Since its inception, the Chevrolet Volt has “sparked” (see what I did there) much discussion and debate. It has also created a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. This is because the car symbolizes what many hope is an important movement in the automotive industry away from gasoline toward a more sustainable energy source.
The electric car revolution is well under way and the Volt is at the forefront of this movement. As its number of owners and fans continue to grow, it is no surprise that there is an enormous amount of excitement and anticipation surrounding the release of the newest model, the 2014 Volt.
Anticipation and Speculation Swirling Around Newest Volt
As mentioned above, the number of Volt owners and Volt enthusiasts continues to grow at a tremendous rate. This means that the excitement and anticipation for the newest model of the Volt has also increased to high levels. All this anticipation and excitement has led to an astonishing amount of speculation and conjecture related to the 2014 Volt.
The array of speculation surrounding the newest Volt varies from wild and imaginative rumor to more reasonable and realistic assumptions. The combination of passionate fans along with the technological possibilities associated with the car has created a platform for some interesting notions regarding the features and specifications of the upcoming vehicle.
One interesting rumor was that this new Volt would have a new engine. Last year there was chatter amongst the online community that the 2014 Volt would be ditching its 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine for a more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. Most of those claiming this change was coming pointed to an “anonymous” GM insider as their source. However, it increasingly seems as though this was merely rumor and a new theory regarding an engine change has emerged.
According to this article on MSN.com the Volt is more likely to be leaning toward implementing a 1.0-liter or 1.2-liter 3-cylinder into the Volt. However, even if this change is approved it would most likely not be applied to the Volt until 2015.
Like this proposed engine change, many are starting to believe that any major changes to the Volt won’t be occurring until the model year 2015. This is because it is believed that the true second generation Volt won’t be the 2014 Volt, but rather the 2015 or even 2016 Volt. Although this is the growing feeling around the internet community, there is still some speculation regarding minor tweaks and changes to the new 2014 model.
It seems that some people surmise that some of the features of the 2013 Volt will be stripped from the standard 2014 Volt in an attempt reduce its price. This seems to be a reasonable assumption as GM will be aiming to sell more Volts. Others suspect that there will be minor improvements in performance and possibly some minimal gains in electric range. It is also believed that some new options could be introduced such as a moonroof or power seats.
What We Do Know
Although everything discussed thus far in this article is purely speculation, due to GM’s reluctance to provide information, there are some things we do know about the 2014 Volt.
The one thing that GM has released is that there will be two new color choices for the 2014 model. The two new colors being introduced are Ashen Gray Metallic and Brownstone Metallic. The two new color options can be seen here. GM also announced that the 2014 Volt is expected to go on sale in the U.S. at the end of May.
We can also be assured that GM will be attempting to increase the amount of electric vehicles it produces in the years to come as CEO Dan Akerson stated “We expect to have an estimated 500,000 vehicles on the road with some form of electrification by 2017” in a speech at the HIS CERAWeek energy conference.
While most of the proposed specifications in this article are only hypothetical, it is quite possible that some of the features mentioned here will be integrated into the 2014 Volt. Due to the vast popularity of the Volt and the enthusiasm of its fans, there has been a stupendous amount of speculation regarding the newest model. No matter what alterations or improvements are made to the 2014 Volt it is likely to sell well as there is a massive amount of excitement and anticipation surrounding its release.
What do you think?
When will the truly next-gen Volt come out, and what will GM likely do? Will it do the best things possible toward maximizing the car’s acceptance? Will it lower its selling price without stripping content? Should it? Does it need to? Will the Volt have Voltec siblings by that time too?
What would be the smartest thing GM could do?
Vince Evans is a self-medicated car freak who gets his fix by going to every auto auction within driving distance. If he can’t be there, he writes about New York used cars.
Should Fisker be offered more federal aid? Bob Lutz says maybe, maybe not.
Is the company even going to declare bankruptcy and fall apart? Or for all the talking heads out there doing what they do best, does Fisker know something they do not?
I coulda had a V8 – and if Lutz gets his way, it will!
While news organizations are making editorial hay writing thoughtful and well-considered (or not) epitaphs for a Fisker tombstone not yet planted, the company has brashly started a new Web site hinting at future products.
It’s been reported that part of the irreconcilable differences between Fisker CEO Tony Posawatz and Henrik Fisker centered around a desire by the former Volt line chief to get the line of credit turned back on by Uncle Sam.
