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chevrolet-volt-frontChevrolet’s Volt continues to be a milestone vehicle in the increasingly crowded plug-in hybrid field. While GM officially calls the Volt an extended range electric car, it’s technically a plug-in series hybrid since it operates with its engine generating electricity rather than powering the drive wheels. It’s distinguished for plenty of reasons, not the least of which is its 53-mile all-electric driving range before reverting to electric power from its 1.5-liter DOHC engine-generator, which delivers a total 420 mile driving range.

That 53-mile battery electric range is just one of the reasons the Volt is a standout. With the exception of Honda’s new Clarity Plug-In that achieves 47 miles on battery power before reverting to hybrid operation, no other plug-in hybrid competitors come close. Before the Clarity, the best PHEV competitors were able to offer 25 to 33 all-electric miles, with most achieving significantly less.

chevrolet-volt-power-displayGreen Car Journal editors spent a year and just over 20,000 miles behind the wheel of Chevy’s Volt, allowing plenty of time to experience life with this extended range electric under varying driving conditions. One thing continually stood out: Having this kind of battery electric range meant most of our daily drives were spent entirely in electric mode with zero emissions. When heading off to nearby cities beyond the Volt’s battery range or during our numerous road trips, it was comforting to know there was no limit to the distance we could drive with the car’s engine-generator at the ready.

The Volt drives confidently, and silently, with refined road matters and passenger comfort we came to appreciate on drives long and short. The changeover once batteries are depleted does bring a different feel since the engine-generator is more noticeable than engines in a typical plug-in hybrid, but not so much that we gave it a second thought during our drives.

chevrolet-volt-cabinWelcome features are replete in the Volt, from a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, LCD instrument cluster, and 8-inch center touchscreen display to MyLink infotainment and advanced driver assist systems. Thoughtful touches like a heated steering wheel and heated front and rear seats help cinch the deal in cold weather driving.

It’s tough to find fault with the Volt since Chevrolet really did an exceptional job with this car. If we had one wish, it would be for a slightly more accommodating rear seat. The first-generation Volt was a four-seater since the car’s battery storage configuration meant a console was at the center of the rear seat, with batteries beneath. The rear seat in the second-generation Volt left the rear console behind in lieu of a center seat position, although it’s clearly better suited for a child than an adult. No matter…we’re happy with the change.

chevrolet-volt-chargeportAfter 20,000 miles on the road, this was one long-term test car that was hard to give up. Our positive experience over our year of driving remains with us and, like every Volt owner we’ve run across, we can only heartily recommend this car.

 

2016-chevy-volt-drivingChevrolet's second generation 2016 Volt features sportier styling, better performance, and a lighter and more powerful two-motor drive system than the generation that came before it. The five-passenger, extended range electric now drives up to 53 miles on batteries alone, with its 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine-generator creating electricity to deliver an overall 420 mile range. If range anxiety is one of your concerns with electric cars, that needn’t be even a distant thought here.

These are just a few of the many reasons why the 2016 Volt won Green Car Journal’s 2016 Green Car of the Year®, and not coincidentally why we’ve been living with the Volt during a year-long extended test to analyze what it’s like to experience this vehicle on a daily basis. After 8500 miles behind the wheel in urban, rural, and open-road driving, we have to say this is about as ideal an electric vehicle as one could want. Really...it's that good. Anyone who says otherwise has not spent enough time in the second-generation Volt.

2016-chevy-volt-on-pierDuring early drives, it was obvious that the all-new Volt would fulfill a diversity of missions without breaking a sweat. Typical commutes and drives around town? No problem, zero emissions all the way. A journey of a thousand miles for work or vacation? Also no issues with the Volt’s overall driving range and the benefit of an EPA estimated 106 MPGe when driving on batteries, and 42 combined mpg while operating on electricity from the Volt’s engine-generator.

While our Volt is typically used for daily zero-emission commuting duty, we’ve now pressed it into service on many extended road trips over the 8,500 miles it’s been in our long-term test fleet. Green Car Journal editors have found it an ideal vehicle for all possible uses.

volt-instruments-1The 2016 Volt is a pleasure to drive and exhibits satisfying levels of acceleration in both battery and extended-range modes. It’s loaded with advanced electronics and features most desired by drivers today. Among our favorite features is this electric’s adaptive cruise control that keeps pace with the car ahead, a feature used often on shorter hops on the interstate and always during extended journeys. Regen-on-Demand, first used in the Cadillac ELR, is a welcome addition that adds to driving fun and efficiency. Squeezing a steering-wheel paddle instantly engages aggressive regenerative braking that slows the car and generates electricity for the battery, while releasing the paddle immediately returns a normal driving state. Normal regenerative braking always works in the background.

