Chevrolet, Toyota raise game in green battle

Latest Volt, Prius engineering marvels

Latest Volt, Prius engineering marvels

Through November, U.S. deliveries of the Prius slipped 12 percent. Pictured is the new generation Prius coming to the U.S. in early 2016.

The redesigned and re-engineered Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and Toyota Prius hybrid enter the 2016 model year as two of the nation’s most fuel-efficient cars, according to the latest EPA fuel economy guide.

Both cars are engineering marvels with advanced, superefficient gasoline-electric powertrains.

But they are being launched at a time when gasoline is less than two bucks a gallon in many states, fueling a rush to pickups, crossovers and SUVs.

Sales of the most fuel-efficient vehicles are lagging. Through November, U.S. deliveries of the Prius slipped 12 percent while Volt volume dropped 23 percent.

Lower expectations

Toyota lowered its global sales target for the 2016 Prius in early December to between 300,000 and 350,000, down from 400,000. The reason: low fuel prices. And in an unorthodox move, Chevrolet launched the 2016 Volt in the 11 states where demand is highest, delaying the full national launch until March. The reason: low fuel prices.

As before, the 2016 Volt and Prius employ different powertrain strategies to keep consumers away from the gas pumps.

But both cars adopt some of the same technical improvements.

Despite their teetotaling ways, the Volt and Prius appeal to very separate types of buyers, says AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan.

“They are very different cars, very different goals in mind. Volt’s goal is to shift your energy [supply] to the grid, while the Prius wants to keep you from filling up as often as possible,” Sullivan says. “Volt begs you to change your habits by plugging in. Prius just gets good fuel economy, regardless of how you drive it. No change in habits required.”

Here’s how the 2016 Chevrolet Volt and 2016 Toyota Prius compare:

As with the first-generation Volt, the 2016 version has been engineered to drive on electric power at all speeds for a distance that covers most Americans’ daily commutes. That range has been increased from 38 miles for the 2015 Volt to 53 miles for the ’16 model.

After that distance, a new, lighter, larger and more powerful gasoline engine fires up and powers a generator that creates electricity for the car’s electric motors. That 1.5-liter gasoline engine drives the wheels in certain situations, says Larry Nitz, GM’s executive director for hybrid powertrain engineering.

Electric-only mode

The new Prius can be driven about a mile on electric power only with a top speed of around 25 mph. The Prius drives most often with a smooth blend of gasoline and electric power. And it does not need to be plugged in. Toyota is planning to launch a plug-in version of the Prius later this year.

Though the Prius and Volt operate differently, the redesigned models do have several things in common:

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