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GM Introduces E-Flex Electric Vehicle System; Chevrolet Volt the First Application

Volt1
Powertrain of the Chevy Volt E-Flex Concept. Click to enlarge.

GM has introduced a new family of electric vehicle propulsion systems—the E-Flex Systems—and is showing the first concept application of E-Flex at the North American International Auto Show: the Chevrolet Volt, a 40-mile all-electric range (AER) plug-in hybrid.

E-Flex initially uses a plug-in capable, battery-dominant series hybrid architecture. The E-Flex vehicles are all electrically-driven, feature common drivetrain components, and will be able to create electricity on board (either through a genset or a fuel cell). Regenerative braking will also contribute to the on-board electricity generation. (“E” stands for electric drive and “Flex” for the different sources of electricity.)

We are focused on reducing our dependence on petroleum—today we are 98% dependent [and] we don’t think that is a good business strategy at all.

—Beth Lowery, GM VP Energy and Environment

There has been some speculation in the press that perhaps this is a publicity stunt on our part. This is not a publicity stunt, nor is it a science fair project. This is something that we have been working on for close to a year.

—Jon Lauckner, GM VP Global Program Management

GM is developing the E-Flex System in parallel to its mechanical hybrid efforts—including the development of the Saturn VUE Green Line two-mode plug-in hybrid (earlier post), for which GM just awarded lithium-ion battery contracts (earlier post)—as well as its ongoing fuel-cell vehicle development efforts.

In its evolving taxonomy of offerings, GM refers to its existing portfolio of hybrids as “mechanical hybrids”—i.e., the engine provides mechanical drive power in addition to the electric drive power.

There is tremendous synergy between the fuel cell vehicle program and the E-Flex program—Nick Zielinski is the chief engineer for the fuel cell program and the Volt Concept, as one example.

Furthermore, GM leveraged its experience with the EV1 in the design of both the E-Flex System and the Volt. The use of the range extender in the Volt design, for example, originated with feedback from EV1 customers about not wanting to have to plan their lives around the next charge, according to Tony Posawatz, GM Vehicle Line Director.

GM envisions a range of genset options for the E-Flex vehicles, including engines optimized to run on E85 or E100 and biodiesel.

Volt
The Chevrolet Volt.

The Chevrolet Volt. GM chose its Global Compact vehicle architecture (Cobalt-sized) for its first E-Flex application, the Chevrolet Volt.

The Volt uses the same electric motor as used in the Equinox Fuel Cell vehicle in its electric powertrain: a 120 kW peak machine that develops 320 Nm (236 lb-ft) of torque.

The Volt will use a 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that delivers 136 kW of peak power. Plug-in charging is designed for the home (110V, 15 amps) and will take between 6 to 6.5 hours.

The Volt can support all-electric mode from 0 to its top speed of 100 mph (with bursts to 120 mph). Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph takes 8 to 8.5 seconds. The basic operating strategy is to run the vehicle in all-electric mode until the state-of-charge (SOC) of the battery reaches 30%—that strategy delivers approximately a 40-mile range.

The 53 kW motor generator set (genset) allows the on-the-fly recharging of the battery. The genset in the current Volt concept uses a 1-liter, 3-cylinder, turbocharged engine.

You can drive at a continuous 70 mph, and the generator will not be on continuously. At 100 mph,the genset can maintain the charge in the battery and the speed of the vehicle. There are no compromises for the customers in the vehicle.

—Nick Zielinski, chief engineer

The Volt concept configuration features a 12-gallon fuel capacity, giving the vehicle a total driving range of around 640 miles—which works out to a nominal gasoline fuel efficiency of about 50 miles per gallon. (Presumably range would increase with a diesel variant.)

The less one drives before plugging in to recharge, however, the higher the experienced fuel efficiency. A daily drive of 60 miles, combined with a nightly recharge to support the first 40 all-electric miles, would yield an effective 150 mpg according to GM’s calculations, for example.

For comparable performance with a fuel-cell version of the Volt, GM anticipates needing 4 kg of hydrogen on-board.

