General Motors' Chevrolet Volt will launch late in 2010 and is expected to usher in a new era for vehicles powered primarily by batteries. The four-passenger Volt can travel 40 miles on battery power alone and can be recharged either via its onboard gasoline engine-generator (which gets 50 mpg) or from a household outlet overnight (or at local charging stations).
Now that GM is getting closer to the launch of the vehicle, more information is being revealed about how the company plans to keep the vehicle up to date while at the same time lowering production costs and space requirements for critical components.
GM says that Volt customers can expect to see frequent updates each year, something virtually unheard of in the automotive world. Frank Weber, GM's global vehicle line executive for the Volt describes, "This is almost like getting software updates into your car. This is not a mechanical world. This is suddenly you get updates, improvements much more rapidly. So, even within a vehicle lifecycle you will see updates that are very significant."
Top on GM's wish list is improving the Volt's battery. GM wants to cut the costs of producing the battery, so that the Volt can be cost competitive with its other offerings eventually. On the same note, it wants the battery to be smaller as well. The battery, a 400-pound (181 kg) T-shaped battery pack, has cells manufactured by Korea's LG Chem, while the pack itself is assembled by GM in the U.S. GM has not ruled out using A123's competitive designs, should they mature sufficiently.
GM officials reiterate that the goal with the battery improvements is not to extend the range the vehicle can go before burning gas, which they believe is already sufficient. Rather, size and cost are the driving concerns. States Mr. Weber, "My goal is not to go from 40 to 60 (miles) in the next generation vehicles. My expectation is that the battery is equally capable, but they are half the size and half the cost of the batteries that go into the car right now."
Mr. Weber believes that the Volt is much more competitive than other plug-in hybrids coming to the market or pure electrics. He believes the Volt's battery system is a solid platform, and should last several generations of vehicles via iterative improvements. Furthermore, he believes the general market just isn't ready for battery-pack only vehicles like Tesla Motors' Roadster (without gasoline generators like the Volt). Given the lengths GM had to go to deliver a 40 mile range on a battery pack not priced astronomically high -- including reducing friction on the tires and the battery drain from electronics such as stereo systems -- this assertion seems fair.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is providing the special new tires to the Volt to help reduce its friction with the road. Bose is applying its expertise to developing a lightweight extra energy efficient premium stereo system for the car as well.
Before porting the Volt's drive system to other vehicles in its lineup, GM plans on focusing on the Volt's success. States Weber, "Before we talk about diversification on the portfolio side, there is enough market for a vehicle that provides this level of functionality and performance."
In 2010, GM plans on putting 10,000 Volts on the market. It plans to increase this number to 60,000 a year within a few years. GM has already stated that it expects to see no profits on the first generation of the Volt, which cost $750M USD already to develop. The company, though, sees the vehicle as the defining symbol of its new forward-looking image and a critical component to its long term success.