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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

Bob

Jim Baron - Well, obviously, beauty is in the eye of the beholder as I couldn't agree with you less. I, for one, am sick and tired of every automobile these days looking like every other automobile. I like the 'imbalance' you speak of and am going to be extremely upset with GM if they make major changes to the body style of the Volt. Hopefully there's a lot of us that feel the same.

Jim Baron

And there are people who like odor more than fragrant, so taste is indeed subjective to some extent. The odd looking cars do not sell well. That's the bottom line. You probably didn't notice that the odd looking GM and Chrysler cars have not been selling too well. Volt is probably their last chance, I hope they don't make the same mistake again.

A few years back, Ford decided that their best selling model (Traunus?) look too "square." So they resigned the car and changed all the straight lines to curves. The result? The car plummeted in sales and disappeared. There is no need to repeat the same mistake.

Greener

The Volt is a nice science project, but will probably turn out to be yet another failure for GM. It is very, very unlikely that they will be able to sell a car with a 16 kWh lithium ion battery for anything close to $30K. The battery alone will cost close to that much.

Further, there is a diminishing return to increases in fuel economy. Assuming the typical driver drives 15,000 miles per year, following is the amount of gas the typical driver would burn in various vehicles...

Gas guzzling SUV @ 12.5 mpg......1,200 gallons.
Normal midsize sedan @ 25 mpg......600 gallons.
Prius HEV @ 50 mpg.................300 gallons.
Volt PHEV @ 100 mpg................150 gallons.

As is immediately obvious, far more fuel is saved by simply getting people out of a gas guzzling SUV and into a standard midsize sedan (600 gallons saved per year), than is saved by convincing somebody who would otherwise drive an HEV, to spend thousands extra on a PHEV (150 gallons saved per year).

The cost of increasing vehicle fuel economy increases rapidly beyond the 50 mpg mark, while the benefit of reductions in fuel used decreases. In other words, increasing costs with diminishing returns.

It is an inefficient use of capital to spend tens of millions researching and developing super-expensive battery-powered science projects that will actually save very little fuel compared to existing HEV's that are already on the road.

I suspect Toyota is well aware of these economics, and thus, their reluctance to jump into the PHEV race. They have pointed out to Felix Kramer many times that they already are putting HEV's on the road in volume, and THEY ARE RIGHT.

The planet would save far more fuel, at a far lower cost, by simply getting people out of gas-guzzlers and into HEV's. 100 mpg isn't all its cracked up to be.

AES

"As is immediately obvious, far more fuel is saved by simply getting people out of a gas guzzling SUV and into a standard midsize sedan (600 gallons saved per year), than is saved by convincing somebody who would otherwise drive an HEV, to spend thousands extra on a PHEV (150 gallons saved per year)."

And for the millions of us that ALREADY drive a midsize car? And who also want to avoid the use of gasoline altogether by using grid electricity?

"The cost of increasing vehicle fuel economy increases rapidly beyond the 50 mpg mark, while the benefit of reductions in fuel used decreases. In other words, increasing costs with diminishing returns."

MPGE (Miles per gallon equivalent) while in electric mode is 150mpge for many electrics. Proportionally, that's hardly a diminishing return when compared to something that gets 45-50mpg all the time.

Vinayababu

It will be sad if GM decide to keep the present shape of the Volt.It is surprising that they with all he expertise and experience should come out with an ugly looking design for a new concept. World over, such concept Cars particularly electric versions used to be aesthetically pleasing. Another surprise is that GM has not given much importance to the drag coefficient, which if properly done definitely improve the range of the Car.

Schmeltz

Jim Baron:
I respectfully disagree with you on the design appeal of the Volt. I like it. It is edgy and different, and will get you noticed. Not that those are the reasons people should buy it, but IMHO, one of the reasons it turns heads is because it looks different in a sea of sameness out there. The looks of the vehicle will get people to ask questions about it, (and they already are). Then, when you have visual interest, you can pursue winning a sale with the all of the other merits the machine possesses. I feel as many others here that it would be very upsetting if they radically changed the look of this vehicle. I think there are a myriad of different things they can do to make this cut through the wind a little better, without changing the basic look of the vehicle.

