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First Drive: 2016 Chevrolet Volt

More reasons to plug in as Chevy does a ground-up on its extended-range electric vehicle.

by on Oct.07, 2015

The 2016 Chevrolet Volt gets a new look, a new powertrain, and more range and power.

Few recent product launches have sparked more interest than the debut of the original Chevrolet Volt, the world’s first mass-market plug-in hybrid. But after an initial flurry of sales, demand has sharply slackened off. The question is whether Chevy can charge things back up as it launches an all-new version of what it prefers to call an “extended-range electric vehicle.”

Coming barely a half-decade after the debut of the original model, one might have expected this to be a modest, mid-cycle update. But the 2016 Chevrolet Volt is a ground-up makeover, something that’s apparent from the first quick glance. It becomes even more obvious when you slip inside and hit the Start button. About the only thing carried over is the goofy sound effect sequence that tells you it’s ready to roll.

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By the numbers, there’s more to like: the 2016 Volt not only squeezes in another passenger but also squeezes out 40% more range on battery power alone – now an EPA-estimated 53 miles. By Chevy’s accounting, most owners are now likely to clock as much as 1,000 miles before they have to fill up the gas tank feeding the range-extending I-4 engine – which is also new on the ’16 model.

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First Drive: 2015 Cadillac ELR

Caddy hopes to plug into luxury battery-car market.

by on Dec.02, 2013

The Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid.

Even though U.S. motorists haven’t been all that charged up by the nascent battery-car market, there’s a flood of new products heading for showrooms in the coming month. But while most makers are struggling to drive down prices, betting that the cheaper the product the bigger the demand, a handful of manufacturers are targeting the other end of the spectrum.

Among the brands betting that even affluent buyers want to go green are Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and, of course, Tesla which has been beating even its own optimistic forecasts with the Model S electric vehicle. A few months from now, Cadillac will join the upscale list with the launch of its new ELR plug-in hybrid.

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Think of it as a mix of something old and something new.  The 2015 Cadillac ELR features the latest take on the maker’s distinctive Art & Science design language – as well as the most elegant and high-tech interior Caddy has ever offered. Under that sexy skin, however, is an updated version of the Voltec plug-in hybrid system already in use in the more mainstream Chevrolet Volt – albeit with some welcome improvements.

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First Drive: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

Adding personality to battery power.

by on Jul.22, 2013

The 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV is just reaching showrooms in California and Oregon.

One of the surprise hits of the 2013 has been the little Chevrolet Spark, the smallest offering the U.S. maker has offered American motorists in decades. A key to that success has been its distinctive design and personality.

That’s good news as Chevy launches a battery-powered version of the Spark. Up until now electric vehicles have been treated as sort of a one-of-a-kind category without much in the way of distinguishing characteristics – other than their lack of tailpipe emissions. But as the number of pure battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs, on the road continues to grow, they’re beginning to develop some distinctive personalities.

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General Motors engineers have clearly managed to distinguish the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV from other BEVs by making it fit quite nicely into a crowded urban landscape.

The Spark EV is GM’s first pure electric vehicle since it pulled the EV1 out of production in 1999. While it’s range, at 82 miles, isn’t all that much more than the final version of that old GM battery car, the new Chevy is quite a lot of fun to drive — in fact, it’s way more than the EV1.

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First Drive: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

This heartbeat is battery-powered.

by on Dec.11, 2012

The Spark EV will do 0 to 60 in under 8 seconds, significantly quicker than the gas model.

Is there a market for small battery-electric vehicles in the U.S. market?  Buyers be damned, it’s full speed ahead for the auto industry – in large part due to strict new rules passed by California’s seemingly all-powerful regulators.  Over the next several years you’ll see so-called Zero-Emission Vehicles coming from all the major auto manufacturers – unless they’re comfortable with being locked out of the huge California market.

Among the new offerings is the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV. The electrified version of Chevy’s new minicar is the first General Motors battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, since the old GM EV1 was abandoned back in 1999.