Have he and Bob Lutz been talking? In a recent Forbes blog post, the “Father of the Chevy Volt” said he’d not want to make the call, but a case could be made for forking over more public assistance to Fisker in its time of need:
The nagging question: should Fisker be bailed out? After all, the feds bailed out GM! What’s the difference? Ah, there is one! GM was a product powerhouse, preparing the best line of cars and trucks in the last 50 years. Its manufacturing and supply base were of a high level. GM was not sunk by losing money on vehicles: it sank due to overwhelming legacy costs that simply swamped them. Fisker has no immediately-ready new product. It has no “legacy costs.” The problem with Fisker is one of fixed costs (headquarters, engineering, design, manufacturing facilities, staff) which were all geared to a revenue commensurate with the annual sale of 20,000 or more cars annually, not a volume of roughly 2,500 currently in the hands of customers.
Bottom line, says Lutz: Fisker was top heavy and it was paying $10,000 just to have each Karma shipped from Finland. What’s more, it never even got started building cars at its big Delaware plant “which sank the Pontiac Solstice due to its high cost of operation, [and] has to go.”
Too bad how it has all played out, Lutz says, as the Karma is a fine looking car.
“Let’s look at a few facts: the big Karma, designed by Henrik Fisker, is quite possibly the most beautiful four-door sedan ever,” said Lutz. “The technology, similar to that of the Chevrolet Volt, was ground-breaking and soon to be adopted by many of the leading manufacturers as they seek to meet stringent CO2 and fuel economy rules.”
But Fisker had a lot of bad breaks, as Lutz’s headline “Bad Karma: Should Fisker Get More Federal Aid?” clearly implies.
The company had really good intentions. It did qualify for an Energy Department loan begun by a program started by the Bush administration, but it was a hapless victim of “false reports of battery fires, real battery problems due to a production error at supplier A123, and subsequent Chapter 11 of same,” Lutz said, not to mention 330 cars destroyed by a hurricane that were only partially insured.
In all, Lutz says he’d like Fisker to succeed, if for nothing else so he can keep a supply of Karma bodies rolling so he and partner VL Destino can re-equip them with ZR1 powertrains and revised details “for which there is brisk demand while new electric Karmas languish on the lots of disheartened Fisker dealers around the globe.”
New Web site?
Meanwhile, Fisker is either displaying serious chutzpah, or it might have an ace up its sleeve.
Despite headlines all over the Internet such as “How Fisker fell apart,” “What Fisker’s failure tells us about Obama’s clean-energy programs,” and “How the Wheels Came Off for Fisker” among others, last week it put up a new Web site.
The under-construction site is only a mock-up with a promise of “coming soon.”
It has tabs that are not all working, but one is titled “Tomorrow” under which is named the Atlantic model not yet in production, as well as the future Sunset convertible version of the Karma, and Surf “shooting brake” version of the Karma. If you scroll your mouse over the “Tomorrow” tab a pop up says “TOMORROW NEVER DIES.”
On Friday, Tesla Motors’ CEO Elon Musk announced a supplemental warranty service policy to enhance “peace of mind” for owners of the Model S.
Keeping with Tesla’s continual progressive efforts to do things just a little bit differently, the $600 per year program entitles Model S owners needing any type of servicing to have valeted to their door an 85-kwh Model S Performance or possibly a Roadster. They get this premo-level loaner regardless of what configuration and options of Model S they may have.
Saying that “the world’s best” cars ought to get “the world’s best service and warranty program,” CEO Elon Musk laid out points regarding the plan Tesla says is intended to create a service “experience” as close to “invisible” – if not downright cozy – as possible.
To accomplish it, the company is building a small fleet of 85-kwh Model S Performance loaners and will also make available Roadster loaners in most locations.
And, if while customers are borrowing the 85 Performance model they decide they like it better, they can just trade their existing Model S in at a pro-rated difference.
“The loaners will be available for immediate purchase at a price that is lower by 1 percent per month of age and $1 per mile,” said Tesla in a follow-up blog post. “If you like the service loaner more than your other car, you can just keep it. This ensures that the service fleet is constantly refreshed and gives customers the best optionality.”
As time goes on, Musk said Tesla expects cars it takes in on trade will also add to a growing inventory of used Teslas for sale as is the case already for pre-owned Roadsters the company offers.
Of course, if customers merely want to get their existing car back, no problem. The idea is not being portrayed as a means to upsell, although what ever anyone says, the net result of being loaned the top-line Model S is akin to the old salesman’s “puppy dog close.”
You know how that works – the customer in a traditional sales interaction shows himself on the edge of making a purchase, but deflects, saying he needs to “think about it.” No problem, says the dealer, and just to be helpful, he tells the customer to take the nice new car home for a few days no strings attached and see how he feels about it. At that point, ownership feelings could well take over along with justifications in the customer’s mind to try and make it so, and just like a kid who says of a cute puppy “Aw, mom, can’t I keep it?” Shazam! – you have a sale.
