General Motors Co.'s second-generation Chevrolet Volt features a sporty and more premium appearance, adds a fifth seat and boosts electric range by about 30 percent, to an estimated 50 miles. Total range with its gasoline engine increases from about 380 miles to 420 miles.
The 2016 plug-in electric hybrid Volt, heavily influenced by customers' feedback, will be revealed Monday morning, the first press preview day at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. But the star of Chevy's reveal is expected to be a concept car, the Chevrolet Bolt, that would get 200 miles or more of electric range and could be a game-changer in easing motorists' "range anxiety."
"The 2016 Chevrolet Volt provides our owners with a no-compromise electric driving experience," GM North America President Alan Batey said in a statement.
"We believe our engineering prowess combined with data from thousands of customers allows us to deliver the most capable plug-in vehicle in the industry."
The unveiling of the 2016 Chevy Volt and the Bolt EV concept Clarence Tabb Jr/The Detroit News
While the Volt has been hailed by GM and the industry for its innovation and bringing new, wealthy and highly satisfied customers to the Chevy brand, it has not met sales expectations. Former CEO Dan Akerson wanted production to hit 60,000 a year by 2012, and GM at one point set a sales goal of 45,000 for 2012.
Total U.S. sales since the Volt went on sale at the end of 2010 have surpassed 73,000, but 2014's 18,805 sales fell 18.6 percent from the year before. The all-electric Nissan Leaf sold 30,200 last year in the U.S. Its sales rose 33.6 percent from 2013.
GM is not talking about its volume expectations for the Volt 2.0 or its sticker price.
Steve Majaros, director of Chevrolet marketing, would only say that Chevy was adding content in an efficient way, that the price will be competitive and "we know the space where we need to be."
The Volt's $40,000 price was cut by $5,000 in 2013 to help boost sales.
Majaros said Chevy will be targeting more tech-friendly people with the new Volt, in addition to early adopters of technology and current Volt owners. He said low gas prices won't deter sales, and Chevy will increase marketing spending to get the word out on the new Volt.
IHS Automotive senior analyst Stephanie Brinley said Chevy has a pricing issue with the Volt. The brand has to convince people that buying the plug-in hybrid at a time of cheap gasoline will save them money in the long term.
"The trick is to find people who are willing to accept that more efficiency comes at a higher cost, but that more efficiency for its own sake is important," she said.
Plug-ins and electric vehicles represent about 3 percent of the U.S. market, and Brinley said dropping the price of the Volt won't necessarily make its sales grow. She said it appears GM isn't focused on driving huge volume growth for this car and understands growth will take time.
Brinley said the boost in electric range is a "good jump" and gives a cushion for the majority of drivers who average 40 miles a day.
But some automotive industry analysts such as Dave Sullivan of AutoPacific Inc. had hoped to see electric range closer to 60 miles or even higher. He previously told The Detroit News that if the car's electric range came in at less than 50 miles, it wouldn't wow anyone. Sullivan said the Volt's price needs to drop below $30,000 to increase sales volume.
The second-generation Volt still features its hatchback design, but the rear is more tapered. The car also has a more sculpted and flowing shape that Chevy says was inspired by elite athletes such as marathon runners.
"The Volt is really about endurance, mileage, going the distance," said John Cafaro, executive director for Chevrolet global design.
Inside the Volt, the interior also is quieter, sportier and more functional, with a simplified center stack and separate climate controls. Cafaro said the interior is spacious, has more curves, is more inviting and uses soft, premium materials.
It features a standard rear-vision camera, charging enhancements, longer center armrest, available heated rear seats and steering wheel, optional wireless smartphone charging and OnStar 4G LTE embedded Wi-Fi hotspot.
Volt customers wanted a fifth seat, so Chevy added one. But with the T-shaped battery pack running underneath, and rear cupholders, a passenger would have a tough time sitting in that seat for very long.
"It's not something you'd want to travel cross-country in," said Andrew Farah, the Volt's chief engineer.
The Volt is built on a new architecture and has a new propulsion system, with a two-motor drive unit that is up to 12 percent more efficient and is about 100 pounds lighter. It also has a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that will get a combined 41 miles per gallon fuel economy, up from 37 miles per gallon today. Its expected to have a 102 miles per gallon equivalent rating. The gas engine will operate on regular-grade gas; the current-generation Volt requires premium.
Acceleration improves at slower speeds, with drivers reaching 30 miles per hour in 2.6 seconds and zero to 60 mph in about a half second faster at 8.4 seconds. Horsepower and torque also improve.
The battery system is 20 pounds lighter, and better battery chemistry and lithium-ion cell design improves density by 20 percent, while the number of cells has been cut to 192 from 288. Battery charge time for those using a 120-volt plug (more than half of Volt customers today) increases to 13 hours from 10 hours because of the size of the battery, GM says.
Chevy says that more than 80 percent of customer trips in the first-generation Volt are all-electric, and it expects to boost that percentage to 90 percent with the new Volt.
GM CEO Mary Barra last week wouldn't comment on whether GM was able to cut $10,000 in cost out of the Volt, but said the company "made substantial improvements."
The Volt, the first of five significant Chevy launches this year, will be built at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant. It's expected to go on sale in the second half of 2015.