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Jan 25

OnStar project promises renewable energy for recharging


As we’ve seen with the Volt and other green initiatives, GM is working to promote sustainability with perhaps its latest project being enablement of recharging from renewable energy.

On Monday, OnStar Communications contacted us and announced Volt owners “may soon be able to charge their vehicle using renewable energy.”

The actual time frame is “to be determined,” but the kinks are being worked out by OnStar and a company called PJM Interconnection with 17 Chevrolet Volts operated by Google’s Gfleet.


The way it generally works is OnStar-enabled technology receives a signal from PJM Interconnection showing the percentage of available renewable energy on the grid.

Data from this forecast is downloaded to the OnStar cloud, or Advanced Telematics Operating Management System (ATOMS). OnStar uses this signal to simultaneously manage the charging of many Volts and to match the renewable energy availability.

OnStar says a mobile app could be used to alert customers when renewable energy is available.

Google’s Gfleet is based at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and as many of you know, Google is highly involved in other green projects and automotive experiments that include cars that drive themselves.

At the same time, Google is naturally willing to collaborate with real human drivers, as the species does not yet seem ready to go extinct.

This week, the OnStar-enabled fleet’s technology will be demonstrated at the 2012 DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition in San Antonio.

The public demo fits with an announcement by Nick Pudar, OnStar vice president of planning and business development, who said it is nearly ready for prime time.

“This demonstration shows that in the near future customers will have a real signal of demand for renewable energy,” said Pudar. “As customers configure their Volts to favor renewable energy for their charging cycle, this real demand signal will influence utilities to tap into renewable sources.”

Note that Pudar says demand will prompt utilities to increase (now limited) renewable energy supply.

We asked Adam Dennison, an OnStar Communications representative who sent the info, “How hopeful are you that this will have a measurable or significant influence that it will push utilities to adopt more renewable energy sources?”

In response, he said “We think that as EVs continue to penetrate the marketplace that customers will drive a variety of demands throughout different industries. Certainly we believe that the energy industry will be one of these. Based on the level of interest a number of utilities have expressed in OnStar’s Smart Grid solutions, we are pretty confident that that they’ll be willing to look to more renewable energy sources.”

At present, peak hours for renewable energy generation from wind is generally between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. according to PJM data.

OnStar says it would therefore be possible for customers to use Smart Grid solutions to further reduce their carbon footprint and – as is already possible regardless of energy source – “save money by charging during these off-peak times.”

“Solutions like this one will ultimately lead to increased renewable energy generation and allow Chevrolet Volt owners to be a key part of that energy transformation,” said Pudar.

If the renewable energy service goes into production, customers interested in using it would need to sign up. Dennison did not say if it would cost extra or be made available with existing OnStar service.

Once signed up, OnStar would regulate customers’ charging using the renewable energy signal.

This video is not directly about the current project, but OnStar says it highlights an app it did for Google’s Gfleet of Volts.

OnStar says this renewable energy technology is the latest addition to its suite of Smart Grid solutions.

For your review, OnStar says it has developed other “intelligent energy management technology solutions,” including:

Demand response – This solution connects utilities to companies that have intelligent energy management products. These companies can use OnStar to manage energy use for Volt customers who opt in for the service. This future service allows the customer to save money on energy costs while enabling more efficient use of the electric grid.
Time-of-Use (TOU) rates – OnStar can receive dynamic TOU pricing from utilities and notify Volt owners of the rate plan offers via email. Owners will be able to use OnStar to load the rate plans directly into their vehicle and access them to schedule charging during lower-rate periods.
Charging data – OnStar also sends and receives EV data that helps utility providers without having to interface with the vehicle’s electric vehicle supply equipment. This includes location-based EV data that identifies charging locations and determines potential load scenarios.


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Jan 18

GM and Powermat Studying Wireless Recharging of the Chevy Volt


Recently, GM announced a small investment in a company called Powermat.  That company makes wireless device charging systems.  Their current product allow users to place a receiver in the charge port of their device (cell phone, iPad, etc) and plug in the mat.  If the device is rested on the mat, it is wirelessly charged.

The first automotive application expected to result from this partnership is an option for the 2012 Chevy Volt that will become available next year.  It will be a wireless charging mat in the center of the console that drivers can rest their cellphones on while driving to have them wirelessly recharge.

The technology works through the use of induced magnetic fields:

Powermat uses magnetic induction to transfer energy.   Specifically, energy is transferred from a transmitter (which will be embedded in vehicle) to a receiver (which is connected to or embedded in the device) through a shared magnetic field.   Communication between the Mat (transmitter) and the Receiver (personal device) allows the mat to deliver an exact amount of power for the proper length of time so that the transfer of power is safe and efficient and no energy is ever wasted.  When a device reaches full charge, power is shut off to that device. This not only saves energy, but it also prevents overcharging of the device’s battery, which can shorten battery life.

This story begs the question as to whether this option could this be all the relationship is about?  After all, GM Ventures is a VC unit that invests in small companies that may have big automotive futures.

Over the years there has often been talk and theoretical discussions about wirelessly charging not only small devices, but whole electric cars themselves.

The concept would be to have a large wireless mat in one’s garage, simply park on top of it, and the battery will recharge automatically.

Powermat spokesperson Scott Eisenstein admits his company is looking at how to charge large electric car batteries.  “Yes, we are certainly looking into that,” he said.

Also according to Volt vehicle line executive Tony Posawazt, so is GM. “We are studying many exciting new technologies for the future, said Posawatz.  “This includes wireless, hands-free inductive charging of the high voltage battery.”



Oct 29

Volt, Leaf and PEV charging Realities studied by Idaho National Lab



Recently, the largest plug-in electrified vehicle infrastructure demonstration in the world uncovered many findings, including that the Chevy Volt traveled only 6-percent fewer all-electric miles per year than the Nissan Leaf despite having less than half the EV range.

Before we get to that, we’ll brief a few highlights to give a greater grasp of the context of the study, and another central takeaway was charging stations need not be as ubiquitous as gas stations.

