USABC Issues RFPI and Goals for Development of Batteries for Plug-in Hybrid Applications
National Car Rental in UK Adds Prius

What Do Automakers Need for Lithium-Ion Systems to Enter the Market?

At a panel session at the Advanced Automotive Battery and Ultracapacitor Conference (AABC) this week in Long Beach, California, directors and managers of advanced battery systems from GM and from Ford provided some insight into automakers’ requirements for lithium-ion battery technology to enter the automotive business.

The task of displacing NiMH is not trivial, according to Ted Miller, Advanced Battery Systems Supervisor for Ford. NiMH offers excellent performance and simplified controls. In addition, from a technology adoption point of view, NiMH offers validated performance and life models; a well-established production base; and a proven track record—all very important to automakers in assessing a technology for inclusion in future products.

Nevertheless, lithium-ion chemistry has two factors strongly in its favor: first, the power and energy attributes of the chemistry make it a solid choice for advanced hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. Second, the price of nickel is skyrocketing.

Director of GM’s Materials and Processes Lab, Mark Verbrugge, said that bringing lithium-ion batteries into advanced vehicles a question of how and when, not a question of whether it will happen. Once you recognize the need is there, and that society will demand the products, the question is when.

That “when” is bounded by a well-defined process that, while it may vary in some specifics from company to company, is essentially similar for all the automakers.

Ted Miller outlined five basic criteria that must be met before lithium-ion technologies can move into showrooms:

  • Basic data on the specific cells and packs, including performance (versus temperature, state of charge and life); life (cycle and calendar); cost (with a detailed bill of materials and a model); and abuse tolerance.

  • Design information, including packaging, electrical and thermal (the heat transfer model).

  • Models, models and more models. “Better modeling is really critical,” said Miller. MATLAB-based performance, life, electrochemical models, all with costs.

    • Performance model. This needs to be a cell-level equivalent circuit model in MATLAB that provides voltage and current response based on power demand or input; response over the full operating temperature range; thermal response during simulated usage; and degradation behavior as a function of simulated usage.

    • Electrochemical model. This should determine electrode-level behavior and performance limitations over the full operating range (temperature, pulse current and time, change in SOC, and cell life). Verification testing to validate the model is required.

    • Life model. A cell life (cycle and calendar) model must be developed in order to determine the effect of usage and stand time. The model must consider the fundamental cell performance deterioration mechanism. Again, verification testing and lab analysis is required to validate the model.

  • A credible battery manufacturing plan, including plant investment, timing and production design qualification. The automakers also want details regarding the suppliers and support for production materials, and an R&D plan for performance improvement and cost reduction.

  • Fundamental analysis of performance degradation, with validation.

More specifically, there are three stages through which a new technology program—in this case, lithium-ion batteries—need to move: concept readiness, implementation readiness, and manufacturing.

In Concept Readiness, the requirements and design concept are defined and understood. Any IP or patent issues and/or opportunities are reviewed, and safety assessments are completed. Manufacturing feasibility is assessed, a demonstration strategy is established, business case and cost targets are set, and key technology issues are identified.

In the Concept Readiness stage, batteries would be manufactured in a lab-scale operation—a low-volume production of 10's to 100's of meters of electrode per day, or several thousand cells per year. The manufacturing operation would combine automated winding and hand assembly, and have an investment level of $5-$10 million.

The Implementation Readiness stage that follows, agreement on design trade-offs is reached, and complete validation plans and a detailed safety analysis are developed. The business case is confirmed. Manufacturing would be a pilot-scale operation with moderate volume cell production of 10's to 100's of thousands per year. Small-scale automation would handle most processes. This stage requires an investment level of $20-$30 million in manufacturing.

The final stage is Volume Production. This is a high volume, fully automated operation, capable of producing tens of millions of cells per year, with high quality process controls. The necessary investment level at this manufacturing stage is $100-$150 million.

Partnerships with key suppliers and experienced battery R&D and manufacturing teams are key, especially given the process gauntlet the cells must run. Having few US producers makes this “more challenging” for the US-based automakers.

