The Dramatically Improved Chevrolet Volt 2.0

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- How do you improve a car that has the highest customer satisfactionrating in the market -- 91% per Consumer Reports? You cut the price,and reengineer the car for the better, that's how.

First, there's a well-publicized story going around that General Motors' ( GM) Chevrolet hascut the price of any remaining 2012 Volt models by $5,000, and the2013 model by $4,000. This looks to me like completely irrelevantnon-news. Why?

For starters, the 2012 model was already sold out a long time ago, atleast in the country's largest market, California. As of October2012, I couldn't find a single 2012 model Volt left in stock at any ofthe California dealers I called.

What about the $4,000 price cut for the 2013 model? Well, that's notnews either. Most Chevrolet dealers appear to have been offeringbetween $4,000 and $5,000 off 2013 Volts from time to time, since atleast last August. Considering that demand for the Volt wasvery strong in California in the second half of 2012, when inventoriesdwindled in the fourth quarter of 2012, the discounts were smaller,approaching zero.

But now they're back again. Why? Clearly, U.S. sales have fallen fromover 2,500 per month in late 2012 to close to 1,500 per month so farin 2013. So why have Volt sales fallen? There are five reasons:

1. Tesla (TSLA). The Model S started eating into its large backlog ofreservations in 2012, but as of early 2013 you can now get a Teslawithin 60 days -- perhaps as little as 30 days -- if you order onenow. Some people are clearly willing to pay at least twice as muchmoney for a Tesla, compared to a Volt.

One reason contributing to people buying a more expensive Tesla isthat some employers are paying their employees more money if they buyan electric car.

For example, privately held Evernote pays itsemployees $250 per month -- $3,000 per year -- if they buy a plug-incar. Employees also get free charging at the office. Thisdisproportionately skews the electric car market to the more expensivemodels with larger batteries, and of course Tesla is the mostexpensive EV with the largest battery.

2. Nissan (NSANY) Leaf. Production started in the U.S. of the improved andcost-reduced car in January, and U.S. sales are now runningapproximately 2,500 per month. With an advertised lease price of $199per month, this is taking some sales from the Volt.

3. Fiat 500 electric. For sale only in California, hundreds ofcustomers are signed up to take delivery from Fiat dealerships inCalifornia starting this June, and this number is growing every day.As with the Nissan Leaf, the price is $199 per month, taking customersaway from the Volt.

4. Chevrolet Spark EV. For sale in California and Oregon starting inthe coming weeks, this more powerful all-electric competitor to NissanLeaf and Fiat 500 electric also costs $199 per month. Clearly somepeople will prefer this rocket (402 lb.ft worth of torque) ahead ofthe Volt.

The cash price is also a record-low $27,500 -- $17,500 inCalifornia after tax incentives, minus the $3,000 per year an employersuch as Evernote will pay. Basically, some people are getting thiscar for essentially free on a six-year basis.

5. The all-new model year 2015 Volt. There is an all-new 2015 Volt2.0 coming some time in 2014, and savvy potential buyers are holdingoff for this significantly improved version.

Let me tell you a little bit about the all-new 2015 Chevrolet Volt2.0, which I expect to enter production some time in 2014. Thisspeculation is based on the best information that I have been able tofind, and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. It is speculation, andit is possible that all of this information is somehow wrong.

That said, here are the key aspects of the all-new 2015 Chevrolet Volt2.0, according to my best sources:

Battery: This is the centerpiece of the Volt 2.0.Significant improvements in battery technology, cooling, heating andpackaging is enabling GM to offer the Volt 2.0 in two differentversions:
  • A five-seat version (unlike the Volt 1.0, which was only availablewith four seats) with a 16 kWh battery. This uses the same T-shapedbattery as the Volt 1.0, but there is a "cut-out" for a fifthpassenger, effectively dividing the battery into two clusters -- onebetween the front seats, and the other under the rear seat. Viewedfrom under the car, it would look identical to the Volt 1.0, however.
  • A four-seat version, just like the Volt 1.0. By filling in thisspace in the "tunnel," battery capacity increases from 16 kWh to 20kWh. This version would also be a "spare part" that would also fitinside the Volt 1.0, proving the long-term upgradeability of the Volt. The battery enclosure would be identical to the Volt 1.0, preservinglong-term upgradeability and spare part economics.

What does this mean for all-electric range? Basically, while thecurrent Volt 1.0 is rated by the EPA at 38 miles, the five-seat Voltshould be around 40 miles, and the four-seat Volt (with the largerbattery) would be closer to 50 miles.

Under the hood, the gasoline and electric combination will have beenreworked primarily for efficiency. It is believed that the 1.4 literfour-cylinder will make way for a 1.2 liter three-cylinder. Weightwill likely be down, in that area of the car, under the hood.

The gasoline efficiency will have been improved from the current 35-40MPG (after the first 38 miles on all-electric, of course), tosomething very close to 50 MPG, or essentially matching the currentToyota Prius. Considering that most Volt owners drive a largemajority of their miles on wall-plug battery power, this will not makea huge impact for most people.

However, if you are using the Volt to drive to Las Vegas or otherwiseon long trips, going from 35 or 40 MPG to 50 MPG will make a difference.It is simply the result of being a refined 2.0 product.

In any case, the exterior and interior will have been reworked forgreater refinement, comfort and reduction in cost. Some examples:
  1. Fewer exterior parts. You may have seen that the Volt 1.0 hasmore external body parts than is necessary. These will go away,reducing cost and weight.
  2. Fewer interior parts. You may have seen that the Volt 1.0'sdashboard has a lot more parts than is necessary. This will besimplified, reducing cost and weight.
  3. Interior technology and ergonomics: People have complained thatthe Volt 1.0 is both too complex, and yet is behind the Tesla in termsof telematics. The Volt 2.0 will both get some more conventionalcontrols (knobs, dials), as well as a more advanced set of displays,showing more information. In other words, better both for moreconservative older people, as well as for younger technologyenthusiasts alike.
  4. Creature comforts: The seats will be better, electricallyadjusted, and a sunroof option may happen.
  5. Heat, cooling, windshield wipers and lights: I have noted thatthe Ford ( F) plug-in electric models have better heat, cooling, windshieldwipers and lights compared to the Volt 1.0. The Volt 2.0 will seek tonarrow or eliminate these shortcomings.

    The heat and cooling systems are also important for the efficiency ofthe electric range. All of these things improvements will help eekout a couple of miles of extra range. However, also keep in mind thata Volt 2.0 will also need to be engineered to satisfy ever-increasingsafety standards, so that is a continued drag on energy efficiency, asis the case with all new car models.

All in all, the Chevrolet Volt 2.0 will be the first truly all-newelectric car in the market, replacing an equivalent previous model. Ihave little doubt that just as the Volt 1.0 is a market leader incustomer satisfaction today, the Volt 2.0 will be nothing less: Thebest $40,000 car in the world is about to get even better.

At the time of publication the author was long F.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

More from Technology

Musk's Tweets About Unions Draw Fire From United Auto Workers

Musk's Tweets About Unions Draw Fire From United Auto Workers

PayPal Wants to Consolidate the World of Rewards Points

PayPal Wants to Consolidate the World of Rewards Points

Tesla Just Hit a Pair of Big Milestones for the Model 3

Tesla Just Hit a Pair of Big Milestones for the Model 3

Is Apple Botching Its Autonomous Driving Opportunity?

Is Apple Botching Its Autonomous Driving Opportunity?

Apple Teams With Volkswagen for Autonomous Driving Gig

Apple Teams With Volkswagen for Autonomous Driving Gig