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First look at all-new Voltec propulsion system for 2G Volt; “the only thing in common is a shipping cap”

Tipm1
Cutaway of the new power electronics unit, which is much smaller than in gen 1, and which is now integrated into the drive unit housing. The power electronics and the motors use separate cooling: water for the PE and ol for the motor unit. Click to enlarge.

The second-generation Volt, which makes its world debut in about 10 weeks at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, features a clean-sheet, all-new Voltec propulsion system—new battery, new electric drive unit, new power electronics and new range-extending engine. At an introductory media briefing on the new powertrain held at the Warren Transmission Plant in Michigan, where the new drive unit will be built, Larry Nitz, GM Executive Director, Transmission and Electrification, noted that the only common part between the gen 1 and gen 2 drive units was a little yellow plastic intra-plant shipping cap for the manual selector.

The battery cells, with a tweaked NMC/LMO chemistry from LG, increase storage capacity by 20% volumetrically when compared to the original cell. The drive unit features a large number of changes: new roles for the two motors, two clutches instead of three, and a smaller power electronics unit integrated into the housing among them. (No more big orange high-voltage cables underneath the hood.) The new direct-injected 1.5 liter engine with cooled EGR features a high compression ratio and is optimized to function in its range extender role.

2016-Chevrolet-Volt-004-2
The second-generation Voltec propulsion system with range-extending engine and integrated power electronics and battery pack. The high-voltage (orange) cables from battery to drive unit are the only high-voltage cables in the system; there are no cables connecting the power electronics to the motor unit under the hood. Click to enlarge.

Overall the engineering team increased efficiency and reduced weight; the drive unit is up to 12% more efficient in operation—although GM has yet to quantify publicly what that means in terms of range or fuel economy—and 100 lbs (45 kg) lighter. The battery system, with fewer, albeit larger, cells (192 vs. 288) is nearly 30 lbs (13.6 kg) lighter, but offers more capacity (also unspecified at this point) than its predecessor.

The overall goal of the redesign was to give the customers more of what they want, the GM team emphasized over and over: more electric range, better fuel economy, and more power, and lower noise from the engine when it runs.

In a five-year period, I can’t think of any other product that we have that we have gone through a complete, a complete reengineering.

—Larry Nitz

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The second-generation battery pack retains the T shape, but increases capacity and reduces weight with almost 100 fewer cells (192 vs. 288). Click to enlarge.

Battery. Although it maintains the external form factor of its predecessor, the battery pack for the second-generation Volt features a number of significant changes, including revised cell chemistry, developed in conjunction with battery supplier LG Chem, which also provides the current generation cells for the Volt.

The Gen 2 battery was also a clean-sheet design, said Bill Wallace, Director, Battery Systems; there are only 9 carry-over products in the new battery. The cell is still a prismatic pouch, but redesigned. The engineers went to a 3P design instead of a 2P, allowing them to increase individual capacity in cells by slightly more than 50%. There are mechanical changes as well, for a more efficient package.

In terms of chemistry, Wallace said:

We are still NMC and LMO. We changed the ratio a little bit—a little more NMC and a little less LMO. NMC is a high surface area modified product—this is a brand new class of NMC. We’ve changed things like binder materials, electrocoat and ionic conductivity, and we were also able to drive our electrode count down and our coating weights up. That helps us get more energy. We were able to improve volumetic energy density 20% at a cell level.

It’s not a radical change in cell chemistry, but it is absolutely the most modern NMC/LMO material. We also made some changes on the graphite side to improve performance and life.

Wallace noted that approximately 20 million battery cells have been produced for the more than 69,000 Chevrolet Volts on the road today with industry-leading quality levels of less than two problems per million cells produced (2 ppm).

The battery system continues to use the Volt’s active thermal control system that maintains electric range over the Volt’s life.

Based on a GM study of more than 300 model year 2011 and 2012 Volts in service in California for more than 30 months, many owners are exceeding the EPA-rated label of 35 miles (56 km) of EV range per full charge, with about 15% surpassing 40 miles (64 km) of range. Current generation Volt owners have accumulated more than 600 million EV miles.

