Ask anyone who has spent significant time tweaking internal combustion engines for performance purposes, and they’ll give you an extensive list of modifications you can make to your stock car faster and more powerful, all without replacing the original engine.
Of those, the majority will focus on improving the way in which the engine burns fuel, ranging from improved air flow to the engine to tweaks to the car’s fuel system or changing the fuel to air ratio with the car’s engine management software. Ultimately, they all do the same thing: get the engine to make more power, without requiring you to spend huge amounts of money engineering your car to get it to perform better.
For an electric car, the analogy of giving an internal combustion engine more air in order to improve performance is increasing the current that flows to its electric motor, increasing torque and acceleration times.
And that’s exactly what Cadillac has apparently done to its 2016 model year ELR range-extended electric coupe to increase performance by 25 percent over the previous 2014 model year car without replacing or re-engineering its electric motors, says Autobloggreen, having spoken to both Cadillac and industry analysts.
Based on the original first-generation Chevrolet Volt, the original 2014 model-year Cadillac ELR (General Motors didn’t offer a refresh for the 2015 model year) combined the usual luxury of the Cadillac brand with a range-extended electric drivetrain and a hefty $75,995 price tag. While it certainly had far more in-car technology and opulence than the 2013 Chevrolet Volt on which it was based, the 2014 Cadillac ELR failed to sell as well as GM had hoped, becoming one of the brand’s least popular vehicles of recent years.
Cadillac has managed to slash 1.5 seconds off the ELR 0.60 mph time, improve top speed, and give the luxury coupe a 25 percent overall improvement in performance for the 2016 model year.
Rather than rebuild what is essentially a low-volume car from the ground up for the 2016 model year, GM decided to keep the ELR’s first-generation Volt underpinnings for the model year, but managed to slash 1.5 seconds off its 0.60 mph time, improve top speed, and give the luxury coupe a 25 percent overall improvement in performance. Add in a retuned chassis and improved, performance-oriented suspension — as well as a $10,000 price cut — and GM hopes the 2016 ELR will be a better seller than the model it replaces.
It did it all without any major changes to the vehicle’s 1.4-litre inline four-cylinder engine, or the twin electric motors it inherited from the first-generation Volt.
The secret, says former Autobloggreen writer Sam Abuelsamid — who now works for Navigate Research — is some subtle changes to the power electronics used to deliver power to the Cadillac ELR’s twin-motor unit. With enough engineering overhead in the original motors to cope with increased current flow, engineers have simply beefed up the ELR’s power controller circuitry to deliver more current — and thus more power — to the motors.
Just like adding better air flow or changing the compression ratio of an internal combustion engine, the result is improved power and torque from the same physical unit.
In addition, suggests Abuelsamid, Cadillac also probably beefed up parts of the ELR’s transmission to withstand the extra torque of the higher-current motors, ensuring the 2016 ELR could easily and safely put that power to the road.
Talking with Cadillac spokesperson David Caldwell, Autobloggreen learned that the improvements to the ELR involved both mechanical and software improvements.
“One could not ‘reflash’ a previous ELR to get the performance of a 2016,” said Caldwell. “If one only changed software you would not get the performance upgrade fully, as the 2016 creates higher current, more power. So these have been upgraded physically – hardware. And yes, of course there is new software on top.”
Another worthy point of note to Cadillac’s secret engineering sauce to squeeze more performance out of the same electric motor and engine as the 2014 Cadillac ELR for the 2016 Model year ELR is the addition of a new Sport mode which lets the ELR operate its gasoline engine and electric motors simultaneously under hard load conditions.
Previously only available at high speeds — and in the Volt only under high stress situations like travelling up a mountain pass — the ELR can engage both its gasoline engine and its twin electric motors to provide maximum power output. This results in sportier performance, but naturally does impact overall fuel efficiency.
There’s no doubt that the improvements made to the 2016 Cadillac ELR will make it more appealing to Cadillac customers, many of whom have grown accustomed to the power offered by GM’s line up of V6 and V8 engines. But will it be enough to convince them to pick the ELR over other models from the Cadillac stable? And what of the CT6 plug-in hybrid GM is brining to market in the near future? Will it outperform and outclass the ELR?
Moreover, will it be enough to convince would-be plug-in buyers to pick the luxury ELR over the less-opulent but far sportier and all-electric Tesla Model S?
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