From Ford’s point of view, there are a number of remaining technical challenges for lithium-ion batteries: improved low-temperature performance, fail-safe operation, simplified battery controls and life validation.

However, Miller noted, “I call lithium-ion a PHEV enabler. It’s the obvious option for PHEVs.” Among the benefits that lithium-ion batteries offer for plug-ins—aside from the energy and storage densities—are tunability (being able to design for an application-optimized power-to-energy ratio), and a wider range of electrode material choices (thereby avoiding being captive to a single metal).

For GM, which has already announced it plans to produce a plug-in version of the upcoming two-mode Saturn VUE hybrid with 10 miles all-electric range and has shown the Volt concept with 40-mile all-electric range, plug-ins are definitely on the agenda.

We are being challenged by our leadership to get these products [plug-in hybrids] and get the energy storages systems for these products as quickly as possible.

—Joe LoGrasso, Engineering Group manager for Hybrid Energy Storage Systems at GM

But, LoGrasso noted, like other automakers,

GM uses a multiphase process [for battery integration], qualifying cell and module capability, cycle life, calendar life and power. Then we develop and test the packs to evaluate performance attributes, then work through the integration. This is all a precursor to declaring a solution technically ready and then planning production. This can take on the order of 5 years—from the start of evaluation to the showroom.

That’s a long time. That’s something we have to as an industry and as a company figure out ways to improve... [figuring out] how to parallel path some of these key work streams to develop battery solutions and vehicles is very important.

OEMs need to evaluate and select the best-in-class technology; figure out a reuse strategy across platforms; and move to plug-and-play energy storage integration, LoGrasso said. Energy Storage System Suppliers—which includes battery developers, pack developers and integrators, as well as the materials and components suppliers—need quick entry into the market (revenue); to minimize OEM-specific design work; and to share risk. Everyone wants to focus on their internal strengths.

LoGrasso suggested several areas in which standards could meet both groups needs. These ares for potential standardization are:

  • A common battery controls interface.

  • A standard “battery usage” record. Currently there is no good means of determining and recording how a battery is used. Ambiguity is not good. A recorded battery history with common metrics could also be useful for the secondary battery market. This would also prove important in the extremely sensitive area of warranties.

  • Standard charging interfaces for PHEVs.

  • Battery system verification. Each OEM currently has customized verification and validation plans. Common verification could lead to earlier technology readiness assessments, and could reduce verification costs and lead time.

LoGrasso said that GM is working with its hybrid partners BMW and DaimlerChrysler to develop and bring these and other ideas forward.

Successfully bringing lithium-ion technology to market will require collaboration, said Miller:

It will require collaboration between automakers, battery makers and the government. It this is important, we have to put our money where our mouth is. If we cede this opportunity, if we cede this technology, shame on us.

The market is obviously growing but it’s not there yet. Everyone has to get involved from our side and the government side...there has to be some [mutual] assumption of risk.



All I can say is thank god there is competition. By the time these guys stop talking about it and start actually doing it......


Blah, blah, blah- JUST BUILD THE DAMN THINGS you bunch of self-important hacks. People ARE ALREADY DOING IT. A123 just announced commercial conversion kits. YOU CORPORATE HACKS ARE DRAGGING YOUR FEET AND IT COULD NOT BE MORE SELF-EVIDENT. THE PRIUS HAS HAD AN ALL ELECTRIC MODE FOR YEARS. All of your corporate word acrobatics do not deter from the fact that we should be driving 20 mile all electric plug-ins already, and would be if it wasn't in your financial interests to do otherwise. I am not a fool, and you do not fool me. So take your sandbagging and your completely counter-productive fillibustering with these rhetorical 'analysis' of what it would take to make a reality out of something that is already essentially a reality (save for the mass production that you refuse to provide), and build the damn things. I tell you it will be sweet, sweet justice to see you laggards lose when a single company gets the first volume produced PHEV to market. All of your existing supposed 'luxury' dinosaurs will be blaringly obsolete and become 'excess inventory' the minute a single, volume production PHEV becomes available. It will serve you damn right, for so selfishly serving your own self-interest.



