DETROIT — The redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid will be quicker, lighter and more fuel efficient than its predecessor. And it will probably carry less baggage.
Hastily developed in some of General Motors’ darkest days, the first-generation Volt was launched in 2010, carrying a complex powertrain, a heavy price tag and the weight of a tarnished brand. There was also political baggage: Critics of the 2009 government bailout and subsidies for electric vehicles seized on the Volt as a costly science project and a symbol of the strategic blunders that led GM to bankruptcy.
“It was a lightning rod,” AutoPacific Inc. analyst Dave Sullivan recalls.
And there was the burden that GM itself loaded on the Volt with inflated sales targets. Then-CEO Dan Akerson predicted early on that GM would sell 45,000 Volts in 2012. Sales plodded along about half that pace, leading to headlines declaring it a flop.
Now, GM is using the redesign as an opportunity not only to optimize the plug-in hybrid technology it pioneered four years ago but also to reintroduce the car in a less hostile climate.
Judging by details of the next-gen Volt’s drive-train disclosed at a media briefing last week, it’s trying to make the most of that opportunity. Not one part was carried over from the drive unit. The battery is nearly all new, too.
“We had an unbelievable opportunity: Open a clean sheet, know what your customers love, know what they want, and do it better,” said Larry Nitz, executive director of GM Powertrain’s electrification engineering team.
GM officials said the next Volt will go farther on an electric charge than the current estimate of 38 miles, although they wouldn’t say by how much. More details will be revealed when the car is unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January, for sale by the second half of 2015.
But range isn’t the only important attribute to the nearly 70,000 customers who have bought a Volt since it went on sale four years ago, Nitz said. They also want a car that’s more fun to drive and enhances the fluid feel of the electric drivetrain.
Volt customers “love this liquid feel, the acceleration,” Nitz said. “They want more of that.”