2016 Chevrolet Volt sneak peak for owners, Los Angeles, Nov 2014
For most of 2014, there was very little news about the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, and its sales in 2013 and 2014 have been stagnant at roughly 2,000 cars a month.
The most recent item of note was a $5,000 price reduction on the 2014 Volt in August 2013, to bring it closer to the center of the volume-car market, along with a battery-pack upgrade for the 2015 model.
But behind the scenes, Chevrolet has been busy preparing the next iteration of its pioneering plug-in car.
Based on published articles, 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.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: We first published this article in March 2014. As the debut of the 2016 Volt approaches, Chevy has released selective details, including a peak at the front styling, some charging updates, and an overview of the powertrain.
This article has been updated to reflect that new information. For all the latest updates on the 2016 Volt, see our Chevrolet Volt news page.]
First 2011 Chevrolet Volt delivered to retail buyer Jeffrey Kaffee, in Denville, NJ, December 2010
TIMING and COST
GM will unveil the redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Volt at next January's Detroit Auto Show.
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.
More important to consumers, we suspect that Chevy will keep the price at $35,000--and may cut it further.
2016 Chevrolet Volt powertrain
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. Or it could offer a lower base price, but a wider selection of options to bring the price back up.
We'll have to wait for that one.
It's safe to say that a much longer electric range may be the top request for the new car from owners of the current Volt.
Chevrolet says, however, that the 2016 Volt will have a slightly higher range. Effectively, GM is sticking with its original 40-mile range.
2016 Chevrolet Volt powertrain
(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.
Today, GM says Volts cover almost two-thirds of all their miles driven on grid electricity used to charge their battery packs--and 80 percent of all commute miles--with the gasoline range extender only used for the remainder.
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 Show
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.
While it hasn't been confirmed, rumors from Volt owners who attended a preview event in Los Angeles during November's auto show indicate that at least some provision for a fifth seating position has been made.