Don't work yourself into a froth. It's not really worth it.

GM has already put the Volt into the engineering pipeline for production within about three years, which is about the minimum you can really expect for a whole new vehicle of any kind. Meetings like this conference are part and parcel of lowering the risk of that investment. It's in GM's self interest to stay in business, after all. But if they misjudge the marketplace demand for PHEVs, then they'll pay that price.


A-retentive management types give me a quick pain with their buzz words like "best-in-class" and "best-practices" which they use to cover the fact that they haven't got their hands dirty with any real R$D work for so long they're just BSing their way through technical meetings trying to hide the fact that they don't have a clue what their scientists and engineers are telling them. Don't even get me started on crap like ISO 9000. There's a reason why most good things start with small companies.

It's almost laughable when these guys start talking about the need to "share risk". For the amount of money the U.S. government has been throwing at USABC over the years the results should already be in production. Now they're asking for more money when they should already be in jail for embezzlement.

There, I feel better, nothing like a good rant to reduce the stress of a long day of pointless meetings that keep me from doing my real work.


There's a reason why most good things start with small companies.

No reason to bet the farm... let the likes of Tesla and A123 test the marketplace. If they lose their shirts, then there's no reason to bet theirs. If they succeed, then the big guys have the wherewithal to follow.

The larger the company, the more there is the lose, the more risk-adverse they become.



You know they has the similar blah~ when they first designing the gasoline engine...

But yeah, just build the damn thing, whould ya?

C Harget

What would A123's packs cost for a PHEV-40 like the Volt?

Kip Munro

When Honda delivered the first Insight to North America in 1999, the word hybrid was generally associated with botany, and battery control modules were connected like NASA hardware. The system was not perfect and Honda graciously absorbed the bulk of the cost of upgrading batteries and modules. In the process they gained more "insight" than decades worth of simulated laboratory testing.

The first lithium powered hybrids will be imperfect. The automotive press will do their best to dig up stories of battery failures. Ultimately, however, those companies with the vision and courage to produce better technical solutions will gain our respect and loyalty.

Paul Berg, Sweden, Västerås

A few years ago this kind of discussion among big car corporations was absent, at least oficially. I´m very happy they are starting to work and soon produce these products. Joey, these guys are not joking. They are discussing these issues because they are going to produce millions of products of this kind and they have to get it right, because if they don´t they risk their companys future and also prolong the deveopement of inveromentaly friendlier vihecles. Its easy for these small companys that we all read about here on GCC to make one or more products of forexample e plugin or a battery, and can me made now... But making milions of them needs a lot of planing and research to get it RIGHT. Bur I share your frustration, i want a green car (no, not ethanol....) NOW... Have a good day !


What do automakers need for Lithium-Ion systems to enter the market?

A wake up call from Toyota!

Toyota's Masatami Takimoto says the new Prius lithium-ion batteries are ready right now.

Shaun Williams

One can't help but think that these same concerns about battery technology were being expressed a decade ago during the years of the ZEV mandate.

With public concern for the environmental escalating and the probability of a carbon trading scheme on the horizon there's an obvious business need to start planning for electric motive again.

Logically, for the largest manufacturers like GM, it will remain just planning until somebody else risks the investment and starts making serious profits from PHEVs.

A123 Systems are positioning themselves well to be the disrupter and appear bold enough to call bluff should the big players threaten to enter the PHEV market soon (which they won't). In a few years time it will seem obvious that a battery company was the catalyst for the mass production of PHEVs, not big auto.


As a development engineer for an Automotoive OEM, i would like to give a little balance.

Yes the kill the Tech in the ZEV era, yes the seem to be tanking against the prius, etc etc.

However, the above text is not just discussion. These are the corporate words used to describe the engineering proces that is going on behind the closed doors right now.

I can understand that the want the Govt in on this. To have the rug pulled out from underneath you after a billion dollar investment is not fun. I don't condone it as Toyota ha managed to do the job without any real help, but that is the big buisiness way.

