How the Chevy Volt Could Become the Most Popular Electric Car in the World

Development of the 2016 Chevy Volt is well under way, and it doesn’t seem like GM is giving many hints as to what is going to change with the v2.0 of the Volt. The latest Volt production has slightly more battery range than the first version of the Volt, but there is no guarantee that will remain the case. There have been suggestions of adding a fifth seat and reducing overall battery capacity, among many other rumors (including a minivan version). The only thing that seems to be guaranteed with the 2016 Volt is that it will retain it’s signature look (which means it’s not going to look like a weird space ship like the Nissan Leaf).

Here’s what I think GM should do with the Volt that would make it the most popular electric car in the world!

  1. Ignore the vocal minority about the fifth seat. Sure, there are people who will swear they’d buy the Volt if they just had that magical fifth seat. I’m calling BS on that. Most commuters are driving by themselves. So, this idea that Volt sales will have a massive leap forward by reducing battery capacity to fit a fifth seat is a farce.
  2. Reduce the engine size and increase efficiency. From what it looks like, GM is already on this. The reduced weight and better efficiency will make for better electric range in the first place!
  3. Increase the regenerative braking. Anyone who has driven a Volt in traffic knows that dropping the Volt into L will make your range that much better as well as reduce brake usage significantly. Take it a step further, GM! Give a regen option like the Tesla Model S where it’s so aggressive that you turn the brake lights on. Allow the customer to turn it on or off because there are a ton of drivers that don’t understand regenerative braking and will be bringing it into the dealerships over and over because they think something is wrong with the car.
  4. Ditch the flywheel transmission. Yes, the Volt does have a flywheel that will engage when going up a hill and the vehicle is in mountain mode. The idea is that it gives just that much more oomph that will help you get up a steep hill faster. Outside the Grapevine in Southern California, I can’t think of many other places that have hills that are so steep for so long.

    Here’s an example: You can drive from Santa Cruz to Pleasonton, CA on a fully charged Volt! Again, insane, right? That’s more than 50 miles, and there’s a giant mountain in your way! The Volt only goes 38 EPA electric. Except that the real world and EPA are completely different. I have made that drive in a Volt before. In fact, I almost made it to Dublin from Santa Cruz, and I’ve been able to go nearly 60 miles on a single charge (on several occasions) without driving 20 mph. You drive up the mountain from Santa Cruz and the downhill is so long that by the time you pass the Cat Tavern, you’ll realize that all the battery it took to get up the hill is coming back to you and then some!

    Ditch the flywheel, GM! The electric motor is plenty.

  5. Offer an option with triple (or preferably quadruple) battery range. Sounds completely insane, right!??! Here’s the great news. The Volt uses 10.9 kWh of it’s 16.5 kWh battery capacity (roughly 66%). My understanding is that this was done to avoid the horrors of battery degradation, but batteries are getting better and better for both capacity and less degradation. Given the current EPA rating of 38 miles electric, the Volt’s true electric range is roughly 57 miles before becoming a brick. Of course, real-world scenarios (like the Santa Cruz to Pleasanton drive I mentioned above) could mean range upwards of 90 miles!

    GM should stick with at least a little bit of cushion on their battery for warranty reasons alone, but 33% is definitely too much. Take it down to 20% on the existing battery configuration. That’s a software upgrade, so even existing Volt owners could get an electric range of roughly 46 miles by just getting a software upgrade.

    What will capacity be with battery technology for 2016 production? Most likely at least another 4 miles EPA with the existing 33% battery reserve. That means we could be looking at roughly 50 miles when we combine battery efficiency improvements with the software update I’m talking about.

    Back to increasing total battery capacity… Chevy Volt batteries are on the market to consumers for just over $2600, which means that GM is paying significantly less than that for the battery packs they’re putting into the Volt during production. The trick would be to figure out the proper configuration for being able to triple physical capacity. There’s a limited amount of space to work with, but I’m betting that the Volt can definitely be made to support 3-4x the battery capacity. Reduce the size of the gas tank or even take it out all together (which would then mean you can get rid of the gas generator completely, and could likely get up to 5x). Even if we took the $2600 retail price of the battery price, it would add $7800 to $10400 to the sticker price of a Volt to have 3-4x the battery capacity. Sans a motor and gas tank, and that would theoretically drop costs for GM as well.

    Is there a market for a $45000 electric car that can go nearly 200 miles (the additional battery weight will reduce mileage, so it’s not just a projected electric range x4)?

    I’m betting there’s a HUGE market for that type of car at that price point! If GM can still keep a small engine and 2-3 gallon gas tank to give you the extra 90+ miles you might need from time to time, then you really have an amazing electric car offering! No, it’s not the performance of a Tesla Model S, but it’s also a fraction of the price.

    Going with the increased battery capacity and smaller gas range extender, this Volt configuration would likely net buyers the full federal and state rebates. So, the out of pocket cost on this type of Volt would be roughly $35000 ($45000 minus $7500 federal and now $2500 state) in a state like California. Seems like an excellent option to me!

  6. Offer an option to have a 6.6KW charger with the larger battery capacity and utilization. Studies are showing that DC fast charging doesn’t have much of an impact on battery life. The Volt takes roughly 4 hours to charge with it’s existing battery setup. Recharging a fully depleted battery would then take 16 hours… Not a good thing. The larger battery capacity would need at least double the charging rate. Better yet, quadruple the charge rate at the same time! 180 miles in 4 hours would be phenomenal, and probably unnecessary.

    One need only look at the stats that you can find in the Volt smartphone app to see that there are plenty of people pushing over 2000 miles per month in EV miles. That’s roughly 67 EV miles per day, which means that Volt owners are pushing their Volts’ EV range daily! There’s clearly demand for more electric range, more so than a fifth seat.

  7. Offer the Traverse as a Volt. Don’t go with the small MPV that many have been suggesting is going to happen or something small like the Equinox. The Traverse is a legit SUV rather than a crossover. It seats 7-8 people, and GM could easily get 5-6x the battery capacity of a current Volt into something the size of the Traverse. Sure, the weight will mean that the Traverse Volt doesn’t go 300+ miles, but imagine an SUV that goes over 200 miles electric with another 90+ miles range extension that starts at roughly $50k! That’s going to be nearly half the price of a Tesla Model X. Sure, it won’t be as cool, but $40K is a lot to pay for cool.

It’s been suggested that GM doesn’t make any money on the Volt right now. That might be the case, but I’m betting that with everything I list above GM would be making a profit on these types of Volts!


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