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Officially unveiled at the recent LA Auto Show, TheDetroitBureau.com was invited to attend a background briefing on the Spark EV – including a short drive.  While we didn’t have enough time behind the wheel to deliver the sort of full review we’d prefer we did get a sense of what to expect from the little battery car.

For those who might lump minicars and battery vehicles into the same, boring green category, the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV is no stone pony.  Quite the contrary. In fact, it’s a lot more fun, especially coming off a stoplight, than the gas-powered version of the Chevy minicar.

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First Drive: 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

Finally, a real challenger to Prius?

by on Aug.28, 2012

Ford hopes the distinctively designed C-Max Hybrid can challenge the dominance of the Toyota Prius.

Toyota has ruled the hybrid segment since the original Prius rolled onto the U.S. market a dozen years ago — and up until now Ford Motor Co. has trailed a distant second with its well-regarded Escape Hybrid.

But Ford is changing gears, having retired the gas-electric version of the Escape in favor of a new version of the updated crossover now powered by the maker’s well-received EcoBoost drivetrain. That doesn’t mean Ford is walking away from the battery-car market.  Far from it.  If anything, it is rolling out an assortment of hybrids and even more advanced vehicles that, it hopes, will gives the Detroit maker a chance to challenge Toyota’s perceived leadership in green automotive technology.

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Key to Ford’s bid to reduce Toyota’s dominance is the 2013 C-MAX hybrid, which comes with a five-door body style popular in Europe — and a completely new hybrid powertrain under the hood.  The C-Max is being positioned as a direct challenge to Prius and will be Ford’s first model line offered only with hybrid or plug-in hybrid power.

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First Drive: 2012 Toyota RAV4-EV

Great performance offset by cheap interior and an awful infotainment system.

by on Aug.07, 2012

Toyota turned to Tesla to help it develop the battery version of the RAV4.

No automaker has done a better job of surrounding itself with a green halo than Toyota.  Its Prius model has routinely generated half of all hybrid sales, a number now approaching two-thirds since the introduction of an entirely new Prius “family,” including the big V, compact C and the Prius plug-in.

The latter model was the first from the Japanese maker to opt for state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries, rather than time-tested, if less powerful, nickel-metal hydride batteries. After running into some early development problems, Toyota has been reluctant to go with more advanced lithium – which partially explains why the Asian giant decided to reach outside for help when it laid out plans for its first pure battery-electric vehicle in two decades, the 2012 Toyota RAV4-EV.

The project pairs Toyota with Tesla Motors, the bold California start-up that just introduced its own new battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, the Model S sedan.  In fact, they share many of the same underlying components – which is why the 2012 Toyota RAV4-EV is likely to shock those used to the typically slow-as-a-snail battery car.

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The new Toyota battery car boasts great performance, and good range and handling – but echoes other recent entries from the Japanese maker by cutting corners on interior fit-and-finish.  And the new RAV4-EV introduces what may be the singularly most user-unfriendly infotainment system since the very first BMW iDrive hit the road.

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First Drive: 2013 Honda Fit EV

Honda plugs-in with first battery car in two decades.

by on Jul.02, 2012

The 2013 Honda Fit EV is now rated as the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the U.S.

Driving the 2013 Honda Fit EV even a couple of hundred meters easily disproves the mindless chatter, heard in some quarters, about electric vehicles being nothing more than gloried golf carts.

In fact, the light, nimble Fit EV, which is a pure battery-electric vehicle with no gasoline motor tucked away onboard for support, is a blast to drive. It’s well-balanced, handles nicely and incorporates new technology that neutralizes the relatively harsh and unnatural brake feel common in hybrids and EVs equipped with regenerative braking.

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In addition, the Fit EV, which also has an independent rears suspension as well as the new brake set, outperformed the Nissan Leaf, its nearest competitor, on a small handling course that Honda set up during a first drive of its battery subcompact. The Fit EV also is equipped with three different driving modes, sport, normal and Eco, which can be reached by pushing the appropriate button.

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Fisker Karma Misses Mileage, Battery Range Goals

Luxury plug-in hybrid falls way of claims, says EPA.

by on Oct.20, 2011

The Fisker Karma is fast and sexy - but it doesn't deliver the range or fuel economy initially promised.