Is this common sense? Maybe if you are already attuned to living with a plug-in electrified car like the 8,700 vehicles studied for a period of three years consisting of Leafs, Volts and Smart EDs.

Initiated in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Energy and run by the Idaho National Lab, the counterpoint key finding about a new kind of automotive paradigm was the most important places to charge are home, workplace, and public “hot spots” that serve multiple venues.

Anyone who thinks public “charging stations” must be equal in number and placement to public gas stations is not on board with the actual needs of the new way of things, says the federal study.

Charge Point America project, Chrysler Ram PEV Demonstration, General Motors Volt Demonstration, South Coast Air Quality Management District/Via Motors PHEV Demonstration, and The EV Project – installed roughly 17,000 charging stations and deployed approximately 8,700 PEVs across the U.S.

Charge Point America project, Chrysler Ram PEV Demonstration, General Motors Volt Demonstration, South Coast Air Quality Management District/Via Motors PHEV Demonstration, and The EV Project – installed roughly 17,000 charging stations and deployed approximately 8,700 PEVs across the U.S.

Serving EVs the most like a gas station does for an internal combustion engine (ICE) car, DC level-3 quick charging used with the Leafs was also advantageous, and these findings answered early questions about how to transition to electrified cars.

“A commonly cited barrier to adoption is the lack of public places for PEV drivers to plug in their vehicles,” says a document highlighting the study. “To reduce this barrier, critical questions must first be answered: How many and what kind of charging stations are needed? Where and how often do PEV drivers charge? How many electric vehicle miles are traveled and what level of petroleum reduction can be achieved?

Data was collected by INL from a variety of sources in five separate projects. Its research partners agreed to participate in what was described as a real-life laboratory. These were the Blink Network, ChargePoint, General Motors, OnStar, Nissan North America and Car2Go.

In all, 130 million driving miles were evaluated and six million charge events were evaluated.

Home charging could be AC level 1 (ordinary wall current), or level 2 (240-volt, like a dryer would use). The study accounted for 17,000 AC level 2 and DC level 3 charge points.

About half of all project participants who’d volunteered to let their charge events be monitored charged from home. Leaf and Volt drivers, the study found did 85.5 percent of their charging at home.

Source: ChargePoint.

Source: ChargePoint.

Among those who charged away from home, the vast majority favored three or fewer away-from-home charging locations.

This state of affairs contrasts widely from gas stations on every corner, and an obvious reason is implicit for why this is: charging takes a lot longer. Even level 3 charging at 480 volts can take up to half an hour or so, and level 1 or 2 charging take several to many hours.

So to put a charger where the car will not be parked for other reasons – such as to go shopping or to work – would make less sense than a gas station where a 3-minute fill-up is possible. PEV owners simply are not prepared to stand around that long and wait. (See what we meant by common sense – but maybe this is not always intuitively obvious).

As for those times when a public charger might have been accessible, the study found behaviors compared to ICE drivers shifted here too.

“PEV drivers adjust their charging habits based on conditions, such as fees and rules for use,” said a study fact sheet. “Drivers were less likely to plug in at work if they had to pay to charge or if they were required to move their vehicle after charging.”

On the other hand, more often than not people were polite and got along when they did need to use public chargers installed at their place of work.

“PEV drivers charging at work were generally courteous and worked together,” said the study. “They used social media to communicate, moved their vehicles to allow others to charge, and even plugged in neighboring cars after they finished charging.”

And, when strategically placed public level 2 charging was accessible – such as near shopping venues, or the like – these “saw very high usage,” or about 7-11 charges per day.
Nonetheless, the cars that took advantage of this were the minority.

“Overall, 20 percent of vehicles studied were responsible for 75 percent of the away-from-home charging,” said the findings.

Volt vs. Leaf

Among extended-range electric Volt and all-electric Leaf drivers, the study found the Volts traveled only 6-percent fewer electric miles than Leaf drivers despite having significantly less electric range per charge.

Volt e-range varies from 35-0 miles; Leaf range varies from 73-84, by EPA reckoning.

Volt e-range varies from 35-0 miles; Leaf range varies from 73-84, by EPA reckoning.

How did the Volts do this? For one, because they have gas back-up, the drivers had no fear of running right up to the end of the electric range, unlike Leaf owners which must stay within a comfort zone lest they run out completely far from a charger. The Volt drivers also recharged more intraday – a trick that can serve any plug-in hybrid to increase effective daily range.

Specifically, INL found Volt drivers charged on average 1.5 times per day and Leafs charged 1.1 times per day. Leafs also tended to recharge earlier as they had no gas backup like the Volts.

“Volt drivers averaged slightly more miles traveled annually than the 2013 national average, while Leafs studied were driven noticeable less,” said the study adding a bit that could not have been said if it had been written by Chevrolet: “Volt drivers tended to fully deplete their batteries, whereas Leaf drivers favored recharging with significant charge left in their batteries. This is an expected difference between pure electric vehicles like the Leaf and range-extended electric vehicles like the Volt.”

“Volt drivers averaged slightly more miles traveled annually than the 2013 national average, while Leafs studied were driven noticeable less,” said the study adding a bit that could not have been said if it had been written by Chevrolet: “Volt drivers tended to fully deplete their batteries, whereas Leaf drivers favored recharging with significant charge left in their batteries. This is an expected difference between pure electric vehicles like the Leaf and range-extended electric vehicles like the Volt.”

This validation for the “extended-range EV” concept Volt fans love to bandy about sounds like it could have been written by GM’s marketing department, but it was not. This was the finding of researchers working for a federally funded project.

The number of Volts in the study were however fewer – about 1,800 versus 4,000 Leafs, but the Volt drivers proved more diligent in maximizing eVMT (electric vehicle miles traveled).

Average monthly vehicle miles traveled varied seasonally but was otherwise consistent over time.

Average monthly vehicle miles traveled varied seasonally but was otherwise consistent over time.

