By on August 4, 2015

2016 Chevrolet Volt

Chevrolet announced Tuesday that its new 2016 Volt would extend its all-electric range from 38 miles to 53 miles, which is a 40-percent improvement and would satisfy more than 90 percent of normal drives.

The feat itself would put the Volt on par with many all-electric commuters, whose normal range is anywhere from 60 to 90 miles. Of course, the Volt packs with it a 1.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder that bumps that range up to more than 400 miles, but that’s neither here nor there.

Let’s talk about the batteries.

On paper, the Volt’s new battery capacity is 18.4 kWh compared to last generation’s 16.5 kWh — an only 11 percent increase in capacity. Even further, there’s 96 fewer cells in the 2016 Volt compared to the current model and the batteries themselves are 20 pounds lighter.

So where does the 40-percent bump in range come from? Better batteries and a better approach.

Chevrolet has steadily improved its batteries in the Volt since the car came out in 2011 — 16 kWh to 16.5 kWh — but the bump to 18.4 kWh would be the largest improvement in six years to overall storage. Chevrolet has put the car on a diet, too, and that signals a change for the automaker from previous years.

The overall weight of the 2016 Chevrolet Volt is down 250 pounds over the current car (3,543 pounds vs. 3,781 pounds) and 100 pounds of that alone comes from slimmer energy storage.

All the little things — plus big improvements in battery tech — have equaled a 38-percent increase in EV range in six years and the car still costs $33,995, which is only $453 more than the average new car price in the United States. Range wars may become the new horsepower wars.

Almost two years ago, GM announced it was tripling its investment in its battery labs. It appears that investment is starting to pay off.

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54 Comments on “Battery Tech – Not Better Range – Is Why We Should Be Excited about Chevrolet Volt...”


  • avatar
    sirwired

    While the original Volt was not that great of a car, I always thought the approach (usable battery for commuting, gas engine for road trips) has always been a better approach vs. all-electric.

    Still a little on the pricey side though, so it’s still a bit of a non-starter here in cheap-gas-land.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      It’s an extremely versatile drivetrain, but it has the disadvantages of both weight and expense. It’s less maintenance-intensive than a conventional ICE drivetrain because the ICE and brakes are so much less stressed, but the pure battery electric promises to be nearly maintenance-free.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The 90% cited in the story is the same 90% used by Nissan to justify its BEV approach in the runup to the Leaf in 2011. This has been true for me.

      My 12 Leaf has been sufficient for over 95-98% of my daily commuting needs. So in practice, I’ve brought an ICE to work maybe 5-10 times per year because I had too much to do after work.

      As for maintenance – in 25k miles and 3 years I’ve installed one set of tires and some window wash fluid. That’s it. No brakes, no emissions inspections, no fluid checks, no smells, no noises. The big downsides have been battery degradation and cold weather range, things the Volt doesn’t much suffer from.

    • 0 avatar
      THE_F0nz

      Not a great car? I don’t mean to sound like a raging kid on the internet boards, but where are you coming from here? Check consumer reports or any other similar website. This is nearly the definitive commuter car for anyone who lives 20 miles (or less) from work. Heck, 40 miles or less still works out wonderfully if you do the math.

      The car has saved me 225 dollars per month in gasoline, cost me 299 per month on a 15k mile/yr lease, has been perfectly reliable for 3 years, averaged 175mpg over the life of the car, fits 4 pretty comfortably, can fit a 60″ television box and received compliments by every single person I have ever given a ride. (Black interior with white center console and white leather seat inserts impresses every time)

      With a tire upgrade it handles like it is on rails and out-accelerates everything within 40mpg class. It even can ascend hills loaded with 4 adults and luggage without breaking a sweat on a road trip to Vegas.

      This is the best car of its kind for all-round usage. Here’s how I see the score board:

      – Fusion Energi has nearly no trunk and no pass-through,
      – Leaf has very limited range and questionable battery management approach
      – Prius isn’t even close in range.
      – C-Max Energi is closest competitor but lags behind in looks and (slightly) in range.

      If you look at the Volt’s battery usage/management/cooling approach, you will see that they have the most systems in place to ensure longevity of the battery.

      3 cons in my book: Not the best looking car, firm seats and short on Leg room in the back compared to mid-sized sedans.

      I’m actually glad fewer people have bought them to clog up the carpool lane in CA. I save 1.5 hours a day due to that 8 dollar set of stickers…

    • 0 avatar

      For “not that great of a car”, the original Volt has unusually high satisfaction levels, over 90%. I have a neighbor who now has two, and he used to drive German luxury cars. I’ll have to double check, but I think that the Volt also has GM’s highest conquest rate, people trade in other brands for it (most notably Prii). TTAC’s reviews when the car was new were positive. It’s arguably the most thoroughly developed car that GM has ever sold and an impressive bit of engineering.

