The Future of the Chevy Volt

ImageChanges are coming to the Chevy Volt, and not just design changes.

From recent reports, there are two main possibilities being floated for the next generation Volt. The first is reducing the range –  internal studies indicate that current owners don’t need the estimated 50 mile electric range the car currently offers. The second is increasing the electric range. Speculation is to 60 miles. So far there hasn’t been anything solid on what a smaller battery would provide for range.

While increased range would be great, 60 miles isn’t going to make a big difference, especially when you have a gas generator on-board  allowing you to fill up and go farther than a single charge could take you. If they need to increase the cost to do so, they could be in Tesla’s price range, which is not a good thing. And lowering the range could prove risky, as the general expectation is that electric cars will increase in range as the technology matures.

But in light of the fact that the Volt is being squeezed by the competition’s pricing and by its own crisis of direction with respect to drive-train, lowering the range could actually be the better of the two options. Especially when you consider how there are trying to position the Volt: as a vehicle that can accommodate all of your commute and city driving (whatever that means) on electric and when you want to go farther you have the fuel efficient gas generator.

Sales and customer feedback all point to the Volt being a great car, but at roughly $40,000 it is too expensive. As charging times decrease and battery capacity increases, consumers will be less hesitant to switch to a pure electric drive-train.  I think the sweet spot here is between 180 and 200 miles of electric range. The 2013 Leaf is expected to achieve 125 miles of electric range, so things are moving quicker than one might expect.

The other problem for the Volt is its drive-train. The Volt’s competitors are coming down in price as the technology gets cheaper, and helping to lower that cost curve is the fact that they don’t have a gas engine (like plugin hybrids), transmission and many other parts that prohibit substantial cost savings. Having these additional components will start to be more and more of an liability for the Volt.

For those reasons, and if Chevy stays with a plugin hybrid drive-train – and there’s no reason to think they won’t – they should work on lowering the cost of the Volt. Even at the expense of range.

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