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The Chevrolet Volt: GM’s EREV a Work In Progress

By Felix Kramer, Founder, The California Cars Initiative; and Jack Rosebro, Green Car Congress

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The striking styling of the Chevrolet Volt concept has been nixed for the production version, due to poor aerodynamic properties.

While in town for the Los Angeles Auto Show, General Motors invited a group of stakeholders—ranging from environmentalists to plug-in hybrid advocates to fuel-cell education specialists—to the event, in order to bring them up to date on the progress of the Chevrolet Volt Extended Range Electric Vehicle (EREV) project, almost a year after it was first announced (earlier post).

GM representatives also billed the event as a learning experience for the Volt development team, as well as an opportunity to generate feedback on the most effective way to market the product between now and the beginning of production. CalCars.org and Green Car Congress were among the invited guests.

Volt1
Powertrain of the Chevy Volt concept. The production battery pack will be arranged in a “T” shape, running behind the seating area as well as down the center of the vehicle. Click to enlarge.

Present were: Frank Weber, Global Vehicle Chief Engineer for the E-Flex Systems; Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director, E-Flex Systems and Chevy Volt; Denise Gray, Director of Hybrid Energy Storage Systems and Strategy; and Al Weverstad, Executive Director, Environment and Safety Policy. Weber, who hails from Germany, said that his presence is evidence of the company’s determination to make E-Flex a “global strategy.”

Events such as these are part of the company’s new transparency, along with GM’s Fastlane blog and teleconferences, to keep the EV and PHEV community informed about progress on the Volt as well as the larger E- Flex project. Such efforts also dovetail with the company’s effort to position Chevy as a multi-fuel leader and GM’s greenest brand, and to make amends for the negative publicity that surrounded the demise of GM’s EV1 electric car.

Announced in January, the Volt is the first of a planned series of vehicles to be built and sold worldwide around a common core of components called “E-Flex.” The components can be configured to create an electric vehicle or a plug-in series hybrid fueled by gasoline, diesels, biofuels, or hydrogen.

In the case of the Volt, the configuration will be a gasoline or E85-fueled plug-in hybrid with an all-electric range (AER) of 40 miles and an “aggressive” target production date, according to Bob Lutz, of November 2010. General Motors is promoting the use of the EREV acronym to distinguish E-Flex variants from competing plug-in hybrids.

Making Lithium-Ion Work. The 16 kWh battery packs required to propel the Volt are the source of much speculation, and several details emerged about the packs:

  • The original Request For Proposals for the Volt battery pack went out to 22 companies. 13 returned technical proposals, and two partnerships (Compact Power/LG Chem and Continental/A123Systems) were chosen. (Earlier post.)

  • A123Systems also won a second development contract for cells. GM took delivery of its first test pack at the end of October from Compact Power/LG Chem, and the automaker expects its first pack from A123 and Continental by year’s end. (Earlier post.)

Both packs are designed to be bench-tested, rather than installed in a development vehicle. They will be evaluated with a cycler, a machine that can charge and discharge the pack to simulate specific driving cycles. The pack can then be tested in a variety of scenarios, such as one depleted cell, one shorted cell, or excessive resistance. The pack cells are prismatic (rectangular in shape) as opposed to the cylindrical shape that is prevalent among today’s Li-Ion cells. The production pack will be arranged in a "T" shape, running behind the seating area as well as down the center of the vehicle, much like the pack configuration used in GM’s EV1.

The Volt’s battery pack will be liquid-cooled; company officials declined to identify the coolant, although “it won’t be Flourine”, which GM has used to cool hybrid electronics in the past. What are the barriers to success with lithium-ion? “Basically, it comes down to two issues," explained Denise Gray, GM’s Director of Hybrid Energy Storage Systems, “thermal management and cost.

Al Weverstad quoted Bob Lutz, chairman of GM North America, who remarked in August that “breakthrough battery technology will drive future automotive propulsion, and the company that aligns with the best strategic partners will win.” Weverstad also said he is confident the battery technology can handle 40 miles of all-electric range; remaining issues involve durability and cost. The battery pack specification requires no more than 20% battery degradation after 10 years.