Chevrolet did all this with the 2016 Volt, and more, at an entry point of $33,170 that goes considerably lower with federal and state incentives. We’ll be taking this one out from the test fleet every opportunity we get.

2016-chevy-volt-plugged-in

2016 Chevrolet VoltThe Los Angeles Auto Show is the setting for Green Car Journal’s highly-anticipated Green Car of the Year® award each year, as it has been since its first appearance in car-centric Southern California 11 years ago. This year, following a video intro by celebrity juror Jay Leno and with all five award finalist vehicles flanking the stage, Green Car Journal revealed this year’s winner – the all-new 2016 Chevrolet Volt.

Chevrolet’s Volt was a milestone vehi­cle when it debuted in the 2011 model year and then drove away with 2011 Green Car of the Year® honors. In its new generation, it’s clear that Chevrolet listened to its customers – and in par­ticular Volt owners – and implemented improvements across the board to make the 2016 Volt faster, more stylish, and more capable than ever.

2016 Chevrolet VoltAmong its important functionality achievements is the expansion from four- to five-passen­ger seating and a zero-emission battery driving range of up to 53 miles. It’s also packed with advanced electronics including Apple CarPlay, 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity through OnStar, and desired driver assist systems. The Volt offers an entry point of $33,170 with federal and state incentives available.

Called by GM an extended range electric vehicle – technically a series hybrid configuration – the Volt’s gasoline engine powers a generator that both charges the battery and provides electric energy to the motors once the car’s batteries are depleted. Total driving range is 420 miles, 40 miles farther than the previous generation. The new Volt is rated at a combined city/highway 102 MPGe while driving on battery power and a combined 42 mpg in the extended range mode while the engine-generator is operating.

2016-chevrolet-volt-cutawayThe Volt uses two electric motors but they are now closer in size and share the load more evenly than the Volt’s previous large-and-small motor combination. A new 1.5-liter, four-cylinder DOHC direct-injection engine is used to generate electricity. The lighter aluminum-block engine produces 101 horsepower versus the 84 horsepower of its iron-block predecessor. Even though the new engine has a higher 12.5:1 compression ratio, it runs on less expensive regular fuel rather than the premium fuel required in the original Volt.

The number of lithium-ion cells in the Volt’s T-shaped battery pack has decreased from 288 to 192. However, improved chemistry means battery capacity increases from 17.1 to 18.4 kilowatt-hours even as pack weight drops by 31 pounds. In all, the 2016 Volt is about 200 pounds lighter than the earlier generation.

2016-chevrolet-volt-battery-displayAs noted by this year’s finalists, there is no single path to achieving important environmental achievement. Along with the Volt, three other nominees feature electrification but in somewhat differ­ent forms. The Audi A3 e-tron champi­ons plug-in hybrid power, as does the Hyundai Sonata with its plug-in hybrid, hybrid, and conventionally-powered vari­ants. The Toyota Prius continues its effi­ciency leadership as an all-new genera­tion hybrid hatchback. Honda’s new gen­eration Civic illustrates that impressive efficiency can be achieved with advanced internal combustion power.

Green Car Journal’s Green Car of the Year® is selected by a jury comprised of environmental and efficiency lead­ers including Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Matt Petersen, board member of Global Green USA; Mindy Lubber, President of CERES; Kateri Callahan, President of the Alliance to Save Energy; and Dr. Alan Lloyd, chairman emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation. Rounding out the jury is comedian and car aficionado Jay Leno plus Green Car Journal editors.

2016-gcoy-trophy-presentationThe all-new Volt has clearly earned its distinction as 2016 Green Car of the Year®. Chevrolet has taken an efficient and award-winning sedan and made it better in virtually every way…a shining example of the environmental leadership the Green Car of the Year® award seeks to honor.

2016-green-car-of-the-year-finalistsFive exceptional ‘green’ cars have just been identified by Green Car Journal as its finalists for the coveted 2016 Green Car of the Year® award. These 2016 models include the Audi A3 e-tron, Chevrolet Volt, Honda Civic, Hyundai Sonata, and Toyota Prius.

