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A123Systems-Cobasys and Johnson Controls-Saft to Supply GM with Li-Ion Batteries for Plug-in Hybrid Development Program

GM has awarded advanced battery development contracts to two suppliers to design and test lithium-ion batteries for use in the Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrid SUV. One contract goes to the recently announced A123Systems-Cobasys partnership (earlier post), the other to Johnson Controls–Saft Advanced Power Solutions, LLC, a joint venture between Tier 1 automotive supplier Johnson Controls and Saft.

According to Denise Gray, GM’s newly appointed director of hybrid energy storage systems, the companies will be challenged to prove the durability, reliability and potential cost at mass volumes of their technology.

Thanks to critical relationships with the US government, collaborative research with Ford and DaimlerChrysler under the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), significant progress has been made in battery research. But a lot of testing and development is still needed. Together, with our suppliers, we intend to address the issues relating to thermal management, storage capacity, recharge times, driving range and cost reduction.

—Denise Gray

GM will evaluate the two test batteries in prototype Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrids beginning later this year. GM recently announced its intention to produce a Vue Green Line plug-in hybrid SUV that has the potential to achieve double the fuel efficiency of any current SUV. (Earlier post.)

In addition to plug-in technology and a lithium-ion battery pack when ready, the Vue Green Line will use a modified version of GM’s two-mode hybrid system to achieve significant increases in fuel economy.

While both are lithium-ion batteries, the chemistry differs significantly. The suppliers also use unique methods in the design and assembling of the battery packs.

Johnson Controls’ power solutions business provides more than 110 million starter batteries globally each year. Saft is a world leader in high performance batteries and has a decade of experience in lithium-ion development and manufacturing. Saft provided lithium-ion batteries for the Chevrolet Sequel fuel cell concept vehicle.

Cobasys is presently supplying nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) systems for the Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid SUV and will be supplying NiMH systems for the 2007 Saturn Aura Green Line hybrid sedan. A123Systems, which employs 250 people, was started in 2001 to commercialize technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A123Systems has quickly grown to be one of the world’s largest suppliers of high power lithium-ion batteries.

Last month, A123Systems was awarded a $15 million development contract by the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), an organization composed of DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation. USABC awarded the contract in collaboration with the US Department of Energy (DOE) to optimize the A123Systems proprietary doped nanophosphate battery technology for hybrid electric vehicle applications with a focus on systems that are high-power, abuse-tolerant, long lasting and cost effective.

A123Systems claims that its automotive-class battery technology offers a range of benefits for plug-in electric vehicles including: higher energy density than traditional lithium-ion HEV cells while having one of the highest power to weight ratio of commercially available batteries; low impedance growth even at very high charge and discharge rates; outstanding calendar life; novel design that withstands extreme shocks and vibration; excellent performance over a wide temperature range; and an intrinsically safe chemistry.

Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions (JCS) also has been awarded a 24-month contract to develop advanced, lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries for hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) by the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC). (Earlier post.)

GM also will be actively looking for more partners to bring lithium-ion technology to production.

It’s important to point out that these two agreements are by no means the only avenues we’re pursuing. We are fully committed to forging the necessary partnerships to produce battery solutions that will meet our aggressive vehicle program targets.

—Denise Gray



Looks like 2mode hybrids, and possile PHEVs, are on their way.


Funny how they used the terminology "intrinsically safe" as that is a standard manufacturing term for an equipment setup approved through Factory Mutual or UL labs such that FM insurance can be applied. Most refineries, fire services, and heavy industry require all equipment to be I/S (intrinsically safe).

Harvey D.

It looks like A123 is being taken over by Cobasys-Chevron. Is this good news for future PHEV/BEV advanced high capacity lithium batteries?

Will Chevron try to corner and limit the availability of large lithium batteries as they have done for large NIMH batteries, to protect ICE vehicles and the sale of oil?

Is this their real intention, or is it just a wise investment on their part, to switch from oil to batteries.

Who will be next? Altair, EEStor, etc? Once the oil people corner lithium batteries development and production, we all know what may happen. Time will tell if this is good or bad news.


Only time will tell. We know that oil companies would much prefer hydrogen over electricity. By taking over the battery business they may be able to delay batteries/PHEVs/BEVs long enough for hydrogen to work out its problems while still making big money from oil. Even if EVs do push their way onto the scene then they can make bucks from the battery tech they'll own.


That is odd...I read this to indicate that A123-Cobasys IS developing a PHEV setup to compete against Johnson for GM's business. I fail to see how that could possibly be construed as them trying to prevent any PHEVs from coming to market.

First $20/bbl oil causes an environment where oil companies are weak and the larger ones absorb the smaller ones (to form the mega-oil companies we have now)...then oil prices skyrocket (causing alternatives to be more viable) combined with more countries conducting hostile take-overs of any oil business done within their territory. With all the haranguing over HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs lately I would look into the possibility of getting into the game as well.


Patrick: The optomist in me tells me you are correct. The historian in me makes me wary. I think Cobasys/Chevron is doing a good job of making sure they're in the game no matter what happens.


Look at the Chevron thing as why help Exxon and BP? Keeping EVs off the streets sells more gas, but it does it for all oil companies. Unless you think all oil companies are plotting, this does not seem probable. Exxon bought Zilog in the late 70s to diversify into micros. They did not do it to keep micros off the market.


I think it is just another acquisition by a flush with cash oil company.

Back in the early 80s during when oil is dear ARCO started a solar division, which they then sold to Siemens who in turn sold it to Shell. Heck if you read "From: Space to Earth" the Oil companies were one of the 1st big purchasers of PV.