Greener:
The Volt is on the way to being a production vehicle. GM already has a manufacturing plant chosen to produce 10's of thousands of these "science projects" in a few years. I don't understand how people can still be skeptical of the production aspect? Be patient, Rome wasn't built in a day.

I agree with you in the respect that society would stand to gain more from moving people into more efficient modes of transportation, but you sort of contradicted yourself. It appears that you feel automakers should just forget about all of this Plug-in hoopla, and just continue making 45 mpg Prii. I don't follow that reasoning. Wouldn't you agree that if a yet even more efficient hybrid can be built than the current Prius, then wouldn't it behoove us all to look into it? Yes, Plug-ins currently are more expensive to build then a regular hybrid, but wasn't that the same case for the Prius also when it first came out?

Greener

"And for the millions of us that ALREADY drive a midsize car? And who also want to avoid the use of gasoline altogether by using grid electricity?"

If you traded in your 25 mpg midsize car for a 50 mpg Prius, while you are waiting for at least the next 3 years for the science project to finish baking in the oven, if you drive 15,000 miles per year, you would save 900 gallons of gas over the next 3 years. Then, assuming GM delivers the Volt 3 years from now and you immediately traded in your Prius for the Volt, it would take 6 years to save as much fuel by using a Volt as the amount of fuel you saved in 3 years by using your Prius.

"MPGE (Miles per gallon equivalent) while in electric mode is 150mpge for many electrics. Proportionally, that's hardly a diminishing return when compared to something that gets 45-50mpg all the time."

A midsize sedan driven 15,000 miles per year at 25 mpg burns 600 gallons of fuel. A Prius driven 15,000 miles per year at 50 mpg burns 300 gallons of fuel. Therefore, 300 gallons of fuel is saved by switching from a midsize sedan to a Prius.

If you bought this hypothetical battery electric vehicle that gets this hypothetical 150 mpge (for how many tens of thousands of dollars over the cost of a Prius?), and you managed to get 150 mpge all the time, you would burn 100 gallons of fuel in 15,000 miles. Therefore, you would save 200 gallons of fuel per year by switching from a Prius to a hypothetical 150 mpge battery electric vehicle.

300 gallons per year saved by switching from a standard midsize sedan to a 50 mpg Prius versus 200 gallons per year saved by switching from a 50 mpg Prius to a hypothetical 150 mpge battery electric vehicle. Hmmm, sounds like diminishing returns to me.

Greener

"I agree with you in the respect that society would stand to gain more from moving people into more efficient modes of transportation, but you sort of contradicted yourself. It appears that you feel automakers should just forget about all of this Plug-in hoopla, and just continue making 45 mpg Prii. I don't follow that reasoning. Wouldn't you agree that if a yet even more efficient hybrid can be built than the current Prius, then wouldn't it behoove us all to look into it? Yes, Plug-ins currently are more expensive to build then a regular hybrid, but wasn't that the same case for the Prius also when it first came out?"

I didn't say automakers shouldn't look at technology that can improve mileage. They should. But I also suspect that GM is rushing into production a technology that isn't ready for prime time. The incremental cost to make a Prius versus a standard vehicle is miniscule compared to the incremental cost of making a PHEV. Much of the incremental cost is represented by the cost of the battery. The Prius has a 1.3 kWh battery whereas the Volt will have a 16 kWh battery, over 12 times as large as the Prius battery.

But the amount of fuel saved by a Prius compared to a standard vehicle exceeds the amount of fuel saved by a PHEV compared to an HEV. So for a MUCH higher cost, you get LESS fuel savings compared to an HEV you can purchase RIGHT NOW, for little if any additional cost.

I think Toyota understands this, which is why they seem to be more hesitant to rush into PHEV's.

And I think that as a society, our first focus should be on getting people out of gas-guzzling SUV's and pickup trucks and into more efficient vehicles AVAILABLE NOW. We would save far, far more fuel by taking this step than we will by creating science project cars that will be so expensive that only a few people will be able to afford them.

Roger Pham

Greener's observation is also keener than many here.