Or, if nothing else, experiencing the best Tesla has to offer will surely plant seeds in the minds of some 40- and 60-kwh Model S owners who get to borrow the 85 Performance, and they may well start imagining what they’ll opt for with their next Tesla …
But Tesla did not get into implied scenarios or emphasize anything more than maximizing the customer’s good feelings. In fact, Musk said something that radically flies in the face of traditional dealership service models.
“What I’ve told the Tesla Service Division is their job is never to make a profit,” Musk said.
Investors may get “mad” hearing this, Musk said, but the service model he says Tesla is aiming for should be run to the “zero profit point.”
Musk contends service is best if it is painless as possible, and he wants to “minimize not maximize” the cost of any service.
This said, the all-electric cars do not need customary servicing like gas or diesel vehicles, and so, the service policy may not even be used unless a major issue crops up, like with the battery or electronics.
“As such, we are comfortable making the annual checkup entirely optional,” said Tesla. “There is still value to having Tesla look at the car once a year for things like tire alignment, to address a few things here & there and perform any hardware upgrades – our goal is not just to fix things, but to make the car better than it was. However, even if you never bring in the car, your warranty is still valid.”
On the other hand, if the battery or electronics have an issue, Musk said this would be a no-fault thing, and Tesla would not snivel if the owner failed even to have taken minimal steps to become familiarized with the vehicle’s operations and care.
“The intent is to provide complete peace of mind about owning your Model S even if you never read or followed the instructions in the manual,” said Tesla.
Unlike the Roadsters which had a “bricking” problem known to be possible, the Model S is designed to be more fool-proof, so if something goes wrong inside the standard 8-year warranty period, Tesla will cover it, Musk said.
He said Tesla will fix a warranted battery as needed, and if this happens a few years from now, and there happens to be an updated battery available, there may be some leeway in upgrading at that point, it was implied.
Exceptions to the warranty would be such as from collision damage, intentional abuse, or if the battery pack had been opened by non-Tesla personnel.
Musk said the customer-centric program was as close to a dream policy as they could make it. He said he and Tesla designed its provisions putting themselves in customers’ shoes, imagining what they would want in an ideal arrangement if they were the customer.
Showing Itself Smart
The good folks in Silicon Valley are quietly attempting to reinvent the wheel; showing everyone else selling and servicing cars in these here United States how to do it better.
While Tesla is bold enough to say its cars are the world’s best, it is never so arrogant as to come out and declare something like “we are smarter,” yet smarter it is potentially showing itself to be, said Yoda.
Is it any wonder auto dealership associations are fighting Tesla’s unorthodox retail store and service center infiltration into their domain, and in cases looking at Tesla like the incarnation of the devil himself?
Talk about upsetting the old way of doing things.
Musk said he tells his service centers not to try and make a profit. He said Tesla is making scant profits selling the cars at this point too.
Of course Tesla is most definitely in business for profit, but how it is aiming to go about achieving this is altogether different.
Traditional dealerships have disparagingly been called “stealerships” by some, and in any event, back-end profits from parts and service are big business to help make up for thin margins perceived from the initial car sale.
Over the years, while many traditional dealerships have made loyal customers who value the relationship, in other cases some dealerships have engendered no love among people who have felt less than valued, if not overcharged or outright burned.
Further, the relationship between salespeople and customer, while typically marked with smiles and surface cordiality, can often behind the scenes be seen as an adversarial affair marked by ambivalence on both sides of the table.
Musk and Tesla are making big efforts to destroy this paradigm.
He said his agenda is not a short-term gain in sales, but long-term loyalty, ostensibly by earning it by maximizing the quality of the service experience.
Reporters asked Musk what drove him to make the decision – was it knowledge of looming problems he wanted to pre-empt? Was it knowledge of current issues he wanted to head off at the pass?
Surely there have been some issues, but Musk said so far not one battery has failed at the module or cell level, and his goal was planting seeds of long-term buyer trust.
“We want to say ‘just don’t worry about the battery, its going to be fine,’” he told reporters in characterizing the spirit of intent behind Tesla’s motives.
Consumers today are naturally concerned with the expensive battery pack that, being new technology, is due to sooner or later be updated. Jumping into the EV waters does make many people take pause, especially at the $70,000-$110,000-plus prices Tesla is charging for its first sedan.
It would appear Tesla is positioning itself for an above-Lexus-level experience, and says it wants to soften the way to the point of being no cause for fear.