The Volt also features a number of advanced materials from GE Automotive Plastics, including:

  • Roof, rear deck lid and fixed side glazing made with Lexan GLX resins and Exatec coating technology;

  • Doors and hood made with Xenoy iQ high performance thermoplastic composites (HPPC). Xenoy iQ resins are created with polybutylene terephthalate (PBT)-based polymers derived from 85% post-consumer plastic waste, consuming less energy and yielding less carbon dioxide (CO2) in their manufacturing than traditional resins.

  • Global energy absorber and hybrid rear energy absorbers with Xenoy iQ resins;

  • Steering wheel and instrument panel with integrated airbag chute made with Lexan EXL resins;

  • Front fenders made with Noryl GTX resins; and

  • Wire coating made with Flexible Noryl resins.

The use of the materials delivers part weight reductions of up to 50%.

Actual production of the vehicle is dependent on further battery development, and GM made no announcements about partners involved in the development of the battery pack for the Volt. The profile for the battery in the Volt is different than that of the pack being developed for the VUE plug-in.

GM would like to minimize the different battery packs within the E-Flex family of vehicles. One notable exception to this would in a fuel-cell configuration. In that case, the battery would be smaller, and more focused as power battery first and energy battery second (due to the ability of the fuel cell to produce the electricity on-board.)

However, GM is also clear that it wants to use common systems and controls wherever possible across applications. To that end, elements such as the charging systems will likely be common across mechanical-hybrid plug-ins and E-Flex plug-ins.

    Comments

    James White

    This is fantastic news! My only question is when can I buy one? I hope it is within the foreseeable future.

    allen_Z

    The Ace has come out, but will the cardholder botch it? Overall, this is nice, but how long will it take them to go from concept to showroom? If they fastrack it, it may be ready by 2010-2011. OTOH, 7-8 years may be more feasible.

    bat

    It's about time. Notice the delay though, blaming production in three years on batteries. Didn't Solectria (bought by Azure Dynamics) build a similar vehicle with a 380 range EV back in the late 90's. It is possible to use Nickel batteries and get half the range, so sell the car we're waiting!

    shaun mann

    they could do it now, but two drivetrains and a big set of batts will be expensive.

    expect at least $10k over the cost of the normal version.

    everyone ready to pay $25k for a chevy cobalt raise your hand.

    in other words, anyone who wants to buy a small slow less safe car with unproven technology for the price of a full size truck w/ room for 5 and all your lumber and a V8.

    this is why nobody sells a series hybrid.

    many people will pay $300 towards carbon (guilt) offsets, but it is a rare person who will spend an extra $10k on the smaller, slower, less safe, vehicle that will probably have reliability issues.

    Neil

    Could I actually be getting excited about something from GM? (I learned to drive in my parents 73 Vega ... what a lemon) The specs look great! Would be nice if the genset was removable (I would only need it once a year at most). The only down side would be that if they actually get this to market I'll have to eat a ton of nasty words about GM.

    Adam

    I could see myself buying it if it had a slightly higher all-electric range (not much, maybe 60 miles).

    However, I think GM is approaching this thing the wrong way, from a marketing and production standpoint. They're taking a bottom-up approach, that is, start with the small car that "everyone" would buy and working up to a more expensive, full-featured version. Here's the problem:

    By starting with a car for "everyone" that's never actually been built before, GM is going to be relying on market forecasting that will probably be way off of what they'll experience in reality. This results in production planning being (probably) set conservatively, which means lower economies of scale and thus more expensive cars. More expensive cars mean less demand, which in turn increases cost. It's a cycle that you always want to avoid when it comes to production, so things will need to be planned properly on GM's part, with excess capacity built and paid for.

    By taking a top-down approach (say, by doing what Tesla Motors is doing) and releasing much more expensive, "luxury" or "prestige" models, they'll be able to build up initial demand through word of mouth and experience marketing, rather than relying solely on the "need" of the consumer to market the product.

    I'd say GM needs to sell a beefed up E-Flex car for around $50,000. It should be a luxury model with an all-electric range of around 150 miles (totally feasible). Limit production to something like 1000 units in the USA in the first year, and target major cities, especially in blue states (no disrespect to the reds).

    Focus on selling out of those, get the car in auto magazines and show it at car expos, get the word out, get people talking about GM's new technology that saves hundreds of dollars on fuel. Then, in 4-6 years, you release a cheaper version with lower range (say 100 miles, battery technology should continue to improve over the next half-decade) and mass market it. Guaranteed they'll be sold out and have people on a waiting list like Toyota's Prius.