Yes, indeed, for every 16 kwh battery pack of the Volt, GM can make 10 of 1.6 kwh battery pack for HEV with almost similar fuel efficiency. Worry about imported petroleum? Offer a GAZ version of the HEV Volt as FFV (flexible fuel vehicle) to be able to run on natural gas (NG or bio or coal methane) as well as gasoline. Instead of a 16 kwh battery, only a 1.6 kwh battery pack is offered, but also a small NG tank in order to Plug-in to the home NG supply, for about 100-mi range or so.
DAily driving will be on plugged-in NG, and longer trips will be done on gasoline when NG station cannot be found.
Voila, a GAZ-HEV plugged-in version without expensive battery problem. Heck, even the existing Cobasys NiMh battery will also work, no need to wait for expensive A123 lithium.

That said, I'm glad that GM admits the lack of aerodynamic efficiency of the former design. While at it, perhaps they can also downsize the 16kwh battery pack to 8kwh size, or even better, 1.6 kwh, while making the vehicle a parallel hybrid...a la 2-mode, everyone?

AES

If you bought this hypothetical battery electric vehicle that gets this hypothetical 150 mpge (for how many tens of thousands of dollars over the cost of a Prius?), and you managed to get 150 mpge all the time, you would burn 100 gallons of fuel in 15,000 miles.

Umm...no you would burn ZERO gallons in 150 mpge electric mode. Don't dismiss or ignore that little "e" in mpge in such a cavalier fashion.

AES

Roger-

Downsizing the pack to 8kWh would require deep-cycling and heavier discharge rates on the cells - and that would negatively impact the lifespan of the pack - lithium, NiMH, or otherwise.

Is that 16 kWh the total capacity of the batteries or the amount discharged by the batteries to move the vehicle 40 miles?

Also, if GM is claiming a 640 mile total range for the vehicle and a 12 gallon tank, are they then claiming 50 mpg on gasoline for highway travel?

Patrick

50mpg with gasoline only at highway was one of the targets they previously outlined.

Greener - good luck on your mission to convince people to give up SUVs & Trucks! I wish you all the best in this Herculian task. Probably more difficult than trying to enforce stricter gun control laws.

If the returns are so dismal then DONT buy one! It is that flippin' simple! Let those who want it buy it, as they have the cash to do so. You don't like it and want a GM product that is HEV? Well, they have several of those coming up shortly and available currently from what I have read.

AES

Blank/no name-

The pack is 16kWh, but it is discharged from 80%capacity to 30%capacity, or 8kWh. That helps extend the lifespan of the battery both by avoiding deep cycling, and by reducing the discharge rate on each cell. In theory, you could go 80 miles on a charge, but you wouldn't necessarily want to do that all the time. The goal for the Volt's pack is to make it be able to last several hundred thousand miles.

If one were to use NiMH instead of Li-ion, such a 16kWh pack would weight over 700 pounds. You could get the same 40 mile range at the same weight as the li-ion pack by cutting the capacity in half and deep-cycling it, but that would be very bad for the battery life.

NiMH would also be very inefficient at charging and discharging compared to the cleaner li-ion chemistry.

If the returns are so dismal then DONT buy one! It is that flippin' simple! Let those who want it buy it, as they have the cash to do so.

This contradicts your statement regarding the Aptera. If the returns are so dismal, don't buy one. The market will decide whether people want it or not.

AES

Hmmm, sounds like diminishing returns to me.

More than three times the equivalent energy efficiency for only an additional $10,000? (Assuming $30,000 price tag). That doesn't seem diminishing at all.

Worry about imported petroleum?

Not to get too much off topic here - but I worry about imported cars as well.

Roger Pham

AES,
Downsizing the battery pack to 8kwh, but do not deeply discharge it. Maintain the same 80% to 30% charge/discharge and be happy with 20-mi range on electricity only.
On the return trip home, fire up the ICE and recharge it while you also driving on ICE power. Now that the ICE is putting out higher power than required for cruise, it runs at its maximum thermal efficiency, and that would beat the efficiency of that of the electric power plant.

Not to get too much off topic here - but I worry about imported cars as well.

Why? GM certainly doesn't. They'd shed all their US factories if they could get away with it.

Roger Pham

AES,
U worry about imported cars as well? Very good point.

