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.
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.
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.
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.
In the early-1980s, General Motors almost single-handedly poisoned the American market for diesel-engined passenger cars for more than a generation. Aside from the most hardcore Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz fans, most American drivers were so put off by the failures of the Oldsmobile diesel V8 that they wouldn’t even consider a diesel in anything but a heavy-duty truck for nearly three decades. Thus it was fitting that GM should be the first Detroit-based automaker to reintroduce a diesel-powered car with the 2013 debut of the Chevrolet Cruze diesel.
There was a period in my lifetime when General Motors absolutely dominated both car sales overall and midsize cars in particular. The Oldsmobile Cutlass was the Toyota Camry of its era and the Chevrolet Malibu wasn’t far behind. While it’s unlikely that the Malibu is going to unseat Toyota’s perennial sales leader any time soon, the all-new 2016 edition is Chevrolet’s best shot at breaking back into the top five in many years.
Eight years after the debut of of the original Chevrolet Volt concept at the 2007 North American International Auto Show and four years after the production launch, General Motors is ready to publicly debut the all-new second generation model. I was part of a group that got an early look at the GEN2 Volt along with the leaders of the Volt team a few days before the big show.
Then vs Now
Eight years ago, the car we saw was a pure concept, powered by golf cart motor alongside a mockup of what the E-Flex propulsion system would look like if GM actually opted to build one. The whole idea had only been thought up about nine months by former GM vice-chairman Bob Lutz and then-VP of program management Jon Laukner. Lutz and Laukner had been spitballing ideas for how to respond to the negative publicity around the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and the result was a extended-range electric vehicle (ER-EV). There were no firm plans at the time to actually produce the car.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Chevrolet will reveal a new electric car concept with a 200-mile range on Monday morning at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. We already know for a fact that Chevrolet will show the all-new second-generation Volt at the show (check back here after 12:01am EST on Monday, January 12 for my thoughts on this car) but I personally believe that showing the new concept would be insane.
It has previously been reported that Chevrolet has registered a trademark for the name Bolt, and GM executive vice-president for global product development Mark Reuss has acknowledged that the company planning a new EV with a 200-mile range for the 2017 time frame. We’ll just stipulate Chevrolet will in fact build a 200-mile EV called the Bolt at some time in the next two to three years.
My problem is with the idea that Chevrolet would show this car alongside the new Volt. GM designers and engineers have spent the past four years and at least hundreds of millions of dollars developing a second-generation Volt. No doubt, a big part of that effort went to reducing the manufacturing and part costs in the hope of at least breaking even if not making a profit on Volt. GM will want to sell as many gen-2 Volts as possible both to recover that investment and also to boost the company’s corporate average fuel economy numbers.
We have no idea how much the new Volt will cost, but I’m guessing it’s not going to drop much below $30,000 if it drops at all. Based on the photos of camouflaged prototypes released by GM, the new car doesn’t look like it’s going by much larger or roomier than the original.
According to the WSJ report, GM is targeting a starting price of just $30,000 for the Bolt. The Bolt is also expected to be larger than the Volt. Looking at this purely from a marketing perspective, why would you show a battery electric car with perhaps three to four times as much range, more space and a potentially lower price that won’t be available for two more years next to a car that you need to sell right now?
I can certainly understand wanting to get Bolt out ahead of Tesla and their Model 3. However, given Tesla’s track record for delivering products on time (reminder, they have never delivered anything on time), GM will probably be first to market. However, there is absolutely no reason to show the car now. I would wait until at least the LA Auto Show in November after people have driven the new Volt or perhaps the 2016 Detroit Show. What customer would even consider a Volt if they new the Bolt was coming?
Whoever might have thought showing a Bolt concept now should perhaps be relegated to the same dark corner as the marketer that came up with the infamous Volt dance at the 2009 LA Auto Show.
Watching the evolution of the American pickup truck over the past 25 years has been a fascinating experience. Some time I recently spent with a 2015 Chevrolet Silverado demonstrated clearly just how far these most utilitarian of vehicles have come.
When I got started in the auto industry as an engineering student in the late 1980s, technology and trucks were two words that simply didn’t go together. Also not part of the truck equation were driving dynamics, braking performance, refinement or any kind of sophistication.