Another angle is that if we all have Plug in Hybrids getting 80+ MPG the public wont be as sensitive when fuel prices go north of $3/gal. When you only burn 3 gallons a week high prices are a minor annoyance rather than a personal economic crisis.

I’m always amused when the gas prices shoot up and the 5-o-clock news has a sound bite from some moron who has a 60mile commute who drives a Suburban or 1 Ton Pickup about how much he spends on gas.

David Thomas

I believe the VUE Belt Alternator Starter system has only 3K watts continuous or about 4 HP. The Prius has 33K watts of electrical traction power or about 45 HP. I sure hope GM plans to upgrade power of this system or will GM be the first to market with an “EMPHEV” (Extremely Mediocre Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle)?


I think with Toyota, Tesla, Subaru, Nissan and Phoenix competing, GM doesn't have the luxury of being able to stall PHEVs. If they don't get going soon they will be left totally behind.


And at the speed with which new battery storage technology is being introduced, it will be hard for any player to fully corner the market. Altair just made a deal with Alcoa, a big mining operation (need lithium?)and automotive supplier, hmmm.

If the Saturn Vue settles on a 20+kW battery, (they announced 10kW)the MPG will look pretty good and they may achieve a 25MP Charge all-electric operation. Not bad for a first PHEV product. A GM/Chevron HEV alliance ain't bad either if they actually build affordable, efficient cars. It'll give em time to figure out how to introduce H2 as "better n' electric."



Read the article. It states that GM would use their "two-mode" system for a PHEV VUE not the BAS system.


No doubt the oil cos. would love to keep to the status quo but they must see that regulation is comming. in canada we have an energy friendly gov and they canned keyoto and in the next by-election the green party (always a distant 4th) was a strong second. talk about hand writing on the wall. the alberta oil sands is a massive user of energy costs 7units of energy to get 10 net of 3 plus tones of clean water. tremendous resistance in this county to this travesty.


I suggest that most Canadians are not aware of the 'costs' of the oil sands development, especially the cost to local fresh water supplies, "it is not something we see in our back yard". The press and government makes a big splash about Alberta's success and the 'tremendous growth/revenues to government', the real cost gets no press.


Forget the tar sands, just pipe the NG down here to run bifuel cars and leave the sands in the ground.


Interesting to hear the Alcoa has a stake in Altair-Nano. That company actually has a chance now.

I can't figure out for the life of me why Big Coal hasn't jumped on the PHEV band wagon. Anyone else have thoughts on this? Could you think of anything in the automotive industry that could be better for Big Coal? Hell, they don't even have to modify their buisness model. No investments in CTL or any of that BS. All they have to do is buy large stakes in battery companies, such as Altair or A123, and make sure that the products come to market.

All the sudden, revenue that would go to oil companies for energy (gasoline) is now going to big coal (oil). What gives?

Great thinking on Chevron's part. They have two options here, and I'm hoping that they'll go with the later:
1. Buy large stakes in these companies and make sure the product never comes to fruition. Keep pumping your evil crack out of the ground and charging relatively low prices ($3). Due to high demand, reserves will be depleted rapidly and, eventually, you'll be out of product.

2. Buy large stakes in these companies and make sure the product gets to the market. Demand for fuel will plummet (if a ~30mi range is achieved). That doesn't mean that profits have to plummet. Cut output severely, jack prices up to $6 a gallon, and ride out the rest of your supply to the tune of huge profits. You are profiting from the batteries, and your making the same profits from selling less oil, which, due to decreased depletion rates, will now last you longer.

Doesn't option #2 sound better? Like, way better?



"All the sudden, revenue that would go to oil companies for energy (gasoline) is now going to Big Coal (electricity). What gives?"


I heard oil companies were buying coal companies. Since half the electricity is generted by coal and most of that is base load, they could be playing both ends.

Mark A

Its interesting that it took 9 posts before the requisite GM versus Toyota comparison took place. This is supposed to be a feel good story about GM's hybrid/battery applications for their Saturn division, which is making great strides in hybrid/battery development. I dont see where the big oil/big coal connections fit this story. Big oil will have to evolve in the future, and that would be one way. Dont automatically mistake any involvement by big oil as negative. They do have to cash to promote it. Many deals are made on the table as well as below it.

But back on topic, Saturn is slowly evolving into becoming a world leader in hybrid development, of which battery development is a part. Battery companies need markets in which to deliver their ever increasingly more efficient products. Saturn should be applauded for this, and hopefully some of the technology bleed over into the other divisions. Our future transportation is in battery electric vehicles.

Granted, Toyota has the lead in this hybrid "race" over GM, but at least GM is in the race, and not on the sidelines spectating. They should be applauded for that.


It is all on topic. We would not have hybrids if not for PNGV and ZEV. They do not do BAS because they want to turn the engine on and off. PHEVs and EVs have to get their power from somewhere and at present 50% of the electricity comes from coal in the U.S. So yes, it is very much on topic.


As for where the electricity comes from, is that really the biggest issue at this point? According to what I have read, even using coal for the electricity used in PHEVs is still less carbon intensive than a traditional ICE alone.

Additionally, with permits already being granted for 2nd generation nuks and solar and wind prices coming down, the current ratio will inevitably change.


....and I think most oil companies are buying into coal for CTL purposes, not to get into the elecricity generation business.


A few of the largest coal mining companies are also some of the largest electric utility companies (TXU, Pacificorp) where the coal mining is a small component of their portfolio.


I think that if my PHEV takes 10khw, uses that in about 1/2 hour of driving 70 mph and that is about the energy my house takes all day, then where the electricity comes from is important.


You use only 300kw-hrs of electricity a month in the winter?

I use that little during the summer (actually a little less) but during the winter, given that I have electric heating and not natural gas, I tend to use 600-700kwh.

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