That was for generation one – and now the just-being launched 2016 Volt has 53-miles range instead of 35-40 for gen one. True also, Nissan will have 107 miles for 2016 and maybe nearly double that for gen-two when launched either 2018 or maybe 2017.

Leaf and Volt drivers performed most  of their charging at home.

Leaf and Volt drivers performed most
of their charging at home.

As described in the opening section, the main charge point for Volt and Leaf drivers was at home overnight. The INL researchers noted PEVs have an advantage over internal combustion cars in that – while the ICE can fast fill – it does not have the advantage of fueling at home.

About half of Volt drivers tended to use level 1 charging for its smaller 16.0-16.5 kwh battery, and the other half used level 2 at home.

Leaf drivers, while level 1 compatible and equipped with a level 1 cord included with the car like the Volt gets as well, tended to charge with level 2. All Leafs in the program were set up with level 3 compatibility via CHAdeMO connectors. All had level 2 at their homes. Away from home, 8-percent of charge events used level 3, and the rest was a mix of level 1 or level 2.

92% of Volt drivers and 77% of Leaf drivers did most (at least 80%) of their away-from-home charging at three or fewer locations." width="668" height="521" class="size-full wp-image-360962" /> 92% of Volt drivers and 77% of Leaf drivers did most (at least 80%) of their away-from-home charging at three or fewer locations.

92% of Volt drivers and 77% of Leaf drivers did most (at least 80%) of their away-from-home charging at three or fewer locations.” width=”668″ height=”521″ class=”size-full wp-image-360962″ /> 92% of Volt drivers and 77% of Leaf drivers did most (at least 80%) of their away-from-home charging at three or fewer locations.

The study, linked here, goes on to show numerous comparisons between home, workplace and other public charging patterns.

The bottom line is the plug-in lifestyle is possible with some adaptations over ICE ownership, and need not be a hardship. While true, Nissan did recently divulge it loses 25 percent of its Leaf buyers who are not prepared to accept range, charge time, and lack of accessible infrastructure in their daily orbit.

If we were to counterpoint this for the Volt, objections for it include its limited back-seat space. GM has not said it loses a lot of Volt drivers though, and they remain overwhelmingly loyal, though no doubt some have other criticisms beside.

This is not to ultimately compare the two in any comprehensive manner, as that would be its own lengthy article.

What the study found was people do learn to live within limits, even with first-generation PEVs.

And now the second-generation cars are either coming or due in the next year or two with greater capabilities.

The first 200-mile range electric car priced in the mid $30,000 range before subsidies is to be the 2017 Chevy Bolt. It’s expected to be followed by the second-generation Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model 3, and whatever other surprise we learn of next.

How usage patterns will shift for “mainstream-priced” EVs with far more range than a 73-84-mile gen-one Leaf remains to be seen.


The existing advantages for the Volt with gas backup appear poised to carry forward with greater effect due to longer e-range. For its part, GM said OnStar data prove 80 percent of gen-one cars drove gas free on a daily basis, and now 90-percent might do that with the longer range Volt just released.

This may be so, but plug-in watchers are also wondering if EVs, including the long-range sibling Bolt may in themselves help with range anxiety the Volt for now answers with gas-engine backup.

It and others still will have limits too, however, and “200” miles would mean less in actual use – as discovered by first Leaf drivers – because no one can run them to zero, and less-than-tame driving will also sap range from ideal window sticker values.

Undoubtedly more discoveries are in store.

Brief fact sheet.


Oct 28

60-kWh Nissan Leaf foreshadowed by IDS Concept at Tokyo


I don’t have any more photos yet but was fortunate to get this story on embargo which lifted 8 p.m. eastern time yesterday.

Nissan IDS Concept

Nissan is sitting on technologies poised to take mainstream-priced electric cars and driverless capabilities to a new level.

This about sums a 60-kilowatt-hour battery powering a sensor-laden autonomous “IDS Concept” prototype to be shown at the Tokyo motor show on Wednesday (which by Japan time is now).

The EV reportedly uses LG Chem cells which may also rely on patents by Argonne National Lab and could yield up to 320 miles (500km) range on Japan’s very liberal JC08 cycle, or around 200 miles range or so in the U.S.

The model year for the next-gen production Leaf is not official, and for those hoping it will be a 2017, that it might be a 2018 could be bittersweet news – or at least mean a longer wait while Tesla works on its Model 3, and the Chevy Bolt launches as a 2017.

SEE ALSO: Is a 200-Mile EV the Next Automotive Benchmark?

According to Bertel Schmitt of the Daily Kanban who attended the first known media invitation to Nissan’s Advanced Technology Center in Atsugi, he heard 2018 – not 2017 – repeated more often than any other year as a possibility. His hunch is 2018 is the year for whatever internal reasons Nissan has.

60-kwh pack (see gallery photos below as well).

60-kwh pack (see gallery photos below as well).

The ostensible occasion for the invite last Friday was to showcase autonomous tech, but Schmitt’s read on the situation, after speaking with Nissan personnel, is the IDS Concept also foreshadows powertrtain tech to be used on the next-gen Leaf.

Schmitt previously reported another set of Leaf prototypes with Nissan’s new battery and as much as 250 miles range, so it’s not a stretch that the driverless prototype also is a test bed for what Nissan has in store.

SEE ALSO: Nissan Testing 250-Plus-Mile Range Leaf Mule With New Battery Chemistry

But coming back to the question of model year, whether gen-two Leaf will be a 2017 or a 2018 is unknown. Up till now rumor has been reported as near fact to the point that EV fans and even professional analysts are calling for 2017 with the certainty of the rising sun.

Nissan however, not wanting to cannibalize its own sales any more than it has to, has not said more than the 2016 will get a 30-kwh optional upgrade. Unofficial reports, including a dealer disclosure which was quickly removed blowing the secret of Nissan’s 2016 Leaf with larger 30-kwh battery suggested 2017 is the year for generation two.

Whether that is the case or not, Nissan will double the 30-kwh pack in the same form factor with the new battery utilizing Nickel-Mangan-Cobalt chemistry on the cathode side, and a graphite anode. It consists of multiple cell modules in a high density stack, and a prototype shown Friday had 288 cells.