Company officials said that if one company lands the Volt battery order for 60,000 to 100,000 vehicles—at 16 kilowatt-hours and 300 cells per pack&mash;that company will immediately become the world’s largest lithium battery manufacturer.

Moving Toward Production. Frank Weber described the E-Flex as “GM’s highest priority project.” He noted that five years ago, “no one expected that batteries would improve so much.” He emphasized that the Volt was destined for mass production, GM style: “not for a few hundred test vehicles, not for a niche market.”

As mass production nears, costs for many components that have been designed for the Volt are expected to fall sharply, by as much as 50%. The company hopes to sell the first-generation Volt for around US$30,000, putting it within the high range of compact cars.

The design will include the “building blocks” for future versions to incorporate an electric meter in vehicle-to-grid (V2G) applications.

Comparing the fuel costs between old and new methods of propulsion, GM estimated that driving costs in EV mode would be 2 cents per mile&mash;or 1 cent per mile if charged off-peak—compared to about 12 cents per mile per gallon of gasoline for a typical car today.

The company settled on a 40-mile all-electric range because it would cover daily driving of 78% of Americans, according to US Department of Transportation figures. Had GM picked 30 miles, it would have covered 68%; 20 miles would have covered 51%. When asked why GM didn’t start with 30, Weber smiled and responded “it’s easier to go from 40 to 30 than from 30 to 40.”

In light of the European Union’s proposed limitations of 120-130 grams/kilometer of CO2, the Chevy Volt (or the Opel Flextreme) will count as a 40 gm/km of CO2 vehicle, using current EU testing procedures. GM will publish a SAE technical paper on this subject early next year.

Project leaders reiterated their keen interest in developing methods to educate the public and manage expectations, to determine the best ways to present the total cost of ownership of PHEVs, and in the need to engage with a rapidly evolving public policy and economic landscape, including co-operation with utilities to explore such issues as secondary roles for vehicle battery packs.

Weverstad emphasized that the company still does not view PHEVs as the end-point, but rather expects to develop fuel cell cars because those vehicles offer “emission-free driving, long range, and a short refueling time”. As with Toyota at the LA Auto Show, both companies clearly still have some executives insisting on maintaining that dual emphasis.

Not all is rosy at GM: the striking styling of the Volt concept car has officially been nixed due to a poor coefficient of drag. At a briefing for bloggers, GM head Bob Lutz quipped to the media that “we probably would’ve gotten better drag coefficient if we put it in the wind tunnel backwards.

Last year, we were 90% committed to the Volt,” said Lutz. “Now, we’re totally committed.

Comments

Tagamet

"The public buys what they've been train to buy. Why else would GM spend a few $Billion on advertising."

DS: I know what I know. The standing joke in our family is that we don't trade in vehicles, we total them. My one daughter rolled the Jeep 2 days after getting her license. Although it was totalled (we DID save one floor mat), she crawled out the moonroof without a scratch. My other daughter was broadsided by an SUV AND a pickup truck. Hospital overnight and out with bruises. And she was driving???? A PRIUS

Patrick

Yes, because this is a 2-seater like the Aptera right?

People DO buy $30,000 vehicles of 4-door/2-door 4+ seats.

The comparisons for the Aptera were to a motorcycle. I don't believe I ever said it should not be built just that the case for a fuel efficient 2-seater does not seem very strong (versus a 2-seater performance car).

jack/no-name/many-changing-names-over-the-last-2-years guy: Why is it, you often decide to try to get into these petty little spats with everyone you can? It always seems that when I decide to put the effort into tracking your comments (as you are doing with mine) we find contradictory and sometimes almost embarrassing "flubs" on your part as well...this tends to lead to a drawn out purposeless contest after which we see you disappear for a short time and come back with a different name to post under [your literary style and general methodology stands out in a very obvious manner to consistant readers of this blog so changing your name does not really afford you much in the way of "starting over"].

AES

It's supposed to be a 4 or 5 seater.

Get a life, Patrick. You too, Jack.

Tagamet

I know this is totally off topic, but can someone here help me out? I started viewing a video about someone test driving an Equinox (sp?), but lost it.
Can anyone point me back to it?
TIA
Tagamet

Emphyrio

Greener makes an important point - the goal is to reduce oil consumption as much as possible but cost effectively since we have shackled ourselves to the constraints of a money system, rather than real application of physical resources - ie what could be physically possible and is desirable for societal reasons -the good of the many if you like.