They see the market is pushing this way. They don't want to undewrite entry into the game like Toyota did, but they want and need to get in there. As the guy says, this is thier process. It needs to be faster and ultimately cheaper (the process as well as the batteries).




What I am hearing is the ICE motors and parts associated with those motors going away. The companies that have looked to that as a cash cow are now desperately looking for a new way to force you to the
repair shop. Thats what I hear.
Blah blah blah was right. If GM didnt know most battery companies have already done that modeling and testing.


Altairnano Nanosafe rules fornow.


Well, I think I'm ahead of GM. My Chevy S10 is now fully electric. It gives me 45 miles range and I can go up to 50 mph, making it ideal for my city driving. After getting rid of the internal combustion engine "stuff", my Chevy Volt received an electric motor and 24 batteries (6 V). I'm glad I didn't have to wait until GM finishes all the studies, tests and projections; I'm off the gasoline tit!


Way to go with the S-10 EV David.

I also got tiered of waiting for a production EV and built my own. Mine is a motorcycle instead of a car or truck. Range is about 40 to 50 miles on cheap lead acid batteries. By the time this battery pack wears out, A123 might have the cost down enough for me to buy a pack from them, at least I can hope. In the mean time I am enjoying riding a ZEV to work.

Right now I buy wind power from the grid. The solar panels are on order for the roof of my garage, so don’t bother telling me about dirty coal fired power plants, I have already heard that one.

If you want to build your own electric motorcycle I recommend the book at

It is well worth the 40 bucks.


Reminds me about the old line about the sausage factory. You don't really want to know how the sausage is made, you just want to eat it.

If the next Prius gets at least 70 mpg as rumor has it, then a plug in version will be nice to have but not urgent. Besides, the next gen is supposed to be better, cheaper, more efficient, more powerful. What's not to like? Further, it is likely that the increased mpg will partly be a function of a more powerful motor and a battery with more storage capacity. If one really wants to in turn convert that to a plug in, one will have more functionality.

I hope we don't have a movie in another five years entititled, "who killed the plug in?"

Here is something to consider though. Once you get a HEV with mileage in the stratosphere, it becomes more difficult to justify the extra expense and complexity of the plug in. That is the marginal improvement in emissions, including co2, performance, and mpg decreases, thus making it even difficult for the economics or benefit/cost to make sense.

I think a sensible version of the future would be something like a hyper mileage Prius for long distance use and an NEV which was legal at 35 mph being used for city use and short commutes not requiring limited access highway. Plug ins would be nice but I don't see them making sense economically for at least five more years, if that. Right now, the batteries we need are still being baked. I would like to be wrong and it would be nice if the technology would move much faster than that.

What also should be kept in mind is that, in essence, a Prius gets 4 miles per kwhr in terms of co2 equivalency with an electric vehicle. That is, if the EV can't get better than 4 miles per kwhr, then it s co2 emissions are the same as the Prius, about 109 grams per km. The Tesla now gets 4 miles per kwhr since they had to downgrade its range because of extra weight required by safety features.


It is an excellent headline / question for an excellent report about the real problems that this automotive industry needs to address. It may sound like bla bla bla but if you think it is easy to execute on this issue there is nothing in our free society that prevent any of us from doing it ourselves. If you think you have most or all of the answers then stop doing what you do right now and start a firm that produce and sell EV or PHEV. Don’t come up with any excuses just do it if you think you know how to.

If I should blame anybody from not doing enough to fight global warming, other pollution and oil dependence it should be our politicians not our companies. And those politicians are elected by us so we can blame ourselves again. However, I am optimistic. Look a few years back and nobody of importance cared about global warming or oil independence. That has changed a lot but not enough yet in my opinion. The goal should not be to reduce CO2 or oil dependence with x% in that many years. Instead the goal should be to eliminate by 100% the CO2 emissions and our energy dependence. And it should be done as fast as the economy is able to cope with it without falling into a recession. Why this hurry? Because we risk mass extinction of 1/3 of all species in a very short time compared to the time it took evolution to create all these species. This is a crime more despicable than any crime humans have ever committed against each other in all history of mankind. And we need to hurry also because of looming peek oil and because the Middle East in all likelihood is falling apart and we really don’t have the resources to prevent it from happening.