The magazine points out that this is the strongest field of finalists the annual Green Car of the Year® program has considered, with each nominee making a strong environmental statement in distinctly different ways. All share a common strategy of recognizing what’s most important to today’s drivers through the use of diverse powertrain technologies and their own brand of ‘green’ features. The bottom line: All approaches are essential to achieving today’s important environmental goals, including greater fuel efficiency, lower tailpipe emissions, reduced carbon emissions, and overall environmental improvement while providing satisfying performance and retaining the joy of driving.

Audi A3 Sportback e-tronFINALIST: AUDI A3 E-TRON

The A3 Sportback e-tron is Audi's entry in the hot plug-in hybrid vehicle market. This five-door hatchback uses lithium-ion batteries and a 102 hp electric motor to deliver up to 19 miles of all-electric driving, after which its 150 hp, 1.4-liter gasoline TFSI engine provides power for extended driving in efficient hybrid mode.

2016-chevrolet-voltFINALIST: CHEVROLET VOLT

Chevrolet’s second generation Volt features sportier styling, better performance, and a lighter and more powerful two-motor drive system. The five-passenger, extended range electric now drives up to 53 miles on batteries alone, with its 1.5-liter gasoline powered generator creating on-board electricity to deliver an overall 420 mile range.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan TouringFINALIST: HONDA CIVIC

Now in its tenth generation, the all-new Honda Civic delivers exemplary fuel efficiency in an affordable, conventionally-powered model. The Civic thoughtfully blends hybrid-like fuel economy and appealing style, with an array of desired amenities and advanced electronics that meets the needs of a great many drivers.

MY16 Sonata HybridFINALIST: HYUNDAI SONATA

Hyundai’s stylish 2016 Sonata offers it all with efficient gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid choices within the Sonata lineup. New this year, the hybrid delivers up to 43 highway mpg and features distinctive styling cues. The Sonata Plug-In Hybrid drives up to 24 miles on batteries with additional range on conventional hybrid power.

2016-toyota-priusFINALIST: TOYOTA PRIUS

The Toyota Prius emerges in 2016 a completely redesigned model, faithfully delivering the attributes expected of an industry-leading hybrid with important design, technology, and efficiency updates. It features a familiar yet bolder exterior and incorporates suspension and other improvements to deliver improved driving dynamics.

GREEN CAR AWARD PROGRAM

Since 1992, Green Car Journal has been recognized as the leading authority on the intersection of automobiles, energy, and environment. The GCOY award is an important part of Green Car Journal’s mission to showcase environmental progress in the automotive field.

The auto industry’s expanding efforts in offering new vehicles with higher efficiency and improved environmental impact mean there is an increasing number of vehicle models to be considered for the Green Car of the Year® program. This is a significant departure from when just a limited number of new car models were considered for the inaugural Green Car of the Year® program, which Green Car Journal first presented at the LA Auto Show in 2005.

During the award’s vetting process, Green Car Journal editors consider all vehicles, fuels, and technologies as an expansive field of potential candidates is narrowed down to a final five. Finalists are selected for their achievements in raising the bar in environmental performance. Many factors are considered including efficiency, EPA and CARB emissions certification, performance characteristics, ‘newness,’ and affordability. Availability to the mass market is important to ensure honored models have the potential to make a real difference in environmental impact.

The Green Car of the Year® is selected through a majority vote by a jury that includes leaders of noted environmental and efficiency organizations including Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Matt Petersen, board member of Global Green USA; Dr. Alan Lloyd, President Emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation; Mindy Lubber, President of CERES; and Kateri Callahan, President of the Alliance to Save Energy. Green Car Journal editors and celebrity auto enthusiast Jay Leno round out the award jury.

Green Car Journal will announced the winner of the 2016 Green Car of the Year award during press days at the L.A. Auto Show on November 19.

 

There’s something almost magical about plugging your car into an outlet at night and waking up to a full ‘tank’ in the morning. There’s no need for a stop at the gas station, ever. Plus, there’s no nagging guilt that the miles metered out by the odometer are counting off one’s contribution toward any societal and environmental ills attendant with fossil fuel use.

This is a feeling experienced during the year Green Car Journal editors drove GM’s remarkable EV1 electric car in the late 1990s. Daily drives in the EV1 were a joy. The car was sleek, high-tech, distinctive, and with the electric motor’s torque coming on from zero rpm, decidedly fast. That’s a potent combination.

ev1-rolling-chassis-1The EV1 is long gone, not because people or companies ‘killed’ it as the so-called documentary Who Killed the Electric Car suggested, but rather because extraordinarily high costs and a challenging business case were its demise. GM lost many tens of thousands of dollars on every EV1 it built, as did other automakers complying with California’s Zero EmissionsVehicle (ZEV) mandate in the 1990s.