EV range estimates will be revealed in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

GM will manufacture the Volt battery pack at its battery assembly plant in Brownstown, Mich.

Driveunittwo
The second-generation Voltec drive unit. Click to enlarge.

Drive unit. Like the battery system, the next-generation Volt’s drive unit was reengineered with a focus on increased efficiency and performance, improved packaging and reduced noise and vibration characteristics. The two-motor drive unit operates approximately 5 to 12% more efficiently and weighs 100 pounds (45 kg) less than the current system.

The gen 1 Volt drive unit comprised two motors—a 111 kW main traction and 63 kW (at 4800 rpm) generator motor (55 kW generator output)—as well as three clutches and a planetary gear set tucked in the end of the traction motor.

Although the gen 2 system also uses two motors, the motors are new (one being rare-earth element free, the other with lower use of rare earth elements) and their roles have changed. Rather than designating Motor A as the generator motor and motor B as the traction motor, the two motors in the gen 2 system share both roles, providing more flexibility. GM has reduced the number of clutches to two from three.

Further, the ability to use both motors helps deliver more than 20% improvement in electric acceleration.

If we do it [provide traction] with two motors rather than one, we can spread the ratio. So now we have a spread torque band that’s actually wider and more responsive with a two-motor configuration. I like to call it a twin torque path. How those motors actually during the EV drive work together to give you that interval response is one of the key characteristics that our experts said really will make this be a better drive feel than we had before.

When you add that [two-motor] flexibility to your system, you increase efficiency—we're up about 12% in some of the driving modes,—but you also make it more responsive. The whole twin torque path spread ratio requires a lot of software and a lot of optimization.

—Tim Grewe, General Director, Electrification

The Traction Power Inverter Module (TPIM), which manages power flow between the battery and the electric drive motors, has been directly built into the drive unit to reduce mass, size and build complexity while further improving efficiency.

2016-Chevrolet-Volt-002
Tpim2
Tpim3
Top: The integrated motor/TPIM drive unit. Bottom: The drive housing being prepared to receive and receiving the TPIM module; the motors are already in place, but hidden by the housing. (The briefing including a hands-on build of two complete drive units.) The high-voltage connectors linking power electronics to motors are seen at the bottom of the housing in both pictures. Click to enlarge.

The two motors are all-new GM motor designs, although they are built for GM by Hitachi. They are bar-wound interior permanent magnet type motors, and feature common tooling but with a reduced total physical size. The motors feature a mass reduction of more than 33 lbs. (15 kg), while offering a greater total power capability of 4% and with peak motor efficiencies increased by 2%.

While the stators are twins, there are differences in the rotors, Savagian noted.

Design for the motors was begun several years back when concerns over rare earth metals pricing were quite high, noted Pete Savagian, General Director, Electric Drive. Accordingly, Motor A uses no rare earth magnets at all, featuring instead a GM multi-barrier Ferrite magnet design. Motor B uses a reduced dysprosium-type grain boundary diffusion magnet technology.

Total rare earth magnet mass reduction in the new system is 60%—from 7 lbs (3.2 kg) to 2.6 lbs (1.2 kg). The reduction of heavy rare earths is more than 80%—from 0.6 lb (282 g) to 0.08 lb (40 g).

New 1.5L range extender. Energy for extended-range operation comes from an all-new, high-efficiency 1.5L 4-cylinder engine. The engine features a direct injection fuel system, high-compression ratio of 12.5:1, cooled exhaust gas recirculation and a variable displacement oil pump. The Voltec range extender also runs on regular unleaded fuel. Its use in the Voltec system is the first production application of the engine in North America, GM said.

We had the idea in first gen that we would have a full-size battery and a half-size engine. We did all our simulation and analysis, and thought we had the tiny engine that can. But if you drive the car hard, in more strenuous situations, the full-size battery and the half-size engine get behind, and the engine gets loud. It wants to make power, has to make power. But our customers want the quiet EV experience in extended range. So we developed the next gen volt with a 60% size engine. Just a little bit more.

On an average basis, the engine runs at lower speed, delivers more torque, is quieter. So making the engine bigger is actually giving our customers exactly what they want. They want the feel of an electric car even when they get into range extension. And that’s what we’re going to give them.