Schmitt suggested it is reminiscent of the Argonne design GM also licensed, but Nissan is being secretive even while it takes chances with engineers speaking to probing journalists.

Prototype Car_INT

The LG Chem disclosure is also not an official Nissan announcement. It was divulged during a private talk with engineers, but when overheard by a Nissan media handler, that conversation was shut down.

“The supplier of the new battery was treated as a state secret last Friday,” reported Schmitt. “While I was working the Renault-Nissan Alliance dinner on Tuesday night, a leading Alliance engineer told me that the battery will be built ‘by us and LG Chem.’ Then, two alarmed handlers stopped the discussion.”

Talk of a misunderstanding about who really was supplying the new battery and other vague statements by Nissan’s gatekeeper then ensued to try and do damage control.

While Nissan is heavily invested in its own battery factories, despite lack of any official word, it’s believed the LG tech will be produced by it in these facilities.

Satisfying Mainstream Buyers

What Nissan was open about discussing is that despite first adopters who sometimes vigorously defend today’s 84-mile EPA-rated Leaf range as sufficient, Nissan said it loses one in four buyers due to its inadequacy.

Specifically, concerns over charge time, range, and lack of infrastructure needed to live the EV lifestyle with a gen-one Leaf mean 25 percent attrition rate, said the automaker, and it’s determined to fix that problem with gen two.


What “320 miles” on the JC08 really means is an open guess by the time such a car gets to the U.S., but it is surely in the 200 mile ballpark, possibly more. As a reference, JC08 has said the present “84” mile Leaf gets as much as 141 miles to give you a sense of how far this is stretched from U.S. test standards.

In other reports, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has clearly said 200-plus is in the offing, and that Nissan will be there to compete with the Chevy Bolt.

The Bolt goes into production late 2016 however, so again, the timing is unclear at this writing.

More certain is the new chemistry helps with objections with “drastically reduced” resistance to enable much quicker recharging. Not reported is whether a liquid-cooled thermal management system will be used, or what size on-board charger (OBC) Nissan will employ.


The present Leaf gets up to a 6.6-kw OBC which is fine for a 24-30 kwh pack, but the 60-kwh pack will need more, as well as DC quick charging capability, which is expected per present practice.

Whatever it gets, assuming the 60-kwh pack is slated for the next Leaf, this means battery capacity for the Leaf will nearly equal a base Tesla Model S which was a 60 kwh, and now is a 70-kwh in the 70D.

Second-gen Leaf could look something like this.

Second-gen Leaf could look something like this.

Design for the new Leaf’s body has been reported as due to depart from the funky look-at-me design first adopters said they wanted in focus groups.

It is supposed to look more like a normal car with cues carried forth aligning it with its core Leaf identity as well as other Nissan siblings in the company’s product line. Or, it could look like the blue car shown, which while clearly a Leaf with some differences, Schmitt suggests is a hint of the next gen-Leaf.

Piloted Drive 1.0

Of course this presentation at Nissan’s Advanced Technology Center in a mountain town southwest of Tokyo was really meant to focus on driverless technology that Nissan has subtly said will far surpass Tesla’s Autopilot.

Called Piloted Drive 1.0 and featured in the IDS Concept, this technology’s rollout schedule is conservative, but it appears already close to, or ready for prime time. A demanding test for such a system is navigating dense city traffic, and this Nissan intends to do with journalists in Tokyo.

No sensory deprivation here.

No sensory deprivation here.

As it is, Piloted Driving will reportedly go on sale in Japan in an as-yet un-named car by the end of 2016 – Nissan has also said by 2018, possibly meaning other markets – and let the car drive itself even in thick highway – not urban – traffic. By 2020 it should allow hands-free city driving. It is not exclusive to EVs and can be adapted to other types of vehicles.

The prototype, a la BMW i3, by the way, is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic to save weight. The next-gen Leaf is also expected to have strategically placed CFRP from the tub upwards, and including aspects of the body including the roof and a slim A-pillar for a nearly unobstructed view.

CFRP A-pillar.

CFRP A-pillar.

Weight savings is critical for the electric driverless prototype too, as in addition to the heavy battery, it is festooned with more than 20 dozen sensors of various kinds. These let the car see in 360 degrees and navigate thick traffic with precious cargo on board – you and your family, potentially.

For the driver is a head-up display and center cluster which shows the driver what is around the spatially aware car.

Included in the system are five radar sensors, 12 cameras, four of a new type of laser scanner, and ultrasonic sensors.

 Yashuihro Tosaka explains carbon fiber in future Leaf.

Yashuihro Tosaka explains carbon fiber in future Leaf.

Nissan’s new laser scanner it developed is part of this capability as it measures with precision the distance between the car and other objects.

The 360-degree vision is via an eight-way camera system that supplies critical data to the computer as the car navigates curves, intersections, etc.

Nissan has demonstrated its budding autonomous tech in several iterations before now using the Leaf as the prototype, and has previously stated the goals it says it is now well on its way to fulfilling.

Daily Kanban

This article appears also at


Oct 09

Why the ’16 Malibu Hybrid Gets Better MPG Than The ’16 Volt




A mystery has been solved.

What mystery? How the 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid gets an estimated 5 mpg better fuel economy than the 2016 Volt when running in gas-burning hybrid mode even though both use the same essential “drive unit,” or gas-electric transaxle.

The 1.5-liter compact-class Volt is a 53-mile extended-range EV, but in gas operation after the battery is depleted, it essentially morphs back to a 42 mpg hybrid. The 1.8-liter midsized Malibu is a full time hybrid with preliminary mpg estimated at 47 mpg, has more power and is physically larger as well.

To observant readers, something did not check this spring when the hybrid Malibu was introduced. The Volt had been revealed with fanfare in January, and General Motors made quite the to-do about the Malibu being co-developed with the Volt to set a new benchmark in efficiency.