On any day, 50% of the LDVs in the US drive less than 20 miles per day. Hence Andy Frank’s shooting for a 20 mile AER which would theoretically reduce US LDV petrol consumption by 50%.

For 20 miles, we need 5kWh at least plus reserve capacity for a mid size - if 50% discharge allowed, we need 10kWh. So Roger Pham is in the right area with his 8kWh - that should give us a good 16miles AER per day.

Now cost - Menachem Anderman said that even in volume, he does not see LiIon selling for less than $500/kWh to the car manufacturer. So that’s $8,000 for the Volt plus GM’s mark up which is not unreasonable to put at at least 100% for manufacturing costs etc etc. If a Prius costs what $24,000 new with only a 1.5kWh NiMH and that’s a few thousand more than a regular car, I can’t see a Volt costing less than $35,000 - for a two seater or is it a two plus two? Whatever. Cheap if us Europeans could buy it at US prices but we pay in sterling or Euros what you pay in dollars. Expensive. And that’s 2007 dollars, what will it be by 2010.

An interesting remark in this GM presentation - whoever gets the contract to supply GN with the 60,000 to 100,000 battery packs they say they will need in the first year production run, will imediately become the largest Liion battery manufacturer in the world. You bet. That’s between 9% and 15% of the lithium used for all battery manufacturing in the world today with Li demand outstripping supply for electronics. Talk about market distortion - just for a puny 100,000 Volts. What will the cost of Li become by 2015 with all these car manufacturers needing enough for a few million cars? A million Volts makes 150% of existing lithium used by the entire battery industry.

It seems what’s really stopping things is this Cobasys enforcement of a 10Ah limit on NiMH batteries for propulsion. Outrageous anti-competitiveness if true. What we need is an 8kWh NiMH - and remember, phosphate LiIon has no better specific energy than NiMH - only 70 - 80Wh/kg - so what advantage is it? None - untested, untried and existing LiIons are calendar life limited. 5 years and they are dead.

I suggest a campagn to find out the truth about Cobasys and NiMH - if they are witholding more than 10Ah by legal pressure, they must be taken to task. The future of civilisation is at stake.

AES

"and remember, phosphate LiIon has no better specific energy than NiMH - only 70 - 80Wh/kg - so what advantage is it? None - untested, untried and existing LiIons are calendar life limited. 5 years and they are dead."

Emphyrio-

You are empirically incorrect about LiFePO4 capacity.

One can buy iron phosphate batteries with capacities WELL above 70-80Wh/kg. To list a few:

-A123 M1 cell (108Wh/kg)

-Valence 18650 (~116Wh/kg)

-PHET 10Ah cell - 125 Wh/kg http://www.phet.com.tw/Products/Cell_Spec03.aspx

This chemistry has been around since 1996-1997, so contrary to your fear-mongering, it is a well-documented and tested technology.

Additionally, NiMH is well below 70-80Wh/kg - the largest, most energy dense cells from Cobasys only hold about 55Wh/kg.

Please do your homework next time.

george k

"I suggest a campagn to find out the truth about Cobasys and NiMH"

Kim Adelman founder of Plug-In Conversions Corp has a Nov. 17th article in EV World (www.evworld.com) where he talks about his NiMH batteries. He will shortly be selling Prius conversions, for up to 25 mi. EV mode, and mentions that he has no problem getting around the Cobasys patents issue that people talk about (note, you have to subscribe to the web site to read current articles).

By the way, the Volt will cost about $4 to $5,000 more than my Prius, which, at the time, cost more than that over my Civic. But, I will gladly spend the extra up front money again, for the extreme privilege of driving around using no gas (whether it’s $3.00/ gal. or $6.00/gal. or more if Iran goes ballistic)! I just don’t get the negative Nells who, don’t like cars burning fossil fuels (bad SUV’s etc.), yet don’t embrace this “no gas approach” electric drive car.

Emphyrio

AES - you're talking cell level specific energy. By the time you have added on the extensive electronic control uniquely required by LiIon, even FePO4, specific energy for the battery pack is reduced to 70 - 80Wh/kg. That is about the level of the Valence packs being used in Prius PHEV conversions today. NiMH is in the same ball park at pack level and improving with the later generation cells from Ovonics, who point out that commercial consumer AA cells now come at 3000mAh - a specific energy of well over 100Wh/kg at cell level.

