Chevy sneak-peeks the 2016 Volt

Chevy sneak-peeks the 2016 Volt
Chevrolet has announced that the next-generation Volt will make its debut at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Chevrolet)

The American car-buying public is not entirely on board for electric cars.

Even in California, where environmental officials have heavily promoted their adoption, fewer than 3% of cars sold are electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids.


But Chevrolet will use the January North American International Auto Show in Detroit to officially debut its 2016 Volt -- currently the bestselling passenger plug-in car in the country.

Chevy did not offer details on upgrades, improvements or pricing.

When it first launched the car as a 2011 model, Chevrolet had designs on breaking into the mainstream with the Volt, one of the early entrants in the battery-powered vehicle market. But the Volt has remained a niche player, and GM has at times offered deep discounts to move the cars off dealers lots.

The Volt was originally priced at more than $40,000. Though a federal subsidy knocked up to $7,500 off the price, the Volt still had trouble competing with comparable gasoline-powered cars and traditional hybrids such as the Toyota Prius.

Chevrolet has since dropped the price to $34,995 and offered lease deals as low as $199 a month.

Since its launch, Chevrolet has sold 65,000 Volts, good by electric-car standards but a pittance compared with GM's mainstream models.

Volt buyers, however, can be outspoken about the car's benefits, including a long electric-only range of 38 miles -- double that of many other plug-in hybrids.

Volt owners drive more than 63% of their overall miles in electric mode, Chevy said, and typically drive more than 970 miles between visits to the gas pump.

Further, Chevy said, those owners are choosing Volts over other brands. Seven of 10 new Volt owners   traded in non-GM cars when choosing their Volts, and many were trading in Priuses, Chevy said.

Despite that, Chevy may have a hard time getting sales to a point where the Volt jolts its bottom line -- unless the cost of gasoline begins to rise.

"When fuel prices are not high, or are not unstable, that hurts all hybrid car sales," said Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Even if they improve the Volt in all the ways they could -- farther on the electric charge, better mileage over all, a refined interior -- it will still be hard for them to have a hard impact on sales if fuel prices stay where they are."

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