But, some reasoned, if the Volt was the new “halo” eco car for General Motors, how was it being trumped by the Malibu in any of its operation modes? Its EV range is class leading, but why should its mpg be less than a bigger sibling using its own powertrain? As it is, this is the case.

At the time, people speculated why this could be. Chevrolet did not provide the answer to us upon request, and that was a recipe to stir the pot more.

SEE ALSO Why Does Chevrolet’s New Volt Get Worse Fuel Economy Than The Malibu Hybrid?
After all, think about it. The 1.8-liter engine in the Malibu Hybrid could burn more fuel than a 1.5 liter in a Volt. A larger car as the Malibu is presents a broader frontal profile so that could add to mpg-sapping wind drag. Higher system power derived more from the gas engine in the Malibu over the Volt led common sense to conjecture if anything, the Volt should get better mpg. The Malibu has slightly wider tires too.

Some people took to guessing. Perhaps, some offered, because the Volt has a big 18.4-kilowatt-hour battery it’s much heavier than the Malibu with its small 1.5 kwh pack.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Chevrolet Volt Review – First Drive
Nope. The cars are within 86 pounds of each other. The Malibu is 3,457 pounds, the Volt 3,543, and the weight of one half-grown kid is not enough to cause a 5 mpg disparity.

So What is the Answer?

It’s all attributable to differences in the two cars’ powertrain, and trade-offs were made.

In short, the Volt is optimized to operate as an EV with gas backup, and the Malibu Hybrid is simply a regular full hybrid.

Since the Malibu Hybrid always uses gas, like a Toyota Prius or other hybrid would, it was optimized for maximum fuel efficiency.

It also when launched will enter the hotly contested mid-sized hybrid sedan space presently dominated by the 40/41 mpg Toyota Camry Hybrid, 42 mpg Ford Fusion Hybrid, 41/42 mpg Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and best of all – 47 mpg Honda Accord Hybrid.

Volt drive unit.

Volt drive unit.

A Volt-like 42 mpg would have made the Malibu Hybrid just average when General Motors is coming from behind into a market in which its eAssist mild hybrid had been its only offering.

The Volt on the other hand is meant to avoid using gas altogether. It already was in a class by itself above blended plug-in hybrids with 38 miles EV range. Its new 53 miles is now nearly double the next-nearest 27-mile EV range Hyundai Sonata PHEV, so that is its primary competitive advantage.

A weak point had been the Volt’s 37 mpg in premium-gas operation, and the 2016 now runs on regular returning 5 mph better economy, so that is a plus.

Click to enlarge. This image was shown last week to analysts by GM while touting its profitability, and investment potential.

Click to enlarge. This image was shown last week to analysts by GM while touting its profitability, and investment potential.

Engineers had also been tasked to cut costs from the Volt and Malibu and this they have. Last week during its Global Business Conference, the company said it has increased Volt profit potential by $3,500 per unit.

In reality, automakers have to pick their priorities on what they can profitably deliver at a price point.

Other items not on the Volt include an independent rear suspension that the Cruze gets, and unavailable is a 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger, even as an option, and despite owner requests. The Volt is altogether improved, but a few things had to give.

With that as background, the Malibu Hybrid is different in three fundamental ways, according to Greg Hubbard, chief engineer, Electric and Hybrid Propulsion Systems. These roughly add up to the missing 5 mpg estimated as follows.


The Malibu Hybrid is the first Chevrolet to utilize Exhaust Gas Heat Recovery (EGHR) but the Volt does not have it.

This innovation uses heat that would otherwise go to waste to warm the cabin interior as needed and the engine.


This engine heating lets the car warm to peak efficiency faster. In a hybrid that does not have the Volt’s luxury of running very far with gas engine off, this is a priority.

The Volt on the other hand caters to people who want to stay off gas. Its engine might have gotten EGHR, and all the thought behind the decision was not explained, but it would have added more cost to a car in which hybrid mode is a secondary operation.

SEE ALSO: What Makes More Sense – 2016 Prius or 2016 Volt?
At least the argument can be made to that effect. The top-mpg hybrid, the Prius, may get 55 mpg or better, so the 13 mpg disparity has remained the same from 2015 to 2016 between the two loosely compared rivals. Where mpg in gas operation matters for the Volt is when people want to travel farther than EV range.

High-mileage drivers have to weigh this when considering a Volt. If the Volt got up to 50 mpg, it would have been less of a head-scratching moment, but this is what we have. EGHR would not in itself have added to that much, but it is part of the formula of why the bigger Malibu nets better gas mileage.

2 MPG – Permanent Magnet Motor

The Malibu utilizes two permanent magnet motors, both utilizing rare earth materials. The Volt utilizes a ferrite magnet design in its smaller of two electric motors.

Hitachi-supplied Volt motor.

Hitachi-supplied Volt motor.

Sometimes people get confused about rare earth permanent magnet motors versus GM’s ferrite motor and they think the ferrite motor is an induction motor. Actually, the ferrite motor is still a permanent magnet motor. Its permanent magnets are just made from ferrite (iron) instead of from a fancier mix of magnetic metals that include rare earth metals.

The Volt’s design is actually a benefit in that it cuts cost, does away with rare earth materials often sourced from China and with potential supply and cost instability. It does save on production costs in the Volt but is fine for EV mode, less ideal in hybrid mode.

On the other hand, the Malibu Hybrid’s motors have better suited torque and electrical efficiency characteristics for hybrid operation.

1 MPG – Performance Tuning

The Malibu upon acceleration leads with power from its gas engine, but the Volt leads with its electric motors.

This gives the Volt a more fluid, instant torque EV feel even in hybrid mode and is easier for the Volt to do with power in reserve in its large li-ion battery – even when it is “depleted” it has usable energy.


The Volt favors immediate use of the battery to provide fast reaction to driver demand and then the gas engine follows along later.

The Malibu Hybrid however has a smaller battery, so makes more immediate use of its gas engine during acceleration.

This avoids conversion losses the Volt experiences from using the battery and then recharging it from the gas engine in the Volt.

