Depending on which rumours you listen to, the next-generation Chevrolet Volt will either gain more electric range and improve its fuel efficiency on current models — or it will become cheaper, more compact, with a smaller all-electric range.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem possible that both rumours are true. But here at Transport Evolved, we think these contradicting rumours hint at a future where the Chevrolet Volt — like the Toyota Prius — becomes not just one car but a range of plug-in cars to suit many different markets and tastes.
On Thursday last week, Chevrolet unveiled a sneak peek of its upcoming 2016 Volt electric car. Due to be unveiled at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit next January, the second generation of General Motors’ popular range-extended electric car is rumoured by many sources to have a smaller gasoline engine, bigger battery pack, and longer all-electric range.
But the second generation Volt could end up with a shorter all-electric range in an attempt to bring down the cost of the plug-in hatchback, contradicts UK motoring newspaper AutoExpress. Bringing together evidence from General Motors’ Vice President of Strategy and Operations Thomas Sedran and Opel/Vahxuall boss Karl-Thomas Neumann, AutoExpress says we should expect a car with a substantially smaller electric only range.
Two different rumours, both seemingly valid. So what if GM is about to take a leaf out of Toyota’s book, and start a family of Volts?
Europe: No more than 30 miles per charge?
While we still think the U.S. version of the Volt will include a battery pack which increases all-electric range over the current model, GM executives in Europe are hinting at a smaller, less electrified vehicle.
“In the coming years I don’t think you will need 100km (62 miles) of electric range,” Sedran told AutoExpress. “Around 30 to 50km (18-30 miles) should be enough to get you in and out of town and after that you still have the range-extender engine to help.”
While a speculated reduction in range might not sound much different to the U.S.-approved 38 mile range of the current generation Volt, it’s important to know that the European Volt is currently rated at 82km (52 miles) on the NEDC test cycle, so this could hint at a rather dramatic reduction in range if Sedran was using NEDC test cycle figures as a comparison.
Cost reduction sought, with greater practicality
The reason for speculated range reduction between the first and second generation Volt is cost, says Neumann. In order to make the Volt more appealing, cost has to come down, especially in price-conscious markets like Europe where the current generation Volt and its sister car the Ampera are considered too expensive by most buyers.
As well as reducing build costs however, a smaller battery pack means less space is taken up inside the vehicle by the battery pack. This increases versatility, and interior space. The current generation Volt and Ampera can only seat four due to the large lithium-ion battery pack which passes down the centre of the vehicle. By reducing the size of the battery pack, GM could easily reclaim the lost third seat in the rear row, making the next-generation car a five, not four seat car.
In markets like Europe where versatility is king, that could dramatically improve the vehicle’s saleability, but it could also make it possible for a Volt/Ampera successor to be placed in a smaller, more lucrative car class.
In the U.S. however, that may not suit all tastes, especially for those who live in the suburbs and use the Volt to handle a 40-mile commute to and from work during the week and longer-distance fun at the weekends.
Following Toyota’s lead
These two seemingly incompatible rumours make more sense if you look back to General Motors’ earlier promise of not one, but two all-new plug-in cars. While GM already makes the Spark and Volt under the Chevrolet badge — as well as the Cadillac ELR of course — the Volt is undoubtedly the better known of its plug in cars.
Leveraging that brand recognition to expand the Volt brand into multiple vehicles would reinforce the Volt brand as an ecological choice among buyers, as well as allow for some separation between the main Chevrolet brand and the Volt family.
As Toyota has proven, cultivating a range of vehicles from one single name also means customers whose needs change as their live changes — couples whose children have left home for example, or a young couple who are preparing for their first child — are able to buy replacement vehicles from a brand they trust. For proof, just look at the number of people who have transitioned from a conventional Toyota Prius liftback to the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, despite its limited all-electric range and high ticket price.
This could work very nicely for Chevrolet and the Volt. Imagine trading in a Volt sedan for a Volt wagon or crossover SUV as your family grows, or trading down to a smaller city car after a move?
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