Even today, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says his company loses $14,000 for every Fiat 500e electric car sold. Combine that with today’s need for an additional $7,500 federal tax credit and up to $6,000 in subsidies from some states to encourage EV purchases, and it’s easy to see why the electric car remains such a challenge.

Fiat 500 BEV

This isn’t to say that electric cars are the wrong idea. On the contrary, they are perceived as important to our driving future, so much so that government, automakers, and their suppliers see electrification as key to meeting mandated 2025 fleet-wide fuel economy requirements and CO2 reduction goals. The problem is that there’s no singular, defined roadmap for getting there because costs, market penetration, and all-important political support are future unknowns.

The advantages of battery electric vehicles are well known – extremely low per-mile operating costs on electricity, less maintenance, at-home fueling, and of course no petroleum use. Add in the many societal incentives available such as solo driving in carpool lanes, preferential parking, and free public charging, and the case for electrics gets even more compelling. If a homeowner’s solar array is offsetting the electricity used to energize a car’s batteries for daily drives, then all the better. This is the ideal scenario for a battery electric car. Of course, things are never this simple, otherwise we would all be driving electric.

Ford Focus ElectricThere remain some very real challenges. Government regulation, not market forces, has largely been driving the development of the modern electric car. This is a good thing or bad, depending upon one’s perspective. The goal is admirable and to some, crucial – to enable driving with zero localized emissions, eliminate CO2 emissions, reduce oil dependence, and drive on an energy source created from diverse resources that can be sustainable. Where’s the downside in that?

Still, new car buyers have not stepped up to buy battery electric cars in expected, or perhaps hoped-for, numbers, especially the million electric vehicles that Washington had set out as its goal by 2015. This is surprising to many since electric vehicle choices have expanded in recent years. However, there are reasons for this.

RAV4 EV Action Right

Electric cars are often quite expensive in comparison to their gasoline-powered counterparts, although government and manufacturer subsidies can bring these costs down. Importantly, EVs offer less functionality than conventional cars because of limited driving range that averages about 70 to 100 miles before requiring a charge. While this zero-emission range can fit the commuting needs of many two-vehicle households and bring substantial fuel savings, there’s a catch. Factoring future fuel savings into a vehicle purchase decision is simply not intuitive to new car buyers today.

Many drivers who would potentially step up to electric vehicle ownership can’t do so because most electric models are sold only in California or a select number of ‘green’ states where required zero emission vehicle credits are earned. These states also tend to have at least a modest charging infrastructure in place. Manufacturers selling exclusively in these limited markets typically commit to only small build numbers, making these EVs fairly insignificant in influencing electric vehicle market penetration.

bmw-i3

Battery electric vehicles available today include the BMW i3, BMW i8, Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Fit EV, Kia Soul EV, Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan LEAF, Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, Tesla Model S, Toyota RAV4 EV, and VW e-Golf. While most aim at limited sales, some like BMW, Nissan, and Tesla market their EVs nationwide. The Honda Fit EV and Toyota RAV4 EV are being phased out. Fleet-focused EVs are also being offered by a small number of independent companies. Other battery electrics are coming.

BMW’s i3 offers buyers an optional two-cylinder gasoline range extender that generates on-board electricity to double this electric car’s battery electric driving range. A growing number of electrified models like the current generation Prius Plug-In and Chevy Volt can also run exclusively on battery power for a more limited number of miles (10-15 for the Prius and up to 40 miles in the Volt), and then drive farther with the aid of a combustion engine or engine-generator. Both will offer greater all-electric driving range when they emerge as all-new 2016 models. Many extended range electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids like these are coming soon from a surprising number of auto manufacturers.

coda-evIt has been an especially tough road for independent or would-be automakers intent on introducing electric vehicles to the market. Well-funded efforts like Coda Automotive failed, as have many lesser ones over the years. Often enough, inventors of electric cars have been innovative and visionary, only to discover that becoming an auto manufacturer is hugely expensive and more challenging than imagined. In many cases their timeline from concept and investment to production and sales becomes so long that before their first cars are produced, mainstream automakers have introduced models far beyond what they were offering, and at lesser cost with an established sales and service network to support them.