Two Different Solutions

If GM had told bean counters to take a hike, might it have pulled off 50 mpg for the Volt?

That’s not known, but more certain is human psychology tends to desire more of everything. Realities however more often dictate a different outcome.


The Volt as mentioned, is meant to run as an EV with gas backup in charge-sustaining mode. It does things the Malibu cannot like avoid gas for months on end.

SEE ALSO: Here’s Why The 2016 Malibu Hybrid Could Launch GM’s New Hybrid Era
The Malibu Hybrid is to be competitive in its market segment.

One might speculate still more could have been done, but GM has engineered both vehicles to the best they can be within constraints.


Improvements are ongoing, and not out of the question is whether the Volt in a couple years might see a bump in its battery capacity, as was the case in 2013 and 2015. A 0.5 and 0.6 kwh increase came in two year intervals after the 2011 introduction and Volt gen-one had a 16.0, 16.5 and 17.1 kwh pack during its life.

What else might we see? No doubt customers will keep providing feedback which was used to redesign the gen-two Volt.

After speaking with executives and engineers, it is plain GM knows what its customers have asked for and will keep working to improve its products.


While we both quizzed GM’s engineers, thanks to Jeff N who got further clarity on some of the info in this article.

This article also appears at


Oct 05

2016 Volt first drive



General Motors has a secret new car called the 2016 Chevy Volt.

It can run 53 miles solely on battery power before a gas engine takes over for 420 total miles, is more fun than an “eco” car has any right to be, and we’re here to tell you about it.

What? You say you already know about the Volt? You say it was first introduced late 2010 and is the first plug-in car to receive a full redesign after a full product life cycle?

OK, so you are one who knows, but apparently a lot of people do not know in this country of 320 million. Although analyses have shown the subsidized and cheap-to-fuel Volt could pencil out better than a Prius, its annual sales have never matched a good sales quarter for the Toyota.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Chevrolet Volt Review – Video

Reasons for this are many, nuanced, and could fill their own article. In brief, the Volt still has critics, surveys and anecdotes show many people still don’t: 1) understand what it can do for them, or 2) see the value, or 3) even know it exists.

2011 Volt.

2011 Volt.

Part of this is because Chevrolet stopped marketing it outside of California and tech fairs at least as far back as some time in 2013. GM quit making sales projections after 2011, its former CEO called it a “political football” in April 2012, and the company nearly tucked its tail between its legs, relegating it into a “niche” product.

Well, no more, says the automaker. Product Manager Darin Gesse says its continuation to a second generation proves the company believes in the car. It benefits from generation-one Volt owners’ feedback, he says, and with the redesign Chevrolet hopes this will be a new beginning.

Steve Majoros, Chevrolet director of car marketing, says they will now advertise gen two as it rolls out this year and next, and if they do it right, this new Volt could experience a turnaround. If any car could be said to deserve it, this underappreciated one does.

Media Intro

As the first Volts are shipping to dealers in California and 10 states that follow its emission rules, Chevrolet invited media to the town of Sausalito just north of San Francisco to put the compact car through its paces.

Before we hit the road, however, its lead engineers were on hand to discuss what is the single most distinguishing characteristic about the Volt – its powertrain – which has been called by some who understand its inner workings “truly a work of art.”


The Volt is by definition a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) but Chevrolet distinguishes it as an extended-range electric vehicle (EREV) because unlike blended PHEVs, it can stay in the e-zone all the way till the battery depletes. It’s also unique in that its 53-miles electric range is more than double the next-nearest 19-mile Ford Energis, and pending 27-mile Hyundai Sonata PHEV.

The Volt’s “53” is actually combined. The EPA rates it for 57 all-electric miles in the city, and 49 all-electric miles highway. Efficiency has also been improved in gas operation to 43 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, 42 mpg combined on regular gas from a former 37 mpg combined on premium, and “miles per gallon equivalent” (MPGe) is 113 city, 99 highway, and 106 combined. To qualify this a bit, sometimes “combined” MPGe is calculated as a combined gas-plus-electric efficiency using a Utility Factor that estimates a typical driver’s daily drive and that would result in a different and lower number.

Aside from the Volt-powered Cadillac ELR – which does not get the updated EREV platform by the way – the 2016 Volt is in a class of one; there’s nothing else like it.

Among new features is an integrated inverter eliminating heavy orange cables. The new transmission offers increased efficiency, more flexible operating modes, and does not significantly increase parts count.

Among new features is an integrated inverter eliminating heavy orange cables. The new transmission offers increased efficiency, more flexible operating modes, and does not significantly increase parts count.

For 2016, the “drive unit” – the gas-electric transaxle – was redesigned. It’s 100-pounds lighter, and shed rare earth magnets in the smaller of its two motors and reduced them by 40 percent in the larger. It delivers more torque at 298 pounds-feet over the former 273, and the same 149 horsepower (111 kilowatts).

Inside the drive unit now are two connected planetary gearsets. One motor is 117 horsepower (87 kilowatts), the other is 64 horsepower (48 kilowatts). They are connected by a sophisticated traction power inverter module (TPIM) and merged with a new all-aluminum 1.5-liter Ecotec. It features direct injection, 12.5:1 compression ratio, cooled exhaust gas recirculation and a variable displacement oil pump, and is rated for 101 horsepower at 5,600 rpm.

Formerly, the 2011-2015 Volt used a single planetary gearset and more powerful motors, at 74 horsepower (55 kilowatts) and 149 horsepower (111 kilowatts) respectively. The larger of two motors did most of the heavy lifting. The new design lets both lighter motors work together or singly.

TPIM and motors.

TPIM and motors.

The drive unit is different from generation one, but the EREV principle is retained. In EV driving, it’s a new feature that the two motors can work together so – despite smaller motors – total power is actually higher than in the original Volt. This allows the 243-pound lighter, 3,543-pound 2016 Volt to accelerate from 0-30 mph in 2.6 seconds – within realm of what a 60-kwh Tesla Model S can do, give or take a tenth of a second.

