Volt Battery Development Nears Final Phase, GM Says

By dancurranjr On March 22nd, 2009

hybrid_battery_packGeneral Motors Corp. will reach the final engineering phase of its Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle this summer, when prototype vehicles hit the road, an official said today.

And though GM may run out of cash next month unless it receives $2.6 billion in additional federal aid, the automaker continues to work on second and third generation electric versions that will cost less than the Volt, which is scheduled to debut in November 2010, GM officials said.

As part of the $13.4 billion federal loan package GM received late last year, the automaker is required to develop vehicles that rely on advanced technology. GM must show progress on becoming a viable company by March 31 or the U.S. Department of Treasury could demand repayment — a move that would force the automaker into bankruptcy.

GM is working with companies that produce battery cells and electronic and thermal systems to find innovations that will drop the cost of subsequent generations of electric vehicles, said Denise Gray, GM’s director of hybrid energy storage systems.

The first-generation Volt could cost as much as $40,000 because of its expensive lithium-ion batteries, and Congress is considering tax breaks that would defray the purchase cost.

GM has about 30 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles on the road right now that utilize the Volt’s lithium-ion battery packs and the automaker will start testing about 80 prototype vehicles this summer that functionally represent the electric car, said Bob Kruse, executive director for Global Vehicle engineering.

The Volt will rely on a lithium-ion battery pack that will let commuters travel up to 40 miles on electric power alone. The Volt’s engine kicks in after its battery is drained by about 70 percent to sustain the battery’s remaining charge to keep the car running for several hundred miles.

The electrification of vehicles is seen as a growth area in the auto industry and rival automakers have launched electric vehicle plans to cut the dependence on foreign oil.

At the North American International Auto Show in January, GM said it is boosting its Volt investment to more than $1 billion by establishing a plant in Michigan, possibly in southeastern Michigan, that will produce lithium-ion battery packs. The automaker also said it will open a 31,000-square-foot automotive battery lab and partner with the University of Michigan to educate future battery engineers.

GM initially will rely on foreign-made batteries for the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle, scheduled for production late next year. GM is partnering with South Korea-based battery maker LG Chem, though batteries eventually could be produced in the U.S., Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said.

GM plans to select the battery plant site by the end of June with production starting in early 2010. The facility would be the size of a small engine plant and a portion would feature a “clean room environment.”

GM executives and analysts have said it makes sense to have the plant in southeastern Michigan because the Volt’s engines will be built in Flint and the vehicle assembled at GM’s Detroit/Hamtramck plant.

SOURCE: Detroit News

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