: the Volt today, the Bolt (hopefully renamed) in 2017.
But we can certainly imagine this theoretical hybrid system in the next generation of Malibu, around 2017, to compete head-to-head with the hybrid versions of its mid-size sedan competitors: the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and Toyota Camry.
2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid, test drive, Catskill Mountains, NY, Mar 2013Enlarge Photo
All of those models except the Camry have or will have plug-in hybrid variants as well--which should be a snap for the GM engineers behind our theoretical 2017 or 2018 Malibu Hybrid.
Just think of it as the Volt alternative, with less electric range, but conventional styling, more interior space, and real seating for five (no "occasional seating position").
This is all speculation, of course.
But it would provide the answer to a question that has bedeviled analysts, engineers, and auto writers since Barra's announcement: How can GM not offer conventional hybrids?
The answer is that we suspect the company will, based on a Voltec system minus the plug.
It's just not saying so.