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2016 Chevrolet Volt Technical First Look

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 10/29/2014 Frank Markus

Some 69,000 of what marketing director Steve Majoros describes as "the happiest owners on earth" have already racked up 650 million electric miles on their Chevy Volts, and the 2011 model currently ranks tops in class on J.D. Power's Dependability index. So we were expecting a steady-as-she-goes evolutionary redesign for the 2016 Volt. But what the development team calls the Gen II Volt will be far more radically redesigned than was the Gen II Prius. The entire drivetrain, power controller, battery, and virtually everything connecting the above has been redesigned, right down to the battery chemistry. The only carryover powertrain part is a little yellow shipping cap used to cover the attachment point for the shift linkage (and it gets thrown away at the factory). These new bits will get bolted into brand new bodywork too, but we won't see that until January's Detroit show.

2016 Chevrolet Volt Technical First Look

MotorTend Image© Provided by MotorTrend MotorTend Image The revisions are aimed at increasing performance and range at reduced cost. Despite the fact that most customers do their level dangdest to never fire the 1.4-liter engine, it has been swapped out for an all-new 1.5-liter I-4 from a new modular EcoTec small-engine architecture, featuring direct injection, 12.5:1 compression, cooled exhaust-gas recirculation, and cam phasing with wide-range authority to permit Atkinson-cycle operation. This more powerful and torquier engine is so much smoother and more refined that it can run at up to 5600 rpm (the old one was capped at 4800 rpm to tame the din). Official figures haven't been released, but at a previous event for the EcoTec engine family, the 1.5 was listed at 112 hp and 104 lb-ft (up from the old one's 84 hp and estimated 92 lb-ft). A new variable-displacement oil pump boosts efficiency, and it's tuned to run on regular gas. Oh, and it will be built in Flint Michigan.

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MotorTend Image© Provided by MotorTrend MotorTend Image Even fewer details were provided about the battery pack, which reportedly shares only nine parts with the current pack. It will still use prismatic pouch-style cells, but the lithium-ion chemistry is revised and the pack is configured to use 192 cells, down from 288. The new chemistry is 20 percent more efficient on a volume basis (so the betting person might want to guess that's the amount the capacity increases, as the outer package looks mighty similar in size, which would portend a 20.5-kW-hr capacity). We're also told that lessons learned in Gen I allow deeper discharge of the new pack. In addition, the pack is 30 pounds lighter, has lower internal resistance, and its direct liquid cooling system is configured with about a third fewer seals (403 versus 602) for improved reliability.

MotorTend Image© Provided by MotorTrend MotorTend Image Further packaging improvements and mass reductions are being achieved by integrating the Traction Power Inverter Module and controller electronics onto the housing for the electric motors and transmission. This eliminates the big orange cables that used to connect the body-mounted controller to the transmission. This change, and the nature of ever-shrinking microelectronics, wrought a 60-percent volume reduction in the power electronics and helps the powertrain shed 100 pounds.

MotorTend Image© Provided by MotorTrend MotorTend Image But the real kicker is the complete redesign of the guts of this transmission. Instead of having one big honker electric machine providing virtually all of the drive force through a single planetary gearset, there are now two separate motors of slightly different designs with different peak operating ranges. This allows them to work alone or together depending on the driver's demands in different modes to better optimize efficiency. The smaller one uses a ferrite material in lieu of pricey and scarce rare-earth metals, and the other one uses a rare-earth formula that's less rich in the rarest heavy metals (this model uses 60 percent less rare-earth metals). Two planetary gearsets now manage the five different operating modes (up from four, as reflected by the transmission's official nomenclature: 5ET50, replacing 4ET50). There's 10 percent less steel in the two motors for a 33-pound weight savings.

Low-speed acceleration is said to be improved by 20 percent, while overall drivetrain efficiency increases by 12 percent. So let's make some wild guesses here. Let's say the new Volt uses 70 percent of the battery pack that we're guessing jumps to 20.5 kW-hrs (up from the current Volt's 60 percent). That would suggest the current Volt's EPA-estimated EV range of 38 miles might jump to 53. Factor in the 12-percent drivetrain-efficiency boost and you're at 59 miles. One promise: Some of these assumptions are wrong, and factory claims will likely be conservative, but a 50-mile range will have a nice round marketing ring to it. Stay tuned for more info in January, and a complete explanation of the nitty-gritty planetary details when an SAE paper is published in February.

The next generation Volt will debut at the 2015 NAIAS© Provided by MotorTrend The next generation Volt will debut at the 2015 NAIAS
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