A high profile exception is Tesla Motors, the well-funded Silicon Valley automaker that successfully built and sold its $112,000 electric Tesla Roadster, continued its success with the acclaimed $70,000-$100,000+ Model S electric sedan, and will soon deliver its first Tesla Model X electric crossovers. While Tesla has said it would offer the Model X at a price similar to that of the Model S, initial deliveries of the limited Model X Signature Series will cost a reported $132,000-$144,000. It has not yet been announced when lower cost 'standard' Model X examples will begin deliveries to Tesla's sizable customer pre-order list.

tesla-model-sTesla’s challenge is not to prove it can produce compelling battery electric cars, provide remarkable all-electric driving range, or build a wildly enthusiastic – some would say fanatical – customer base. It has done all this. Its challenge is to continue this momentum by developing a full model lineup that includes a promised affordable model for the masses, its Model 3, at a targeted $35,000 price tag. It will be interesting to see if the Model 3 ultimately comes to market at that price point.

This is no easy thing. Battery costs remain very high and, in fact, Tesla previously shared that the Tesla Roadster’s battery pack cost in the vicinity of $30,000. While you can bury the cost of an expensive battery pack in a high-end electric car that costs $70,000 to over $100,000, you can’t do that today in a $35,000 model, at least not one that isn’t manufacturer subsidized and provides the 200+ mile range expected of a Tesla.

tesla-model-xThe company’s answer is a $5 billion ‘Gigafactory’ being built in Nevada that it claims will produce more lithium-ion batteries by 2020 than were produced worldwide in 2013. The company’s publicized goal is to trim battery costs by at least 30 percent to make its $35,000 electric car a reality and support its growing electric car manufacturing. Tesla has said it’s essential that the Gigafactory is in production as the Model 3 begins manufacturing. The billion dollar question is…can they really achieve the ambitious battery and production cost targets to do this over the next few years, or will this path lead to the delays that Tesla previously experienced with the Tesla Roadster, Model S, and Model X?

Tesla is well-underway with its goal of building out a national infrastructure of SuperCharger fast-charge stations along major transportation corridors to enable extended all-electric driving. These allow Tesla vehicles the ability to gain a 50 percent charge in about 20 minutes, although they are not compatible with other EVs. For all others, Bosch is undertaking a limited deployment of its sub-$10,000 DC fast charger that provides an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes. A joint effort by ChargePoint, BMW, and VW also aims to create express charging corridors with fast-charge capability on major routes along both coasts in the U.S.

chargepoint-chargerThe past 25 years have not secured a future for the battery electric car, but things are looking up. The next 10 years are crucial as cost, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance challenges are tackled and hopefully overcome to make affordable, unsubsidized electric cars a mass-market reality. It is a considerable challenge. Clearly, a lot of people are counting on it.

2014 Chevrolet Volt

Do extended range electric cars and plug-in hybrids really save energy and make an environmental difference like all-electric vehicles? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ if enough zero-emission miles are driven. To that end, the latest news from Chevrolet is encouraging: Since Chevy’s Volt extended range electric was introduced in 2010, Volt owners have reportedly driven more than a half a billion all-electric miles, resulting in no localized emissions over those miles and a pretty huge petroleum offset. In fact, Volt owners are spending some 63 percent of their time in EV mode.

All electric miles are even higher in an independent study managed by Idaho National Labs and conducted during the last half of 2013. Volt drivers participating in the Department of Energy’s EV Project totaled 1,198,114 vehicle trips during the six month period from July through December, 2013, with 81.4 percent of these trips completed without use of the Volt’s gasoline-powered generator.

2014 Chevrolet Volt

Battery-only driving range is also proving to be better than projected. A GM study conducted over 30 months that focused on more than 300 Volts in California shows many Volt owners are exceeding EPA’s estimates of 35 miles of EV range per full charge. About 15 percent are surpassing 40 miles of all-electric range. GM data also illustrates that Volt owners who charge regularly typically drive more than 970 miles between fill-ups and visit the gas station less than once a month. The 2014 Volt features EPA estimated 98 MPGe fuel economy when running in electric mode and 35 city/40 highway on gasoline power.

Some interesting trivia: Since the Volt’s launch in 2010, more than 25 million gallons of gasoline have been saved by Volt drivers. Chevy also likes to point out that 69 percent of those buying a Volt are new to the GM brand and of those trading in a vehicle during purchase, the most frequent trade-in is a Toyota Prius. The Volt was named Green Car Journal’s 2011 Green Car of the Year®.