      Was it ever going to sell 60K units a year? Only in Dan Akerson’s fevered dreams, but by most standards it’s a pretty good car, far from the mediocrity “not that great” implies.

      • 0 avatar

        The Volt does indeed enjoy very high satisfaction according to the 2015 Consumer Reports annual auto issue.

        However, cars that offer some highly specific attribute–sports cars, cars that emphasize economy, etc., tend to generate higher levels of satisfaction than those that try to be excellent appliances, or even excellent luxury appliances. Their owners are undoubtedly more invested in their purchases, and with that investment probably comes a lot of placebo effect. My brother, who has never loved a car in his life, loves his fricken Prius. He even claims it’s fun to drive, although I don’t think he’d know fun to drive if it came in a Porsche and swept him up on Skyline on the Peninsula. (his best friend, who owns a Boxster, and I laugh about him and his Prius.)

        Nonetheless, this news story suggests that indeed GM has made some very significant progress with the Volt, both in terms of the battery quality and the lightness.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Did the Volt get solo access to HOV lanes around Los Angeles? The electric car has never saved more money in gasoline than it cost in battery pack, but it had the potential to give drivers much faster commutes in some areas.

      • 0 avatar
        THE_F0nz

        Yes, some of the 2012 models (with proper zero emission option package) and 2013-current year models received the green HOV sticker.

        The economics of the Volt is an interesting topic. It requires people to actually be open and honest about how much a car really costs them per month.

        As far as cost… My 911 was my daily driver 3 years ago. I spent 200-225 per month in gasoline, a monthly car payment over $350 dollars given the amount I financed, and about 150 a month in insurance. Total cost = roughly 700 per month.

        A volt? Leasing below 300 per month payment for 15k miles, $20 per month in gas on average, $150 per month in insurance. Total cost ~450-470 per month. That makes for a $230-250 per month savings. (Or you could look at it as a 300 per month raise before taxes… that’s how I saw it.)

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Those are some nice figures. Volt and things like it are wise moves for commuter type vehicles, bankrupt state gov’ts will make gasoline ridiculously expensive no matter what the RBOB is doing.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I think the new Volt is a good looking car, much more so than the first gen with those black panels around the greenhouse.

    Then again gas seems to be heading back to 2 bucks a gallon.

    We’ll see how the lease deals roll out.

  • avatar
    redav

    I’m a bit disappointed that “battery tech” is all the explanation provided. Energy density–both energy/mass and energy/volume–are critically important for vehicles, but few talk about them.

    How they were able to achieve the improvements would be insightful, and I’m curious how the updates relate to the upcoming Bolt.

    • 0 avatar
      tylanner

      Yeah, what’s the truth about these batteries? Searching for ‘batteries’ yielded about 4,010 results on TTAC so maybe I just missed it.

      But in all seriousness, I’d like to see a down and dirty breakdown of the bleeding edge battery tech. Where is each company going? What is the next breakthrough?

      • 0 avatar
        Aaron Cole

        More to come. Very much.
        For now, all GM wants to say is the cell structure and overall weight. But there’ll be more.
        Stay tuned.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        >> What is the next breakthrough?

        This is my favorite breakthrough since they’ve advanced to the point that they’re getting ready for production. They expect to have them in mass production in 2 years. I think they are in pilot production now with more than 9000 cells made. They seem for real unlike the lab breakthroughs that seem to happen every other week.

        http://qz.com/433131/the-story-of-the-invention-that-could-revolutionize-batteries-and-maybe-american-manufacturing-as-well/

        http://24-m.com/about-us/http://24-m.com/about-us/

    • 0 avatar
      ckb

      You want details? Start here:

      http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/search/searchresult.jsp?newsearch=true&queryText=lithium%20ion%20battery

      You can probably end there too.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Versatile… park that on the lawn and it becomes a child’s slide if they can climb up the back.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    With the beak on the front I thought it was an Acura or the new Accord.

  • avatar
    wmba

    And the building of an empire in the desert rolls along – the Tesla Giga-Factory, where out-of-date tiny 18650 cells will be made by the billions, each requiring its own safety mechanism and having to be soldered/welded together to make a battery pack.

    Meanwhile, others not blinded by their own genius have decided to make modernized cells of larger size, requiring fewer to make a battery and lower assembly costs. Who’d a thunk it?

    The new Volt looks extremely bland to me like all the new Chevrolets, looking like an Acura ILX front end mated to a Civic coupe rear with added bloat. The new Equinox looks like Mr. Anonymous with just a hint of surprise at actually having been discovered.

    Nevertheless, this new Volt is leading edge stuff from an engineering viewpoint.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The 18650 offers design flexibility for future products, and was a genius move for a startup EV company because of the 18650’s ubiquity. Its choice was an excellent way to reduce risk.

