In the automotive world, it’s traditional for a particular generation of car to be sold for between six and eight years, with a mid-cycle refresh after three or four years to help ensure the car remains appealing to buyers.
What you might not know however, is that automakers are almost constantly making minor adjustments to their cars, be it to add a new feature like handsfree texting or swapping one part for another to improve efficiency and cut manufacturing costs. Sometimes, the changes are more obvious than others, but for the most part you won’t even know those changes have taken place as the majority of tweaks are far from the eyes of the customer.
Which explains nicely why General Motors has quietly upgraded the battery pack in its 2015 Chevrolet Volt from 16.5 kilowatt-hours to 17.1 kilowatt hours.
As discovered by InsideEvs yesterday, the change between 2014 and 2015 model year Volts is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary one. Although GM told InsideEvs that “customers may see a slight improvement in overall EV range,” official EPA ratings for the 2015 model year remain the same as they were last year: 98 miles per gallon equivalent on a combined fuel economy test cycle, and an EPA-approved range of 38 miles per charge.
While many are keen to place this increase in battery capacity as a major, unexpected modification to the same plug-in car that has been available since late 2010, we’re more cautious about applying any significance to the increased battery capacity.
For a start, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Chevrolet make changes to its Volt battery pack. When the Volt launched in late 2010 as a 2011 model year, it originally came with a 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. Then, back in 2013 that was changed for the 2014 model year to 16.5 kilowatt-hours. At the time, this equated to a slight improvement in both range and overall efficiency, but we think the swap was made for practical manufacturing and financial reasons than anything else.
With its battery manufacturing plant now making packs for the Chevy Spark EV, Chevy Volt, Vauxhall Ampera and Cadillac ELR, GM’s brownstone facility is operating at the highest production volume in its history. As part of that, it’s worth noting that the Spark EV battery pack, switched from LG Chem in South Korea to in-house GM packs for the 2015 model year, also features a far improved battery pack offering better energy density and more range.
Given it’s always more cost-effective to produce one battery cell chemistry than two, we’d guess the 2015 Volt is inheriting some of the new, improved cells from its smaller all-electric cousin.
Tweaking and modifying battery chemistries mid-cycle isn’t exclusive to GM either. Nissan, for example, has been constantly improving its LEAF battery technology since the car first went on the market in 2011. While the LEAF’s battery packs haven’t increased in capacity, they have increased their resistance to heat and energy density, resulting in a lighter, smaller pack packing the same 24 kilowatt-hours of capacity that the LEAF has had since it launched in 2010.
Based on our own experiences at the wheel of a Chevrolet Volt, it’s possible on a good day to just about squeeze three miles of range out of 600 watt-hours of electricity, but that requires a great deal of concentration, some hypermiling techniques, and perfect weather conditions. In reality, the additional 600 watt-hours — or 0.6 kilowatt-hours, won’t be all that noticeable to most drivers. And of course, we’re assuming that GM has opted to make all of that 0.6 kWh of extra storage available for extra range, which it hasn’t clarified.
For now then, while we think it’s a good-to-know fact that the 2015 Volt has a marginally larger battery pack than the outgoing model year, we don’t think it will have any major impact on the lives of most Volt drivers.
Given that most Volt owners we know plug in long before the battery runs flat, that extra capacity will likely go unnoticed. If you’re in the market for a new Volt however, that fact may come in handy if you’re trying to get a good discount on an outgoing 2014 model year. It’s worth a try, right?
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