If you look at Ovonics Patent 6,837,321 they say they have 600W/kg specific power WITH 70Wh/kg specific energy in their next generation NiMH battery packs for HEVs. Specific energy could be improved further by reducing the specific power which you probably wouldn’t need that high with a 10kWh plus pack.

George K - I hope Adelman is right. I’ve seen comments to the effect that Cobasys hold watertight control of the basic cell NiMH cell chemistry, so different geometries, bipolar stacks etc make no difference. I don’t know but it seems possible that Cobasys could sue them anyway and kill them with their superior weight, even if they are in the wrong.

As to whether the Volt will cost 4-5K more than a Prius - that remains to be seen. I find it difficult to believe, unless of course they are going to lease the battery as has been discussed. Then you will be paying similar monthly running costs as with petrol, I have seen it proposed by GM, even with no petrol use. Hmm, not a very attractive proposition.

Another technological approach being massively ignored is improving fuel efficiency of ICEs by use of fuel pre-treatment systems to vapourise the fuel before burning it. The Pogue carburettor was the most famous - 200mpg in a Model T. It seems well documented from the time (1930s). MIT did do some work on this and seem to have validated it some years ago. There are dozens of independent patents in this area. Fuel pretreatment - that would be easy and cheap for car manufacturers to engineer into their existing products. We all know ICEs are only 15% efficient so there is huge scope for improvement.

AES

"extensive electronic control uniquely required by LiIon"

Emphyrio-

You're overestimating the mass of ancillary equipment that's needed - that paradigm definitely applies to the Tesla pack, but not to LiFePO4. If you're specifically referring to individual circuits to monitor each cell's voltage, refer to your own argument for >10Ah cells: the larger you make the cells in the first place, the fewer cells you need, and the less control electronics. The individual monitors aren't even that heavy or complicated, anyway.

However, let's just skip to some practical examples - the large lithium ion packs made by either Hymotion or the Killacycle team. I've seen the inside of these things in person, and each 26650 cell has basically a small circuit board smaller and lighter than a piece of chewing gum taped to the side of it. In terms of weight, the monitors collectively add only a few pounds to a large pack that has over 1,000 cells, and holds over 9.1kWh. Volumetrically, they actually fit right into the gaps between cylinders rather well, so there's little space wasted.

Obviously I'm referring to the A123-based packs, and not the Valence packs like you were. But those particular large Valence cells are 70-90Wh/kg ON THE CELL LEVEL ANYWAY, so if anything they disprove your point.

In terms of cooling, liquid cooling in the Volt is probably overkill, given that every other pack I've seen is either air-cooled or passively cooled. But overkill and overbuilding is a part of the engineers' habit, anyway.

Additionally, you are ignoring other crucial issues - one of which is the efficiency of charge/discharge. Compared to NiMH cells which experience between 66-88% charge/discharge efficiency, low impedence LiFePO4 cells can experience over 99% efficiency. Why else do you think they can be recharged so quickly and efficiently (15 minutes etc) without exploding, or even developing significant amounts of heat?

There's also lower self-discharge with li-ion, and the more environmentally friendly nature of the materials involved (better than both cobalt li-ion and NiMH).

The economic and engineering realities have aligned to favor li-ion, and that's why these cells are being chosen for the Volt project. GM has a relationship with Cobasys for hybrid batteries anyway, so if NiMH truly was superior, they would have realized it and used it long ago.

AES

Another factor to consider is that Cobasys has improved NiMH through continued refinement of cell design and construction - innovations that can work in parallel for Li-ion. Li-ion simply has better current performance, and better potential for improvement in the future.

Russell

Tesla Motors should be bought by GM and then GM back thier efforts. We could standardize the motor control package and offer battery upgrades every couple of years. Just get it rolling and we will buy em'. Has GM ever had a surplus of electric vehicles on any sales lot?? NO!! If they want some profit how about beint trendy and being smart. Sell the product you always get stocked out of.
I believe in the all electirc car, but what will the oil companies do since we still have all this oil around the world? They conspire with automakers to drag the electric evolution out as long as possible. Lets give the oil to China and make the electric cars for ourselves. I would make my own if i could afford to. It just seems easy to put a motor generator into a car chassis and roll em' off the assembly-line like washing machines. Electric vehicles have existed for over 100 years, its time we demand this technology by voting with our dollars.