      Review Fisker’s foolish dependence on a custom A123 battery for their design.

      I would have thought Tesla would produce an optimized cell by now, but they’re obviously committed to the flexibility offered by the 18650. Perhaps they’ll even sell excess cells for use in laptops and portable equipment.

      As someone who designs products using lithium ion cells, it’s amazing how bleak the landscape is once you divert away from the 18650. Low volume products don’t command attention from suppliers, so that ‘ideal’ cell you select today will go EOL in a couple years. Or, they suffer from other shortcomings, like safety specs, temperature specs, cost issues, or energy density. It’s really tough to beat the 18650 as an all-around cell.

      The 18650 is ‘outdated’ like the 1955 Chevy small block.

      • 0 avatar

        The reason why GM said they went with a custom form factor for the Volt’s batteries was packaging, making them fit better in a car. LG Chem makes the cells and assembles the battery packs per GM specs. Also, as mentioned, GM has invested a lot of money in battery research at the Tech Center and I suspect that they’d like to own some of the tech and not be entirely dependent on vendors, probably the same reason for Tesla’s “gigafactory”.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          Packaging: yes and no, IMO. You can certainly minimize volume with a custom battery (eliminating that pesky air gap between cylindrical cells), but in theory you could stuff little 18650s anywhere and produce a rather oddly-shaped battery pack if needed. But in practice, Tesla’s pack ends up being a giant pancake and the custom packs have the odd shapes.

          Costs: Of course, GM and Nissan have the resources to develop custom batteries, which a nascent Tesla did not have. But now, the Gigafactory will not only reduce mfg costs and supplier dependencies, it will enable recycling to reduce material costs as well. It’s a huge gamble that I hope works out for them.

          • 0 avatar
            shaker

            “It’s a huge gamble that I hope works out for them.”

            As an attempt at “closing the loop” on the battery supply chain, it makes perfect sense.

            But, it’s a ‘threat’ to the status quo, so there are plenty who hope that it falls on its face, which is kind of sad.

            Sustainability is its own reward.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    No fun to drive. No cache. No thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Nothing whatsoever on 4 wheels is fun to drive in Cali rush hour. Preferential carpool access (is this still open for the Volt?) and some time easier to find parking, are about the most “fun” you can possibly expect.

      If you want fun, carpool access, and easier parking, suck it up and ride….

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        Cali – please stop using this abbreviation.

        Cali rush hour – There is no such thing, and if there was, ‘rush’ isn’t the correct descriptor.

        You can drive some fun canyon roads northwest of LA during peak drive time.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Takes twice as long to get into “canyons northwest of LA” from the city now, after the usual suspects blocked off Rambla. And even going the other way, Tuna is as close to Santa Monica as you can get, which is 45 minutes away on a car. 10 on a bike, though …. :)

          Anyway, Colombia is a cool country.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Takes twice as long to get into “canyons northwest of LA” from the city now, after the usual suspects blocked off Rambla. And even going the other way, Tuna is as close to Santa Monica as you can get, which is 45 minutes away in a car “during peak drive time.” 10 on a bike, though …. :)

          Anyway, Colombia is a cool country…..

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      “No cache.”

      Cache = “a collection of items of the same type stored in a hidden or inaccessible place”

      I’d consider the Volt’s battery a type of cache, but I also use the word “cachet,” but that’s just me.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    This on my list of possible vehicles to pick up used toward the end of the decade, although it would depend a LOT on what my commute looked like. More than 60 miles or so and a Prius would be a better solution.

    • 0 avatar

      Buying a used battery? It is like buying used laptop.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Which I do frequently, saves 60% off the bat (I’m typing on an R500 right now). Just don’t buy the crappy $400 Walmart grade ones used, go for the professional grade $900-1800 ones for $4-600.

        • 0 avatar
          chuckrs

          @28 – me too. Dell Outlet, where reasons for return seem to be either buyers remorse or alternatively, this time, Dell will plug all the cables in and minimally test it before shipping it out. Either way, a practically new machine cheap. With the money saved, I buy Precision workstations with 3 year next day hardware support included. Currently on a M6800, the only downside of which is that it is an excellent weight training device.

          edit – I should mention something about the Li ion battery. Its heavy, but not water cooled.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I have been buying Thinkpads personally but that was only because the much cheaper R series shared its mobo/components with the more expensive T and W series until 2010ish (also the 60, 61, and 500 series R/T Thinkpad used the same interchangeable battery). I will probably be switching to Precision laptops for my next buy whenever that is because the W700s are ridiculous in used price. I have a Precision M6400 at work and had a rock solid Precision M90 in my previous job.

            Edit: M4600

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        We’ll see what happens, but the battery management in the first Volt seems to work well enough. Even then, a replacement pack would likely have higher capacity at much less cost than the original.