That's exactly why GM should ram-up design and production resources to make as much AFFORDABLE HEV as possible to counter the sale of Toyota's HEV's, now are selling in the hundreds of thousands yearly.
I doubt that 16 kwh Lithium battery can be made in large quantities, may be 10 k /year the most. If made in HEV-size, 100 k units can be made out the same material and cost, and that will really put a dent in Prius' sale if GM can sell HEV's at that number yearly.
Use low-cost induction AC-motor instead of more expensive PM motor, and parallel hybrid to reduce the size of the motor, battery and power inverter required, while still making full hybrid with higher efficiency than the highly-compromised BAS.

Also, where will those GM Volt's battery packs be made? Hopefully not in the Far-East factories like in China, but somehow, I don't see how that can not be and still keep the price of the PHEV Volt at $30,000 USD!

HEV is the ONLY practical way to go!

AES

Roger-

So your overall goal for technology is to just aim low? I'm not sure progress has ever been made that way.

"Why? GM certainly doesn't. They'd shed all their US factories if they could get away with it."

Where the cars are made is not quite as important as where the money eventually goes. iPods are made in China - but Apple is the one rolling in dough, and creating real, non-service wealth for the American economy as a whole.

doggydogworld

Greener, GM would not be equipping a factory if the battery cost was anywhere near $30k. Estimates run around $6k. This is consistent with current Li-ion pricing and the advanced cells GM will use eliminate the most expensive material (cobalt).

The Volt is expected to run on gasoline for only 3000 of your 15,000 annual miles. At 50 mpg in gasoline mode, that's 60 gallons per year. Savings over the Prius is 240 gallons. More to the point, E-Flex works for larger vehicles. An E-Flex version of the Acadia/Enclave/Outlook would use about 100 gallons per year. That's 200 less than the Prius, which these buyers wouldn't consider anyway, and 1100 less than the 12.5 MPG SUV most of them would be replacing.

The incremental cost to make a Prius versus a standard vehicle is miniscule compared to the incremental cost of making a PHEV

Not true. Prius battery cost is down to about $1500 vs. Volt's estimated $6000. Volt will have larger motors and power electronics but smaller ICE. The cost delta between PHEV and HEV is on the same order of magnitude as the delta between HEV and standard vehicle.

The Prius has a 1.3 kWh battery whereas the Volt will have a 16 kWh battery, over 12 times as large

Capacity is 12x but cost and weight are only about 4x as much.

Tagamet

Very intersting discussion!
A (sad) point I'd make, is that Americans are going to purchase vehicles that meet their needs. not what is good for the planet. It's a company's responsibility to market things that will be purchased. Why else would Toyota come out with the biggest honkin truck available? Love for the planet? I think not. Fortunately, GM has finally seen the light and will (eventually) be a hot ticket item (IMHO). If I can get 40 miles all electric range, I'd RARELY buy gas - and I'd LOVE it. But please don't pull into my driveway and take my Jeep Grand Cherokee. I want the government to pick up the garbage and protect the borders. After that, it's being too intrusive.
Just my .02
I wonder how the post here about two companies that are right now combining to mfg Lion and ultra capacitors will effect the equation? Sigh, a Chinese company....

Jim Baron

Vinayababu:

Cars that look too different have been observed to attract less customers (except a few customers that have special taste like you). Aesthetic evaluation has some kind of a norm. Some people may claim that a big head and small leg look "good" on a person, but most people prefer the opposite. Same goes for the look of cars.

The simplest test of this claim is fitting the same car with a normal look and a "different" look so see the difference in sales. And we are lucky to a perfect example in the third generation Ford Taurus.

The following information are provided on wikipedia.com regarding the third generation Ford Taurus:

"Ford had hoped the radical redesign would lead to the same success it had had with the 1986 Taurus. Ford even went as far as predicting that the new Taurus would continue the outgoing model's record of selling over 400,000 units a year. However, the controversial oval theme was not well received by the press. Motor Trend stated, "It will shock some, and delight others."

Not many "others" turn out to buy the odd looking car. Why repeat the same mistake just to please a few odd balls? This does not make any sense.

x1

Odd looking cars don't sell? I guess the VW Bug and MINI are figments of our collective imagination. The xB and PT Cruiser haven't sold well, either. Prius is doing horribly, too.

DS
A (sad) point I'd make, is that Americans are going to purchase vehicles that meet their needs. not what is good for the planet.

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

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