    Mind you, that's just what I'd do if I was working at GM. Who knows, maybe they'll scrap this one too. Or maybe the Japanese will just do it better for less, as they always do.

    KJD

    One of the first cars I ever owned was a 56 chev nomand. It was actually a decent car for the money spent. The only problem was stopping at the gas station every 3 or 4 days and that ate most of my paycheck back then.

    I would gladly pay a good price for a 40 mile EV range. Right now I think Pheonix motors will give me that car long befor GM ever will.

    Go ahead Chevy prove me wrong, my check book is waiting.

    Lad

    Now the "Big Oil" and "Big Auto" tie-in is becoming clear: A123Systems and Johnson Controls provide the technology and the patents; Cobasys, a joint venture with Chevron/Texaco (and encouraged by all others in Big Oil) finance battery development and controls the battery patents. They do this using the courts to filing infringement suits. GM buys the prototype batteries from money gained through the Government sponsored Big Three battery consortium. "Big Oil" in effect is still controlling the US energy game and thus the prices by letting consumers move into electric cars and flex fuels on their own terms. A level playing field doesn't exist as long as Congress just stands by and watches. I think hearing on the subject are long overdue. The effect of Big Oil's control serves to slow down development of electric cars and to impede their progress into production, This extents the time we will continue to depend on foreign oil and continues to let other countries set our energy prices and policy. We should be moving at flank speed to get out from under their thumb but the greed of US Big Oil sabotages the entire effort.

    Roger Pham

    This Flexible platform will cost this Chevy Volt some performance, fuel economy, and profitability by going solely the serial hybrid route.

    By contrast, if the engine can mechanically be clutched to the drive train at cruise and after initial slow-speed acceleration, then the motor can be reduced to 80-90-kw size, since the 53-kw engine can supply about 30 kw of direct mechanical power on average during acceleration, and up to 53 kw at full speed at the equivalence of top gear. This will give 90 kw + 53 kw = 143 kw total power at top speed when power will be most needed.
    The power inverter can be reduced in size, and the battery can also be reduced in size to about 10 Kwh. This will allow a saving of hundreds of pounds and thousands of dollars, and a few more cubic ft of interior space. Few people will complain when the plugged-in range is reduced from 40 mi to 25 mi, when you can save them thousands of dollars of purchasing cost, and ~20% improvement in fuel mileage.

    Most importantly, the hwy mileage may increase to 60-65 mpg instead of 50 mpg, due to direct mechanical power transfer from engine to wheel (without going thru the friction of a 4-speed transmission unit), AND without going thru the electrical loss due to the resistance of the copper windings in the motor, generator, and possibly internal resistance of the battery if the engine is intended to be switched on and off for cruising at below 70 mph!

    DRE

    I don't give a damn who is making money off this or who makes them, just get these cars out now. I will buy at once.

    anti gravity

    we will never see this car on the road its a bullshit concept for tomorrow, they tell us about it today and say its on the way soon, but while you wait why not buy a hummer
    file this car in the back of your minds with fool cells

    mahonj

    Give the guys a cheer. This is definitely a step in teh right direction. The 40 miles range is suitable for many people for commuting. If you actually carry lumber, buy a SUV, otherwise this is interesting.

    But as people say - when can I buy one and how much will it be ?

    Bob

    That Chevy Volt almost gave me a heart attack when I first saw it, it's so beautiful. I hope I live long enough to be able to buy one.

    Andrey

    Trivial project, routinely made by DIY mechanics, university graduates, and no less than by two dozen small companies. No real news to discuss.

    By the way, Cobalt platform is a junk, and series hybrid is proved to be inferior in personal transportation applications.

    The only real good news is that electric drive lobby inside GM is getting stronger.

    Van

    As a concept, the Chevy Volt sounds great. If the Nano-safe batteries being installed by Pheonix Motors actually cost around $500 per KWH, then 16 KWH will contribute about $8,000 to the car. If the car otherwise would cost about 15,000, the Volt would sell in the range of $25,000, and would sell like hotcakes, being in the same price range as the existing Prius, but getting two thirds of its cumulative miles from domestic energy sources rather than foreign, making it much better for America than the current Prius.

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