  • avatar
    brentalan

    4 minor corrections/addendums:

    1) It’s naturally aspirated, not turbocharged.

    2) There was a third improvement to the battery of the previous generation Volt to 17.1 kwh

    3) 16kwh was 2011, 16.5 toward the end of 2012/2013, and 17.1 kwh for 2015. The batteries have been improving all along, not stagnant for 6 years.

    4) Part of the range improvement is due to the fact that it is likely to go deeper into the battery than the previous models. My ’13 has the 16.5 battery but only 10.7kwh usable. (65% of the capacity is usable)

    I would expect that there is not only a bigger capacity battery (the 18.4) but that engineering improvements have allowed that ratio of usable battery storage to go up. Let’s say they can now use 75% of the battery capacity and still preserve battery life. This means that the new battery has 13.8kwh usable (or more?) so some of the jump in range could be attributable to digging deeper into the battery.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    $33K for the standard ICE is unacceptable but for something like this I feel you’re getting more for your money.

  • avatar
    wsn

    What the point of extended range if you can’t get rid of the ICE?

    If the ICE is unavoidable, why would you care about the electric range? The Prius design, with a shorter electric range, is more elegant.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Doesn’t the Prius also use an ICE?

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      If 90% of your trips, or perhaps even 90% of your mileage, is spent on trips within battery range, you rarely need to see a gas station. On longer road trips, you need to stop at a gas station for toilet and snack breaks anyway.

      If this is truly the reality for many people, which I wouldn’t doubt (although I personally consider anyone wasting away in LA/SF commuting traffic instead of riding, certifiably insane), this is a pretty darned “elegant” solution. The Prius may have more “general” applicability, but modern marketing is almost always about finding a large enough to be profitable niche, and serving that niche exceptionally well, which this new iteration of the Volt seems to get very, very close to doing.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Don’t you think that eventually all vehicles will have some form of hybrid system as the battery technology becomes cheaper and the batteries become smaller. As one of the comments above accurately states 90% of most trips are within battery range and this would be another way that most manufacturers could meet future fuel efficiency standards.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I really want a Volt, but in 19 months, I won’t need one. I’ll be retired and get a job real close to home.

    On second thought…. maybe I will… hmmm…

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      A Volt is probably the ideal car for a retiree. Short drives are much better handled by a motor than an engine, and fueling with electrons costs about a third of gasoline.

      • 0 avatar
        brentalan

        +1 Ideal car for short trips. As I said above, I have one, so here are my observations.

        1) I’m an enthusiast, so I like to drive. I hate that on short trips, I can’t goose it because I’m waiting for the oil temp to come up. With this car you can, and while the car isn’t fast, the instant torque is fun.

        2) If you stay within a short range, recharge times are trivial when you get home.

        3) Even a good mileage ICE car will use a lot more gas while warming up, lighting off the catalysts etc. Your 30+ mpg 4-banger will do 18 until warm.

        4) If you’re going here there or wherever on short trips, fueling up is just one more chore at that point. You’ll never fuel up again.

        5) You still have the gas engine for when you want to take a drive to see the grandkids.

        6) Along the same lines as above, maintenance7 will be minimal. You might have to go for the 3000 mile oil change in a gas car if you never get the oil up to temperature. With this thing you’ll change the oil once every two years. Low-speed braking is great because you have the regen braking. Drive in low everywhere you go. You’ll rarely need brakes.

        7) Used 2011s-2012s are going for under 15k. You don’t need the extra range or bigger battery in the ’16s because you are only going a few miles between charges.

    • 0 avatar
      clivesl

      My father-in-law bought a Cmax Energi three years ago to replace his stripper Frontier.

      He’s retired and last week mentioned he’s bought 50 gallons of gas in the three years since he got the Cmax. So there’s a data point for you.

  • avatar
    Thinkin...

    CORRECTION: The current (2015) battery in the Chevy Volt is 17.1 kWh. It started as 16.0 kWh in 2011, went up to 16.5 kWh for 2013, and was further bumped up to 17.1 kWh for 2015.

    However, GM decided against EPA range recertification with the new battery for two reasons: 1) it was likely not worth the recertification cost for a 4-5 mile gain in EPA EV range, particularly for a last model year. 2) With the new model in the pipeline, GM stands to benefit from the outgoing model having as low a range as possible, so they can tout how amazingly improved the range is – helping to fuel articles such as this one.

    All in, it’s actually a good call on GM’s part, and owners of 2015 models have been very pleased with their unadvertised range bump.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Thanks for this article – it’s nice to see some err… ‘positive’ news from GM, and I look forward to updates.

    I still might go a little bit nuts and get a Volt (the economics don’t really work for me); I just would love the (ER)EV experience before I leave this mortal coil…


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