It’s hard to argue about its stylish design, but when it comes to range and fuel economy claims the new Fisker Karma falls well short, according to the EPA.

Developed by former Aston Martin designer Henrik Fisker, the Karma is the first in a planned series of offering from California start-up Fisker Motors.  The goal was to develop a striking, high-performance sports car that also could lay claims to being a green machine.

But the official numbers from the EPA don’t quite support that.  Balancing the car’s electric and gasoline performance in a series of simulations the feds came up with a 52 MPGe rating.  And while that’s on a par with what one might expect from the decidedly slower and less stylish Toyota Prius, it’s well short of the maker’s promised 67.2 MPGe, or miles-per-gallon equivalent.

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Range, meanwhile, came in at just 32 miles on battery power alone compared to Fisker’s anticipated 50 miles per charge.

And since that means the vehicle will likely be driven a lot more often on gasoline power alone the EPA’s other figure might be equally disappointing, with the car rated at just 20 miles per gallon in the combined cycle.

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A Year Later: A Closer Look at the Chevrolet Volt

A great drive for a Chevy - but a price tag of a Cadillac.

by on Oct.17, 2011

With the Chevrolet Volt on the road nearly a year we decided to give it another close look.

It’s been a year since TheDetroitBureau.com reported first driving the innovative Chevrolet Volt, the first fully developed gas-electric plug-in hybrid.  In the months since there has been a lot written about the Volt, its rivalry with the pure battery-electric Leaf and the slow market acceptance of battery vehicles.  So, we thought, it might be time to go back and take another look to see if that initial, positive review still held.

In a few words, I liked it. A lot. It neatly solves the problem of range anxiety suffered by pure electrics. The Volt switches back-and-forth effortlessly from stored electric juice to its 1.4-liter
Austrian-made gasoline engine. Altogether, it is a very pleasant, quiet, easily handling, smooth performing and riding car.

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The biggest problem I could discern was the nameplate. At a sticker price of nearly $44,000 as delivered from GM’s media test fleet and quipped with premium options of navigation system and sunroof—but before the federal tax credits — General Motors should have branded it a Cadillac.

Normally, new car buyers would not consider entering a Chevrolet dealership to cough up that kind of money, whereas they’d expect it at a Cadillac store. Still, whatever the brand name, this kind of car does not attract normal buyers, as witness the Toyota’s experience with the Prius. People don’t buy hybrids and electrics to save money on fuel costs. They do it because they like new, high-tech toys, because they want to help the environment, because they want to stick a thumb in the eye of Middle East (or Texas) oil barons, or just because they’re show-offs.

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GM Does Deal With A123 – Will Launch 1st Pure Battery-Electric Vehicle in 2014

Maker ties up with A123 for next-gen lithium battery.

by on Aug.11, 2011

GM is fleet testing a prototype Chevy Sail battery-electric vehicle in China.

General Motors has inked a deal with U.S. battery supplier A123 – a deal that well-placed sources say confirms the maker’s plans to put at least one battery-electric vehicle into production by 2014.

The maker has a separate deal with LG Chem to produce lithium-ion batteries for its Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.  The Korean maker beat out A123 for that contract and is now in the process of setting up a new factory to produce Volt batteries near Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Production of the Volt is now ramping up and, along with the similar Opel Ampera, GM hopes to produce as many as 60,000 plug-ins next year.

The new alliance will focus on an entirely different range of vehicles, GM spokesman Kevin Kelly hinted.  “It is not for the Volt or the next-generation Volt.  This is for a different application, but we can’t get into what this is for or the timing.”

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While Kelly declined to comment, GM sources noted that the maker now hopes to expand into a broad range of “electrified” vehicles, from conventional hybrids to plug-ins and pure battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs.  The A123 batteries will be utilized for the latter group.

Precisely what is in store is unclear, though there could be battery-electric models sold through “multiple brands,” according to sources.  The first of the BEVs is expected to reach market by 2014.

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