It’s been more than eight years since I first drove one of BMW’s MINI E electric prototypes around downtown Los Angeles. One of the first characteristics I noticed about that car was the extremely aggressive regenerative braking that enabled driving virtually without touching the brake pedal. While BMW has persisted with that strategy as the only control mode on the production i3, other automakers have provided similar abilities only when shifting the transmission to Low mode. After driving the new Chevrolet Bolt EV from Tesla’s Silicon Valley backyard into the heart of San Francisco, I think all Bolt drivers should consider driving this way all the time.
A decade ago if you looked deeply in General Motors sales results, you find that the company was selling huge numbers of Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac Sunfires, but it wasn’t actually making any money on them. That’s because if you traveled and had to rent a car, chances were pretty good that you’d find row upon row of these cars populating the lots at Hertz, Avis, Budget and Enterprise. Then in September 2008, just before the financial collapse and subsequent bankruptcy, GM introduced a small car that consumers might actually want to buy, the Cruze. It would be two more years before the Cruze would hit American streets, but it actually did pretty well and in June 2015, Chevrolet revealed an all-new second-generation Cruze which I just had a chance to drive for a week.
As I sit down to write these words about the 2016 Chevrolet Volt, I just realized that it has been almost exactly 10 years since Jon Lauckner and Bob Lutz sat down and sketched out the basic architecture for what they hoped would be a truly practical plug-in car. In the days and weeks that followed, Lutz and Lauckner gathered up the core of an engineering and design team that would eventually bring the first-generation Volt to production four and a half years later. A decade on from those first discussions, the second-generation Volt is now on sale and it’s vastly superior to the original in every way.
For more than 30 years, ever since the launch of the C4 Corvette, I’ve been hearing Chevrolet talk about America’s longest running sports car being ready to take on the best in the world. Unfortunately, while each subsequent edition was a significant advancement on what came before, Corvette never quite hit the mark. While the 2005-2013 C6 came tantalizingly close to fulfilling that promise, especially from a performance perspective, the interior continued to be a let down. Two years ago, Chevrolet brought us an all-new seventh-generation model and I just got to spend a week with a ragtop variant.
Last year Chevrolet decided to join the rapidly burgeoning B-segment (aka subcompact) crossover utility field with an entry called the Trax. The Trax joins GM’s other similarly sized and surprisingly successful crossover the Buick Encore at a more affordable price point to challenge the likes of the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and Nissan Juke. In a segment expected to spawn several more entries from the likes of Ford, Hyundai and Toyota in the next couple of years, does the Trax have what it takes?
As we roll into the 2016 model year, General Motors is finally about ready to put its 2009 bankruptcy behind it as it completes the launch of a full lineup of post-reorganization vehicles. In addition to all-new vehicles designed and developed in this decade, GM is also rationalizing its in-vehicle infotainment options which had become fragmented over the past four years. For Chevrolet, that means there will basically be two levels of infotainment under the MyLink brand.
When Chevrolet revealed the redesigned sixth-generation Camaro last spring, it looks like they significantly sandbagged everyone on the weight reductions including the engineers in Dearborn. The original press release indicated that “the total curb weight for Camaro has been reduced by more than 200 pounds,” which I took as an indication that it would end up at roughly the same weight as the 2015 Mustang. In fact, Chevy’s sports car undercuts its arch-rival the Mustang by anywhere from 20 to 200 pounds and offers vastly improved weight-to-power ratios, which is directly reflected in the performance numbers.
Back in January when Chevrolet first showed off the all-new second-generation Volt, we were told that the electric driving range would be at least 50 miles and the hybrid fuel economy would be about 41 mpg. This morning, they announced the official EPA certified results that would go on the fuel economy label and they beat those estimates. The larger 18.4-kWh battery and more efficient motors are now rated to provide a 53 driving range before the engine fires up. That’s a 40 percent bump from the 37 mile range on the 2015 model (the original 2011 was rated at just 35 miles) Once the battery is depleted (or when its really cold or if you’ve been running on electricity only for more than six weeks) the Volt is rated at 42 mpg combined. Unlike many cars in recent years, GM was always fairly conservative in rating the original Volt and it wasn’t at all unusual for many drivers to meet or exceed the 37 mile driving range on the label. Assuming that GM has done the same this time, most drivers should have little difficulty topping 50 miles but we’ll find out for ourselves in the not too distant future.
Yet another automotive proving ground opened in Ann Arbor, Mich. today, but the Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) is quite different from existing tracks. There is no shortage of automotive test tracks scattered around southeast Michigan mostly operated by automakers and larger suppliers that do everything from salt baths to high-speed stability to running over pounding potholes. These facilities tend to be highly secured facilities where outsiders are rarely welcome. Ford engineers don’t get to hang out at GM’s Milford Proving Ground and GM people are persona non-grata in Dearborn. At MTC Mcity course, all of these engineers will have a place where they can come together and collaborate along with researchers from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).
At the Fillmore Theater in Detroit this evening, Chevrolet finally took the wraps off the North American version of the second-generation Cruze compact and it looks like a big step forward from the current model. When the Cruze debuted here five years ago, it was something of a watershed for General Motors, the first compact car from the Detroit automaker that was truly competitive with the import brands. It wasn’t perfect, being a bit tight inside and somewhat porky at the scales. Nonetheless, it was so much better than anything GM had built to date that it sold like gangbusters with more than 3 million sales globally since 2008. This time around, Chevrolet has sought to address all the complaints we had about the original and raise the bar in the segment.