—Larry Nitz

The 1.5L engine will be manufactured at GM’s Toluca, Mexico engine plant for the first year of production, then shift to the Flint, Mich. engine plant.

GM engineers are in the process of preparing of number of SAE papers on the new Voltec system, getting deeper into design, power flow and the like. These will be presented beginning in February.

The second-generation Volt is due to go on sale in the second half of 2015.

Comments

Biff

sd

Isn't that the point of what Roger is trying to say? If the engine doesn't run most of the time, then of all the design parameters, tradeoffs and characteristics of an engine you would want to tilt the balance in favour of lightness, perhaps ahead of other considerations than if the engine was for a standard ICE vehicle. The driveability of the new small displacement and turbocharged three and four cylinder engines from the likes of VW and Fiat is quite amazing. I can remember the days when a turbo was akin to a light switch but now they just produce a solid wave of torque from low in the RPM range. As you say, GM do have a new range of engines that includes a turbo triple and it would have been nice to see that used as the weight saving and more efficient packaging would have a small ripple effect on the rest of the car. I guess they have their reasons, and cost may be one of them.

clett

"I guess they have their reasons, and cost may be one of them."

+1, simple = cheaper, which may have been their main design priority if they want to move this into the mainstream high volume market.

Otis

All EVs will plug-in to households, specifically complementing utility grids or ultimately overwheming them with high demand, followed by the need to increase decentralized power generation. Battery capacity is the key. Do we want a utility grid to daily recharge 10 (85kwh)Telsa coupes or 170 (5kwh)PHEVs? The smaller PHEV battery pack is also the more ideal match to rooftop solar arrays.

Oh not this tired meme again.

EVs typically charge at night or during off-peak hours (for example, after a morning commute whereby the vehicle charges in the AM before peak hours begin), therefore their effect on peak load is minimal, gradual and predictable. EVs and PHEVs at a steady growth rate provide plenty of time for utilities to grow their capacity and plan their infrastructure upgrades accordingly. In fact, those upgrades can often be rolled into maintenance that already would have happened without EV demand.

EVs are something of a godsend to utilities, since they draw power that would otherwise be wasted base load overnight, it's almost free money for them!

And all this chatter about utilities encountering capacity problems, let's just say one thing: if they start having problems with peak demand, let them put Time of Use plans in place; any place that does not have ToU pricing doesn't have to worry about EVs unless they're forbidden from ToU by government fiat.

Otis

However there is detonation limit to how much boost you run with a spark ignition engine. A turbocharger is basically a positive feedback device (more boost generates more exhaust which generates more boost, etc) so you can not run a turbocharger without someway to limit the boost otherwise something will blow up.

Electric turbocharger/generator can give you plenty of control over boost, and can likely obviate a blowoff valve except possibly having one for emergency purposes, since you would simply run the generator to bleed off excessive turbine speed.

Couple this with an Atkinson-cycle valve configuration and you have an on-demand Miller cycle engine, which could be switched from Eco mode (Atkinson, say 30-40kW) to Power mode (Miller, say 120kW) by adding boost and fuel.

Roger Pham

@E-P,
Very good point.
Miller cycle would be best for efficiency, especially if the concern is engine damage due to overboost. That way, the boost pressure would be less likely to get too high. In an eco engine, a waste gate is a waste of exhaust energy.

@sd,
The 3-cylinder turbocharged engine has one fewer cylinder and injector to partially compensate for the additional cost of the turbocharger, to gain about 30 hp more, at an extra cost of about $500-700. The use of Miller cycle lowers exhaust temp that would allow less expensive material for the exhaust turbine.

More importantly for a PHEV is a shorter engine block and the use of a single motor instead of two (that will save about $4,000) and a low-lying minimal-sized transmission that will permit a portion of the battery pack to be placed under the hood. This will eliminate the longitudinal portion of the battery pack intrusion in the cabin, and will restore the normal roominess of the passenger cabin that can sit 5 people in comfort.

