Volt Redesign Yields Major Efficiency Gains

March 20, 2008
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You’ll likely still recognize the basic shape, but expect “significant” changes in design when the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle comes to market in 2009, revealed General Motors’s design director, Ed Welburn, in an exclusive interview with TheCarConnection.com, at the 2008 New York Auto Show.

The Chevy Volt proved the star of the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, promising to allow buyers to commute purely on electric power, but offering a small gasoline engine for handling longer trips. Months later, GM’s “car czar,” Bob Lutz, confirmed that the prototype would come to market once the automaker was able to work out problems with the lithium-ion batteries needed to deliver maximum range.

The sports car-like styling might have been an eye-catcher, but the shape proved anything but efficient, Welburn revealed, even at the relatively slow speeds seen during morning commutes in cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. So, GM designers began tweaking the shape, and “what we did in the wind tunnel will improve (the car’s) overall aerodynamic efficiency by 30 percent,” Welburn noted.

Company insiders say GM is getting closer and closer to production-ready with its lithium-ion technology, which suggests Volt will meet its target of reaching showrooms sometime in calendar-year 2009. But work continues, both on the technical level, and in GM’s design studios. The critical, aerodynamic work is largely over, but Welburn said that minor tweaking will continue, in large part, to improve the manufacturability of the so-called “extended-range electric vehicle.”

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