This new drive unit was also designed from its inception to enable GM to spin off hybrids at will, and the 2016 Malibu Hybrid was co-developed with a similar drive unit, but only 1.5-kwh battery, and no plug.

So, in the course of building the new Volt, GM may finally become competitive with Toyota in the regular hybrid space as well. The pending Malibu Hybrid is rated 6-mpg higher than the Camry Hybrid, thus the Volt is paying dividends before the first example is even delivered to a customer.

Power for the Volt is supplied by a new 18.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery replacing the former 17.1. Fewer and larger LG Chem cells are used, and the T-pack sheds 20 pounds.

SEE ALSO: 6 Way The 2016 Chevy Volt Has Been Improved

When the battery is depleted – actually when the computer tells it to stop delivering power after about 14.0 kwh used – the gas engine kicks on. This is about 76 percent usable power of the nominal 18.4 total kilowatts, and GM upped it from about 65 percent of the battery used on gen-one.

With an exemplary reliability record, the decision was made to use more of the battery. It is warranted, and ought to last a normal consumer lifetime’s usage, barring complications.


Recharging takes about 4.5 hours on 240-volt level two power, or 13 hours for 120-volt house current. Many Volt owners don’t opt for level two, but some do. Some also wanted a bigger on-board charger, and it is, 3.6-kw instead of 3.3 which makes charge times comparable when charging at 240 volts. But not available is a 6.6-kw charger as some requested. This would have enabled quicker recharging, and some said they’d have paid extra for it, but this is one of the cost-reducing compromises GM settled upon.

Aside from those looking to charge intraday, or simply faster, most will be fine with this, however, as overnight charging on wall current is still all many will do.

Per normal electrified vehicle practice, the electric motors also generate power back to the battery, and serve in regenerative braking.

If you want a technical deep dive, here’s a great one from February.

With one of the authors, Jeff Nisewanger, along for our drive, we were told by GM engineer Tim Grewe “it’s correct” as he talked rocket science (Volt engineering) with us.

But for now here’s what you need to know: the powertrain works well.


The new Volt’s body is supposed to have been inspired both by endurance athletes, and windblown sand. In the event you are not up on subtleties of quasi-abstract notions from the world of art and design language, we’ll just note it’s more swoopy and retains certain cues from gen-one.


It also fits into the Chevy family line, echoing the new Cruze, with a dash of Honda Civic and pinch of Kia Forte thrown in for flavor to its three-box design. It looks like a sedan, but is actually a hatchback.

Inside, another facelift took place. Gone are haptic feedback controls, in place are very tasteful and functional knobs and buttons. A nice high-resolution 8-in touchscreen is reminiscent of an iPad Mini, and Apple CarPlay is one of numerous apps and functionalities.

Next year when the 2017 arrives early spring for the 39 states not getting it this year, Android Auto will be an option. Those with 2016 Volts will get a free software update for Android Auto at that time. Reports of self-driving Volts, if you heard any, were of a test fleet being developed, not an option for production vehicles. Yet.

2016 Chevrolet Volt

An issue for some will be GM’s compact Delta II platform. While room is great up front, even for long-legged folk wearing a cowboy hat, in back it’s only adequate. The rear legroom grew 0.6 inches, headroom shrunk 0.2 inches, and a mid seating section added at driver request is OK for kids, or other lithe people for short hops.

Front seat adjusted for driver with 34-inch inseam.

Front seat adjusted for driver with 34-inch inseam.

Asked why Chevrolet went with a compact, Gesse said they mulled the options, and chose it as it’s a hot class of car for eco. And realistically, while everyone wants more of everything – including interior space – a whole lot of people actually commute solo or maybe with one passenger.

The Drive

Chevrolet already had the longest EV-range for a gas-electric car on the market, short of a BMW i3 REx – which has less utility potential due to its 1.9-gallon gas tank.

The new Volt widens its pre-existing advantage with 13 more miles over an effective 40 miles the 17.1-kwh Volt could muster unofficially.

If you’re new to this, and say big deal to 13 miles EV range, that is enough to put many more people over the top and keep them in battery only for daily driving.

Based on OnStar data, Chevrolet expects an average 1,000 miles between fill-ups to its 8.9-gallon tank, which could work out to close to 120 mpg plus cost of electricity.

2016 Chevrolet Volt

Many will do much more than this, and the car has been known to go for months without turning the gas engine on aside from it briefly automatically running to maintain engine lubrication every six weeks.

On our drive, we saw 54 miles range alternately pushing it and nursing it by using the paddle on the left backside of the steering wheel for regenerative braking. In gas operation, we averaged 40 mpg though depending on conditions, this will vary above or below several mpg.

The regenerative braking paddle – the right-side paddle is a split multi-function switch –was adopted from the Cadillac ELR, and every electrified vehicle ought to have one. It significantly increases battery replenishing energy up to 60 kw, or about half of max output. It feels like brakes, but it works a bit more abruptly. The driver is not able to lightly feather or modulate it like friction brakes, but it’s definitely better to have than not, and the brake pedal still lets you feather regenerative braking.

Inside, comfort is great. This could be a road trip car, especially for two in the spacious front, or with kids in back in the just-OK rear seat room.

Sight lines are improved, the A-pillar is not as obtrusive as in gen-one, but still beefy for rollover safety. Manually adjustable seats to save weight don’t seem like much of an inconvenience, but we hear people say they wish they had the option for power seats.

The new gauges, and controls are attractively laid out following cues from the new Chevy family. The new touchscreen works nicely with a smartphone – we used an iPhone 5S with CarPlay – and experienced no wonkiness.

But while cars are morphing into rolling desktops and phone booths, they are still meant for driving, and our route could not have been better to test handling, highway, and around town.

A claim to fame is the Volt is fun, and that it was – on curve after curve of surreal tight twisties on a long stretch of Route 1 above San Francisco.

2016 Chevrolet Volt

The Volt doesn’t protest when pushed, though tire scrubbing could be heard as we challenged the low rolling resistance Michelin tires built for Volt fitment.

