General Motors (GM) recently hosted a Chevrolet Innovation Day event in Detroit in conjunction with the reveal of the all-new 2016 Chevrolet Cruze compact car. During the sessions attended by media and analysts, GM executives, engineers, and designers covered a variety of topics including both internal combustion and electrified powertrain plans. As all automakers struggle with how to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy and emissions standards while also meeting customer expectations and remaining profitable, GM made it clear that it intends to be the market leader for both diesel and plug-in vehicles.
“We want to make EVs approachable to all, not just the elites,” said Pamela Fletcher, executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles, as she echoed a message dating back to the late 2006 previews of the original Chevrolet Volt concept while also taking a subtle jab at Tesla. At the time, GM officials explained that the Volt was badged as a Chevrolet rather than a Cadillac because the goal was to bring electric vehicles (EVs) to a mass audience at an affordable price. Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Market Forecasts projects that luxury brands will account for 50% of global light duty plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales by 2018, but Chevrolet clearly wants to shift the percentage toward more mainstream segments.
GM wasn’t entirely successful with the first-generation Volt, but it provided a valuable learning opportunity and those lessons have been fed into the second-generation Volt that is launching this summer. Perhaps more importantly, Fletcher’s team is moving aggressively to bring the knowledge it’s gained about lithium ion batteries and electric drive systems to full battery electric vehicles, such as the upcoming 200-mile range Chevrolet Bolt EV. After revealing the Bolt as a concept at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2015, GM announced just a few weeks later that it would be produced.
Setting a Pace
GM has moved quickly on development that clearly began long before we saw the Detroit concept. Bolt chief engine Josh Tavel announced that his team already has more than 50 pre-production prototypes running in the United States and South Korea where they were built. These are the first prototypes with production representative bodies and other systems, and they typically arrive about 18 months before production. Because of this, it’s reasonable to expect the Bolt to arrive in late 2016 or early 2017, putting it a year or likely more ahead of the Tesla Model 3. Many of the components for the Bolt have likely been tested for as much as 2 years in other vehicles before these prototypes were built.
Recognizing that not all customers have the same needs, GM isn’t planning to rely entirely on batteries to meet fuel efficiency requirements. In 2013, the automaker dipped a toe into the water with a diesel version of the Cruze that gets the best Environmental Protection Agency- (EPA-) estimated fuel economy of any non-hybrid car in America. With virtually no promotion, Chevrolet sold 6,000 Cruze diesels in 2014. Dan Nicholson, vice president of global powertrain engineering announced that Chevrolet would offer an all-new 1.6L diesel engine in the 2016 Cruze that would offer even better fuel economy and more refinement.
“GM is aggressively going after passenger car diesels in North America and aims to be the market leader,” said Nicholson as he specifically called out long-time diesel champion Volkswagen. Along with new, more efficient gasoline engines with auto stop-start, diesel, and natural gas in trucks and future fuel cell vehicles, GM clearly intends to leave no stone unturned.