Hey KJD,

What company did you order your solar panels from and how much will it cost to cover your garage roof? I am interested in getting solar panels for my future home as well, thanks!

C. Spangenberg

In the Year 2000 the german Auto company Audi built the Audi A2 1.2 which had the same maximal Loading Volume as the Toyota Prius2 ( about the same interior size ) and it produced 84 G CO2 against the 104 G CO2 of the Prius2 . That means it was about 25% more efficient than the Prius2 w i t h o u t using any Hybrid-System .

C. Spangenberg


When all is said, and all evasions are heard, the fact is cars on the road count. In this case hybrid or EV.

As nearly as I can determine Ford had all of Toyota's hybrid system working ten to fifteen years ago. GM had EVs. The USABC - half federal money and half US car makers - started in 1993 and spent billions on battery research and advanced vehicles. And some pretty good work resulted. I was impressed most by the Ford concept vehicle.

They didn't build.

Toyota is selling 300,000+ hybrids per year now. They expect a million by the time the first Volt is delivered. I like the Volt (on paper). And a GM hybrid system is available although it doesn't impress.

I think GM will squeak through. But I no longer give a damn about what American car executive say. Make your speeches when you have made the cars.

Ron Fischer

US automakers can't build small quanties. So these elaborate systems of risk analysis and development have been created. The analyses you're not seeing are the ones that factor the car into the rest of their product line and profit-making. This is mostly about sales overlap with other, more profitable vehicles. Technology is only part of the story. The risk for GM is that US regulations or a massive recession makes all this investment suddenly moot because there is no way that it can be profitable. ...all of which says that the US desparately needs ways to encourage startup companies (like Tesla) in the area of personal transportation. We need hundreds of little risk-takers each trying to solve these problems in parallel and in difference ways that are not constrained by a large base of existing products.


High gas prices will push the car market to HEV and PHEV cars, trucks, and buses. This new technology is going to time to developed and release into the market place. Toyota was one of the first car companies out the door with a HEV and the other car companies will follow its lead. If you don’t like what you hear from the USA car industry as someone else has already said, developed the cars yourself. If you don’t have any money to put on the table then you’re just another talking head. The talking heads on cable TV at least get paid for their blah blah.


To all those who say put up or shut up, you have a point, but a limited one. Many of those with criticisms have indeed "put up". I know that many regulars on this site already own hybrids, have made their own EV conversion (hats off), or like myself have purchased an EV. Having said that I would like to defend the right of all those that don't yet have an EV to put in their two cents about their own automobile industries. For those that pay taxes in the USA, they paid for the right to criticize GM et al when those companies accepted government money for USABC. That's democracy for you.


Too many of those talking heads are at our auto companies. And their disease is over analysis in search of perfection, the mistaken idea everything must be honed to a mimimal production cost, bought always at the lowest price, and that sales can be known for what is not yet.

Yet with all that sophistication they keep losing market and money.

I have participated in multibillion projects at major companies. The tools for project control and development improve how things are done. And they are needed. And they are used all over the world in big businesses, probably best in aerospace and autos.

So when things get done by car companies abroad and not done by their equally equipped competitors here it is not due to the tools, or outsiders just not knowing how complex it all is, or how cautious one must be not to wreck the toys.

As for being unable to build in small quantities. Hah! You mean they don't choose here to build in small quantities. Given a few more years they won't be building in any quantities. But their plans, blowing like tumbleweeds across the deserted parking lots, will show they would have made billions really soon.

Cars are profitable in small lots or large. Not being able to sell what you offer is what ruins profits. And there is little profit in wonderful things that always will be sold two or three years from now.

I actually think GM is now pretty well managed and coming back. Ford, I won't even guess.

But I repeat, I am no longer an audience for a GM or Ford executive proclaiming they will get it all right.

"Why just look at my chart here. Our decision will be the best."

The comments to this entry are closed.