Doing ham-fisted moves like braking with the paddle regen into tight slow corners made the front tread scuff more, but overall, this is a decent handling car.

Product Manager Gesse estimated if you switched to summer rubber, you’d get better grip but maybe lose a couple miles range, and a mpg or two in gas operation. Most won’t feel the need.

It is no Subaru WRX, but definitely beats a 2015 Prius and some other ordinary cars in its class. Toyota is saying the new 2016 Prius now handles better, so we’ll see when we drive it in mid November, but really, the Prius is only loosely a competitor.

Augmenting the Volt experience is the famed “instant torque.” Push the accelerator and it goes. We were not confused that we’d taken out a Camaro Z28 by mistake, but it will be satisfying for most drivers.

On the highway, it’s smooth and with plenty of passing power. One thing still present is a “thrumming” noise of reverberation in the ears can occur when a window is lowered, particularly in the back.

Gone however is a polite pedestrian warning honk sound button on the left stalk. Instead the car emits a sort of fan-like sound at speeds below 19 mph. It can’t be heard inside the car, but people outside can hear it.

Incidentally, quickest acceleration according to Greg Hubbard, chief engineer, Electric and Hybrid Propulsion Systems, is from the motors operated by the battery, not the internal combustion engine.

The gas engine, not incidentally, may run in battery preserving Hold mode which suspends EV operation, saving it for later, or Charge Sustaining mode – the phase that takes over when the battery is depleted. Both Hold and CS do the same thing, but Hold sustains the battery’s state of charge while there is enough energy left to run in EV mode, and CS is a default state when propulsion energy is no longer available.

2016 Chevrolet Volt

The difference between gas or electric operation will be imperceptible to most anyone, but on paper, a smidgeon more propulsion energy is available in EV mode. So, to settle some misinformation we’ve seen on the forums, quickest 0-30, 0-60 etc, is with gas engine off, says Chevrolet. Unfortunately we were unable to run our own track tests during this drive event.

On our drive, once the juice ran out, the Ecotec engine seamlessly came on in CS mode as per normal Volt practice. Noise, vibration and harshness are muted better than the kind-of grindy 1.4-liter iron block mill that came before.

At odd intervals, the TPIM may decide to opportunity charge and rev the engine without actually applying that energy to the front wheels to accelerate, of course. We heard this a few times on rolling terrain, after cresting a rise.

Bear in mind, this is an extremely sophisticated managed powertrain.

According to Grewe, a dedicated system optimizer computer takes into account recent driving behavior. Five different computers cooperate to control the powertrain. If one computer decides to emulate the computer named Hal from 2001 A Space Odyssey, and go off the deep end, the other computers can veto its commands to ensure redundant safety.


Chevrolet’s powertrain makes it hands-down the most effective gas-saving hybrid on average-length daily trips in the world. This is fact. A study presented to SAE showed it outdoes all other plug-in hybrids. And, U.S. Energy Department-run Idaho National Lab has shown it goes nearly as far on electricity as pure EVs.

Qualifiers to its gas-saving include on longer trips, perhaps over 100 miles, the Volt’s EV advantage averaged in with 42 mpg gas operation diminishes next to superior fuel sippers such as regular hybrids.

SEE ALSO: Study Shows Chevy Volt Can Burn Less Gas Than Any Other PHEV

The preeminent regular hybrid, a 2016 Prius, may get 55 mpg and on long trips it would be superior. Also, emissions advantages are a toss-up depending on upstream emissions, if applicable. Renewable electricity magnifies the Volt’s environmental potential significantly. More info can be seen at


In any case, the Volt stands to help American manufacturing, the environment, and energy security. The 2017 will rise to 70-percent U.S. content when the Flint engine plant comes online and Mexican engines are switched out sometime into the model year.

The new Volt is furthermore evolved, so it benefits from lessons learned from the first round of buyers.

As for looks, the move to “mainstream” aspirations, has the Volt blending in, and odd “eco” car design was never the Volt’s thing, but it did previously stand out more.

Frankly, until now, General Motors has been said to be sending mixed messages with the Volt. Former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz once said it might “leapfrog” the Prius, its history never bore that out, and Chevrolet’s present lead marketer literally said he was not in on that conversation, and finds it irrelevant to what the Volt has become.

SEE ALSO: Can the 2016 Volt Break Beyond ‘Niche’ And Go ‘Mainstream?’

So the Volt wants to be mainstream, but it’s been a niche. Is that an oxymoron? A mainstream niche product? And plug-in car watchers are still scratching their head, looking for a congruent message this time. Chevrolet is working to spread excitement, but changed plans in September so 39 states will not receive 2016s. It says it wants to nail down the 11 states, get set up, and move forward. Observers are hoping this won’t be mixed messages round two.

But if something about the Volt is a deal breaker for you, there’s always the Ford Fusion Energi, 2016 Hyundai Sonata PHEV, others in this class, or whatever else works for you.

The well-balanced fun-yet-frugal Volt should however please more people than not.

Price starts at $33,995 including $825 destination. An upscale LTZ trim starts at $38,345.

Eligible for a full $7,500 federal tax credit – a couple thousand more than the PHEVs – and state subsidies where applicable, its total cost of ownership can prove amazingly good.


How good? Edmunds True Cost To Own calculator has shown last year’s 2015 model priced at $32,500 after dealer discounts could earn back the difference and then save an average driver in Southern California $6,000 in five years compared to a $21,400 Chevy Cruze.

The 2016 ought to do better, and it should sell better.

In question is whether Volt sales will surprise analysts who predict the 200-mile range 2017 Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla Model 3 will steal sales after the first year.

SEE ALSO: Is the 2016 Volt Worth Buying?

Maybe, maybe not. That there’s upward potential is clear. This Volt has been reinvented, and we think it has paid dues, not all of them justified. Perhaps it’s due for a rebound?

We certainly hope so. For all the fair and unfair observations focused on this Chevy over the last half decade, it is a winner and the new one is better.

This article also appears at

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