Musk said he’d been preoccupied until recently with car design, supply chain, and other issues with launching the Model S, and now has turned his attention to ownership and service issues for Tesla’s growing customer base.
Of course, it all comes at a price, so the program is really like being well insured. It does not guaranty nothing will go wrong, but it is intended to make it as easy as possible should anything need attending to.
Customers who opt in will not need to sit around a dealership listening to air-impact tools ratcheting away in the service bays, with a TV and stale coffee to keep them company.
Instead they get to stay home with a top-line loaner delivered to their door for any reason they need their car looked at.
As for whether this will apply to the Model X and future cars, Musk said Tesla has that as an “aspirational” goal, but would not commit unequivocally that it will.
He said to lower its costs, Tesla may need to bundle out some of the services, but did leave open the possibility the same program could be had in the future for pending models.
Nissan’s 2,236 Leafs sold in March was its best U.S. sales month since its December 2010 launch, and while it’s questionable whether April will equal this, Nissan is looking well beyond month-by-month results, and is showing itself to be committed for the long haul.
This week, timed with Earth Day on April 22, Nissan hosted a couple of waves of journalists to take carefully guided tours of its massive new battery plant in Smyrna, Tenn.
The 475,000 square-foot facility is adjacent to its newly online Leaf-assembly operation, and these plants are located an hour north from Nissan’s Decherd, Tenn. plant where the Leaf’s eMotors are built.
The major investment in more EV-making capacity than is yet being utilized is part of a broader goal to localize 85 percent of Nissan and Infiniti production by 2015, and to bring on more EVs in their due season.
Director and Plant Manager Jeff Deaton explains one stage of the multistage assembly process.
Nissan’s battery production can be scaled up to 200,000 complete battery pack assemblies annually. In calendar year 2012, Nissan delivered 9,819 Leafs to the U.S. Do you think the company which knows full well where it’s at has big plans for the EV future?
In any event, the new plant came online just in time to supply the modified 30-year-old Smyrna auto assembly plant where the Leaf now shares assembly line space with Maximas and Altimas.
The battery assembly facility is modeled on best practices learned at Nissan’s “mother plant,” the Zama battery assembly plant in the Kanagawa prefecture in Japan. The Smryna battery factory’s American workers were hand-picked for their skills and talents and sent to Zama so they could come back home and duplicate their Japanese counterparts’ efficiency.
We say the media tour was “carefully” guided because Nissan has developed manufacturing processes to which it staunchly denies access to prying eyes, let alone camera-wielding visitors to wander through and liberally snap images of, lest competitors also learn a trick or two.
In coming days and weeks you will see various media coverage and mentions of Nissan’s battery plant, including some video production, but none of it will be giving away industrial secrets if Nissan has anything to say about it.
Nissan’s stance is understandable given it aims to lead the EV race, and has invested several billion dollars around the globe in order to try and make it so.
A completed Leaf battery pack assembly receives final touches.
The Smryna plant is the largest lithium-ion automotive battery assembly plant in the U.S. and Nissan estimates once it reaches full capacity, it will represent a $1.7 billion investment – all in the name of getting as many all-electric vehicles on the road as possible.
The project is supported also by a U.S. Department of Energy loan for up to $1.4 billion. The taxpayer money was authorized under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program by Congress as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
Lots of high-ceiling, open, organized, perfectly constructed, OSHA-compliant and relatively quiet automated work goes on continuously. Workers are not needed for much of it.
Led by Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, the Japanese manufacturer is now well positioned in the center of the country to help America in its quest to 1) create vehicles and technologies that can increase U.S. energy independence, and 2) create cleaner means of transportation, and 3) stimulate the American economy.
Thus far 300 extra jobs have been created in the highly automated plant dedicated to zero emissions, and Nissan figures as many as 1,000 jobs could be derived assuming full production volume in coming years.
In It to Win It
In launching its well-under $40,000 all-electric Leaf, and developing manufacturing facilities in Japan, the U.S. and Sunderland, UK, Renault-Nissan is striking early and striking as aggressively as it can to proliferate battery powered transportation for the masses.
Through March 2013, Nissan counts 23,000 Leafs having been delivered in the U.S., and 60,000 globally.
As an already established manufacturer, Nissan can afford to do things in a bigger fashion than, say, Tesla Motors – which has lots of good ideas also, but its pockets are not nearly as deep.
Leafs charge under a small solar canopy outside the main battery plant entrance.
Tesla’s angle has been to connect with its customers and hopefully future customers, but its strategy to tattoo its brand onto the soul of its well wishers has involved proffering such creations as its already discontinued Roadster and now its Model S – cars costing two- to four-times more than the $30,000 or so average new car price.
