Rebirth of the electric car

Chevrolet hopes buyers will get a jolt out of its redesigned Volt and allnew Bolt electric vehicles in the coming months

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

 2016 CHEVROLET VOLT 2016 CHEVROLET VOLT Though electric car sales may have stalled in relation to falling fuel prices, automakers are pressing ahead with new models that draw their power from the grid. Car companies are betting gas won’t stay cheap for much longer and are working hard to achieve ever-stricter federal fuel economy requirements by bringing new — not to mention improved — plug-in models to market.

Chevrolet recently unveiled two new electric vehicles at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit slated for production over the coming 18 months. These include a full redesign of the current “extended range” Volt later this year, followed by an all-new pure-electric model, called the Bolt.

More handsomely styled inside and out, with a bolder front-end treatment and a sleeker profile, the second-generation Chevy Volt is recast from the ground up. With a new battery pack and a more sophisticated two-motor “Voltec” electric drive system, it’s both lighter in weight and more structurally sound than before.

It remains, however, an “extended range electric vehicle” that’s more of a plug-in hybrid than an EV, relying on a small gasoline engine to run a generator once the onboard battery pack is depleted. The advantage here is that unlike pure EVs, there’s no chance a driver will ever become stranded with a depleted battery.

The 2016 Volt will boast a 50-mile range in all-electric mode on a charge, which is up from 38 miles in the current model. And the aforementioned range-extending gasoline engine is a new 1.5-liter four-cylinder that’s estimated to deliver a more frugal city/highway combined rating of 41 mpg once the batteries run down, (now at 37 mpg). And while it’s still far from being a sports car, Chevy promises a ride to 60 mph from a standing start in a respectable 8.4 seconds.

Sharing platforms with the next-generation Chevy Cruze compact sedan, the new Volt features myriad mechanical enhancements and added features, the latter of which include heated rear seats and a full slate of the latest accident avoidance systems. Reports suggest a base price somewhere in the low-to-mid $30,000 range, not counting the one-time $7,500 federal tax credit granted to EV buyers.

Still officially a “concept,” though recently confirmed for production sometime during 2016, the compact Bolt hatchback promises a range of at least 200 miles on a charge with 50-state availability and a sticker price starting at around $30,000 (likewise not counting the federal tax credit, assuming it remains available).

Visually the Bolt looks like a small crossover SUV, with a tallish angular roofline and a largely vertical hatchback (made from advanced nano-composite materials) and wraparound windows at the rear. Said to share its underpinnings with the next generation subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, the Bolt is said to make extensive use of weight saving materials including aluminum, magnesium and carbon fiber.

With a truly futuristic looking four-passenger interior that would be fitted with ample connectivity features (including the ability to use one’s smartphone as a remote “key”), the concept car includes driver-selectable operating modes that adjust the throttle, vehicle ride height and suspension tuning to afford more casual or spirited driving as desired. Analysts expect the Bolt, assuming it comes to market as presented, will go head to head with a long-awaited new model from EV maker Tesla Motors, which became the industry’s darling of late with its $75,000 Model S luxury sedan. The compact Model 3 sedan is claimed to achieve a comparable operating range of over 200 miles and be offered with a $35,000 sticker price when it debuts sometime during 2016.

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