Thus, the result of this whole design change may be: $4000 lower sticker price, 30hp gain in top-end engine power good for extended 90-100-mph-cruise trips, and comfortable sitting for 5 adults.
Would these factors increase sale volume?

jzj

1. Good for GM to produce a technologically-sophisticated, good performing, great efficiency vehicle for not too much money. Perhaps it is not my idea of absolutely perfect, but there are a lot of people with a lot of ideas, and this seems a fine compromise.
2. I still don't get the T-shape battery pack instead of an under-the-floor-and-rear-seat pack: anyone want to opine as to why GM thinks this is better, despite that it takes out a middle rear passenger seat? Yes, the car is functionally a bit lower for it, but I don't see that this compromise is worth making.
3. While I would like GM (or anybody) to make a 150-mile EV for a reasonable price, I don't know that the Voltec platform is necessarily closer to enabling this than any other rolling chassis. Too bad.

SJC

The middle rear seat is usually ridiculous, it is narrow and your have the tunnel hump. By the way, why does a front wheel drive car have a tunnel hump?

Many coupes have almost nothing for a rear middle seat and it does not seem to bother many, but do that with a four door and people get upset. I like it, it is more honest than pretending that rear middle "seat" is useful.

Engineer-Poet
why does a front wheel drive car have a tunnel hump?

It stiffens the floor pan and allows the exhaust pipe to be kept higher and out of harm's way.

Roger Pham

@SJC,
Tunnel humps in FWD cars are either very small or non existent.

Cars in the 70's are mostly US-made and they have 2 long benches of seats that can carry 6-8 people, depending on whether midsize or full size.
The Chevy Impala-Caprice can seat 8 in the two long benches and the station wagon version can seat 10 due to a third row of seat.
The midsized Chevy Nova in the mid 70's cost about $4,000 and can carry six people.
Then, alas, came the oil embargo and imports flooded the market with only 2 seats in the front. This was a major loss, because on a date and drive-in movie, you didn't get to hug your date up close, when the seats are too far apart.
Then, perhaps I don't have to remind you in your teen-ager days how important the large back bench of seat was in a full-size car. Of course, a van with all rear seats removed and windows darkened would be best, but, hey, not everyone had all the luck!

Trust me, a full-size back seat bench with generous rear leg room will always be appreciated by any generation of teens and adults alike!

jzj

To return to the question: why does Chevy stick with the T-shape battery pack instead under-the-floor-and-rear-seat design?

Biff

@Roger,

Thanks for the trip down memory lane and a good laugh. I can remember sliding around on those bench seats when I was a nipper, and then realising as a teenager that flat seats had a whole other purpose.

Here in Australia the pinnacle of automotive utility (in its broadest sense) was achieved with the legendary Holden Sandman of the 1970s (aka the 'shaggin' wagon'). Nothing said quality quite like one of these, especially with a lurid mural on the side that usually took the form of a muscled, sword-wielding barbarian figure with a scantily-clad lady(?) draped around his legs. For those interested in further reading, paragraph 5 is a classic:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panel_van_(Australia)

Roger Pham

Thanks, Biff. I would have love 'em shagging' wagon. These are nice vanagon and people were quite clever down under! The ride quality would be a lot smoother than that of a van, and nothing will give a smoother ride than that of a 2-1/2-ton Detroit floater of the past. The more technology the auto industry has gained, the more they have forgotten our basic human needs and desires. We don't need all these freakin' horsepower and cornering ability. We need a cushy ride and big, uninterrupted bench seats and a big, roomy cabin...
Why don't they make 'em the way they used to?

SJC

Roger,

I looked at Malibu and Impala, two front wheel drive cars without AWD models, they have a very noticeable floor hump in the middle of the back floor.

I don't believe that they use this for the exhaust pipe, RWD cars do not put the exhaust pipe in with the drive shaft. There are many other ways to stiffed the floor panel without intruding on the middle rear passenger's feet.

Engineer-Poet
I don't believe that they use this for the exhaust pipe

Try looking underneath one.  Your phone probably has a camera, use it.

SJC

You look, rear wheel drive cars do not put the exhaust pipe in with the drive shaft, so front wheel cars do not need a tunnel.

Engineer-Poet

Here's the image of Honda's new drivetrain for the Legend.  Note the exhaust pipe going straight down the central tunnel in the floor pan.

Say "thank you".

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