AES

Let's also not be under the illusion that NiMH doesn't benefit or require thermal and electronic regulation as well - the 9500 module series from Cobasys has air cooling (read:fans) as well as an impact resistance case and control electronics. Gross pack energy density: 57Wh/kg. Sounds like it's using those 70Wh/kg cells that Emphyrio mentioned.

Meanwhile, the bench test pack that CPI provided to GM had 80Wh/kg - even taking account the LIQUID cooling and control electronics for several thousand cells!

Dr. Vijay

I completely agree with Jim Baren. Following are some more points:
A battery car is not as green as it is presented. Electric energy is not fuel. Other fuel energy is converted to electricity energy. Today, more than 70% of US electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and petroleum products. Efficiency of converting chemical energy of these fossil fuels to electric energy is less than 30%. So when it is said that gallon of gas is saved running electric car, fossil fuel was burned on this earth somewhere else. We added one more source pollutant in the form of batteries. Battery does not last forever. Cost of battery based on its life will be a significant amount in the economics.
Bottom line, improving efficiency of a car to use least amount of fuel per mile is the key. That is reducing the forces on the car by reducing its rolling resistance, and drag coefficient.
A combination of electric and engine power gives the best fuel efficiency like Prius.

Sue Jonez

I will definitely get a Volt if it comes out.

GM needs the Volt because without a reason to live, Congress will not give them the loan guarantees they need to survive. Expect a reprise of the the successful Chrysler bail out that brought us America's the only efficient cars of their day- the Plymouth Horizon, etc.

It is true that this technology is needed much more in all those under 10mpg vehicles that burn almost all America's gas. But for GM this car is a big step in that direction. Toyota and Ford already make decent SUV hybrids. GM among others also have hybrid city buses which are splendid- though they have relatively low tech controllers.

You folks arguing that 100% fuel dependent cars are going to be pretty upset when there is a momentary interruption in fuel availabilty, speaking as one who was alive in the 70's. It is likely that the GOP will have trouble in the upcoming presidential election. They won't fail to notice that a couple cruise missiles aimed at a random truck full of weapons in Iran would be enough to hurt Hillary's chances- she voted the Govt of Iran to be a "terrorist group".

That might be a good excuse for the oil supply to be momentarily restrained, as it was in the 70's when OPEC's embargo failed but there were gas lines anyway. You could say such gaming was impossible but most of you are old enough to remember Enron flipping California's lights on and off until we paid to make them stop.

Hey, it is possible to make an amazingly aerodynamic car with great styling... check out the Prius! And I can stuff a 4 drawer file cabinet in the back and close the hatch, or seat 4 basketball payers with no head-fouls.

sjc

I can see a time in the future when gasoline may be rationed in the U.S. It may be magnetic strip cards that allow you to buy only so much each day, rather than odd/even license plate numbers, but the result will be the same. Everyone will get their share of gasoline to get to and from work. Gasoline rationed by price alone will not favor the wealthy and those with gas guzzlers will have to plan on alternatives.

Van

A point or two one the fuel economy of the Volt. Lets assume it will get 50 MPG when transferring energy from the gas tank to the wheels, rather than 100 MPG. But because 68% of the miles driven will be from domestic energy via the plug, it will only burn 100 gallons of gas a year (50 MPG times 100 gallons equals 5000 miles)with the other 10,000 miles coming via the plug. It will take about 1 KWH to go 3.4 miles or about $300 worth of "fuel" to go 10,000. To sum up, the fuel cost to go 15,000 miles, assuming gas costs $3.00 and a KWH costs $0.10, is $600 in the Volt. Compared to a vehile that gets 30 MPG overall which would burn 500 gallons at a cost of $1500 to go 15,000 miles, you burn 400 gallons less foreign oil and spend $900 less on "fuel." And if gasoline cost increases to $4.50 per gallon, your fuel cost savings will be even higher ($750 rather than $2250 for a savings of $1500).

