Next generation vehicle will be more efficient with bigger 4-cylinder engine

GM says new Chevy Volt will be quicker and quieter

Next generation vehicle will be more efficient with bigger 4-cylinder engine

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DETROIT -- The next-generation Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid will be quicker off the line, quieter and go farther in electric mode than its predecessor, General Motors engineers said today.

GM won't yet say how much farther the Volt’s range will be vs. the estimate of 38 miles for the current car. GM will disclose the range and an estimated EPA fuel rating when it unveils the 2016 Volt at the Detroit auto show in January.

GM did a clean-sheet redesign of the Voltec drive unit that debuted in the Volt in late 2010 -- no parts were carried over from the current one. The new drive unit is about 100 pounds lighter and will provide 20 percent better acceleration at low speeds by having both electric motors deliver power to the wheels, rather than one.

That setup allows the motors to trade off the workload in both EV and gasoline modes, which engineers said would increase efficiency and produce better acceleration and a smoother ride.

Volt customers "love this liquid feel, the acceleration," Larry Nitz, executive director of GM Powertrain's electrification engineering team, told reporters today. "They want more of that."

More details

GM engineers gave details of the next-gen car during a media briefing today at a transmission plant in suburban Detroit, where GM is moving production of the car's drive unit, from Mexico.

GM also said it will use a new 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine as the car's range extender, replacing a 1.4-liter engine on the current Volt.

The engine is part of a new, more fuel-efficient family of small engines ranging from 1.0- to 1.5-liter that will be used in GM vehicles globally.

Automotive News and other media outlets previously have reported that GM was likely to equip the next-generation Volt, due out late next year as a 2016 model, with a three-cylinder engine as a way to reduce weight and save fuel. But in today's statements, GM committed to a four-cylinder engine. 

Nitz said the larger engine operates more efficiently with the drive unit than the 1.0-liter or the 1.4-liter would have, and gives customers the added power that they want. He said the new engine will be 5-12 percent more efficient than the current 1.4-liter, which is rated at 37 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

"Making the engine bigger is actually giving our customers exactly what they want -- they want the feel of an electric car even when they get into range extension," Nitz said.

Barra touts Volt

At a Detroit Economic Club event today, CEO Mary Barra said the Volt will be "a significant leap forward in technology, design, and overall refinement." Details about the Volt’s design and interior features won’t be released until the auto show.

Barra said GM has designated Michigan as its “global center of excellence for vehicle electrification.” The new 1.5-liter engine will be built at GM’s engine plant in Flint, Mich., and the battery cells are supplied by LG Chem in Holland, Mich.

GM makes the lithium ion battery pack for the current Volt at a facility near Detroit and will continue to build the Volt and sibling Cadillac ELR at its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. The electric motors for the cars will be supplied by Hitachi.

The current electric drive unit allows the car to drive solely on electric power for about 38 miles until the battery charge runs low, when the gasoline engine kicks on to power a motor-generator, which provides electricity to the traction motor. In the redesigned car, each motor will serve as generator and supply power to the wheels, boosting efficiency and acceleration.

New battery pack

The next-gen Volt's battery pack is almost entirely redesigned. GM made the battery cells larger and increased their storage capacity by 20 percent, but reduced the total to 192 cells, from 288. Overall, the battery pack will store more power than the current one.

GM said it has sold more than 69,000 Volts since the car’s debut nearly four years ago. GM sold 14,540 Volts through September, down 13 percent from a year earlier.

Said Barra: "Our investments in the Chevy Volt and Michigan signify our commitment to lead the industry in technology and innovation."

Correction: The GM-developed electric motors for the new Volt will be built by supplier Hitachi. An earlier version of this story misstated the sourcing. 

You can reach Mike Colias at autonews@crain.com.


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