You forgot that the volt uses E85 fuel (85% ethanol).
Currently E85 costs 2.22$/gallon average in the USA.
Thus your savings are even bigger.
On average E85 is 18.5% cheaper than gas. (see E85prices.com)

sjc

On a cost per BTU basis, they are probably equivalent.

John

1. Don't you worry about GM and style. They have a history of style (for those of you who follow automobiles as a hobby).

2. I am appalled at the number of comments here that use the "Common Good" excuse to justify controlling other people's lives (tyranny basically). It's like we've learned nothing from the Soviet Union.

People buy what they need.
We know this from economics.

Before Congress instituted its hilarious "footprint" fuel regulations for cars, wagons were very popular. SUVs now fit the bill.
maybe those regulations should never have been put into place (but the government is never to blame--oh no...).
There is no getting away from the fact that simply "being White" and having a high standard of living does not mean that Europeans and Americans are "the same" and thus have similar needs.
The "they look like us so they must be like us" fallacy need to be scrapped.
(I's called ethnocentrism and may funnily be most rampant in affluent circles where minorities are less abundant).

The average American family is larger than the average European one, and thus has different transport needs. We are also more mobile and have higher disposable incomes (not to mention we have a much different landscape to Europe).

Anyone who has been to Europe (and not been too bedazzled to notice) knows that.

Let us not be arrogant to presume to know--and dictate to them--precisely the "needs" of other people and let economics play its role.
(I know--scary! Leave people alone? Not try to control things? What will we do? Who will we interfere with? Who will we fix?)

We will have to come up with American solutions to America's energy problems (much like any other country).

Get over it. People buy SUVs because they need them. (Gasp!)
They will not trade a Tahoe for a Prius because a Prius can never replace a Tahoe.
And many did not during the SUV downturn--dumping the SUVs for large cars and crossovers (not subcompacts).
The funny thing is that those options did not meet their needs either as they found the crossovers an unworkable compromise with little benefit. Many are switching back.

Maybe, just maybe, they have a need for these things?

This may be heartbreaking to some people with patronizing, condescending and dictatorial tendencies towards others (such as people who love to always describe fellow Americans a "stupid"--them being the only smart ones of course); but it is the only workable starting point in a free and democratic society.

Of course, as we all know, democracy is not a good point of appeal to many of these people (as history has shown us). They are the smart ones darn it, and you need to know that!
How dare you seek to control your own life, peon!

3. In view of that, I sincerely hope that:

--The Volt is a success and that its model spreads to other car categories (like subcompacts and large sedans).

--Lithium-ion and other technologies continue to improve in leaps and bounds.

--Plug-in hybrids become the norm for SUVs and other vehicles.

--Public transport becomes cleaner, more widespread (and convenient) and greener.
I like the posts here about the electric delivery vans etc. I hope that continues.

bosephus

No one needs an SUV. And if you say sure they do to haul their boat, get real, that doesn't count. If you need to haul people or move bulky objects, rent a van. Have you been inside a Lincoln Navigator? Not much room, not even in the back. I'll go one step further, most people don't need full size pickup trucks, especially for a commuter, but they buy them anyways. I can see how Farmers, Construction, Plumbers, Shuttle services etc, could use a truck or van, but not your average suburbanite. A guy (who is heavily in debt) at work was trying to sell me his '01 Chevy something or other full size truck. Damn thing cost $40,000 when new. Leather seats, etc. WTF? You're going to haul a rick of wood in this showboat? Sure. Maybe not most, but ALOT of people in the US are child-like minded, they are not realistic. Alot of them are in debt up to thier ass, can't manage thier finances, living beyond thier means, have six children (hoping in vain the next one will be a boy, gotta have the male hier). Devil may care attitude. There are enough of these types to foul up the air for the rest of us.

Having said that, I don't think anything should be regulated, better to let the dumb fuckers figure it out for themselves when reality hits them in the ass. Too bad the rest of us have to suffer for it.

HHN

with all the future energy for commuters coming from the grid,I am looking forward to another quarter inch or so of soot on my window sills,fruits and vegetables.

trump

WHats wrong with it looking like a corvett

Patrick

I am ready for the Volt to hit the market, come on guys don't blow it this time!

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