The California start-up has amassed a wide range of enthusiastic fans – even many who cannot afford its products – by cavalierly beginning what some have said isn’t possible in the face of established U.S. auto sellers – it’s an unfolding saga and sort of akin to a new rendition of a David vs. Goliath story.
Tesla has delivered comparatively few products, but they’ve been perceived as sizzlingly hot creations, and Tesla has all the while promised everyone who cannot yet swing a Tesla to hang on, as the 99 percent is not forgotten even if the 1 percent is presently being served first.
Fear not, says Tesla, plans are to make more affordable cars ASAP, and its plausibility has been deep for many a person who does not subscribe to Sarah Palin’s Facebook page.
Naturally, Nissan had the 2013s lined up for media to take a 20-plus mile drive.
Meanwhile Nissan is making more affordable cars now. They may have less visceral appeal than other upmarket creations, but they work, cost very little to operate, and are more affordable than ever.
The major manufacturer this year took a knife to the MSRP for its updated Leaf SV and SL trim model packages and introduced a base-level S trim level $6,000 less than the lowest priced Leaf from 2012.
The 2013 model year Leafs were only mildly improved in a host of ways, not radically overhauled, and their 24-kwh batteries remain close to the original spec, albeit now made in USA.
“Sshh! Don’t tell anyone a gas-powered Honda was occupying one of the EV-only spots at Nissan’s Leaf assembly plant. (Actually it belonged to a Blink technician servicing the chargers, and there were extra spots available).
But Nissan has no actual head-to-head competitors selling a truly similar product in all 50 states. Granted EVs are coming along, such as the Honda Fit EV, the more modest Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and other manufacturers like GM and Ford have come out with or are in process of coming out with EVs for limited markets.
Aside from its limited-market RAV4 EV, Toyota has shied away from EVs altogether for now, content to sit back and let others do the heavy lifting while it tries to expand its small hybrid empire against increasing competition. Other automakers too have displayed more hesitancy and conservatism than Nissan.
By itself, Nissan has almost whittled its prices down to other economy cars, or at least to the national average new car price if not much less with incentives.
Another day at the office … building Li-ion batteries at America’s largest battery assembly plant.
At the extreme, counting a $7,500 federal tax credit, some people in states where additional subsidies are offered – such as California, Pennsylvania, and others – are taking home the least expensive Leaf for under $19,000.
Despite the maverick appeal of what Tesla is doing on the wild and under-developed EV frontier, the fact is, Nissan’s cars – most notably the Leaf S model – can be had for a fraction of a Tesla Model S.
But Tesla, GM, Ford, Mitsubishi, BMW, and several others have plans for the not-too-distant future, and Nissan knows it, so it continues onward, putting its money where its mouth is.
For the most part.
Last fall, the company announced an enhanced battery warranty retroactive to 2011 and 2012 Leafs, as well as 2013 models. The skinny on this was Nissan will cover battery degradation for 5 years or 60,000 miles which ever comes first for cars that show nine out of 12 possible bars on their power display.
Nissan proudly shows its cutaway Leaf battery pack at the opening of its factory tour.
This roughly equates to 70 percent remaining power – thus significantly degraded range in cars that may only go 73-90 miles more or less to begin with.
It was a concession following a loud outcry from Nissan’s highly vocal early adopting owners, particularly in hotter states such as Arizona, Texas and California where some said extreme range loss was occurring too soon.
Nissan’s move followed despite it not admitting any actual product defect with its non-liquid-cooled battery packs, but the company says it was listening to its Leaf owners. It agreed to an independent Leaf battery probe, among other actions, and in the process, settled a class-action suit with some of its most disgruntled Leaf customers.
A fountain in the courtyard between the security entrance and the plant’s front doors.
The enhanced warranty coverage – announced last September on the MyNissanLeaf.com forum in advance of its approximately spring 2013 effective date – does not necessarily promise to restore 12 bars, but is something positive and has been taken with mixed reactions by Leaf owners.
As noted, Nissan did not substantially re-engineer its Leaf’s battery for 2013, and its battery is still not liquid cooled or heated. But the car is expected to score higher in its EPA rating due to efficiencies implemented, and Nissan is saying it should conservatively be good for 84 miles range – if not farther – compared to 73 miles EPA-rated range for the first couple years.
It’s an altogether improved car that saw several customer recommendations come to fruition in its update, and it’s better backed now too.
Back to the Future
Bumps in the road aside, Nissan is leading a pioneering effort as it keeps churning out domestically made batteries assembled according to an elaborate and careful multi-stage process.
One of the steps in battery production (see infographic) involves aging the batteries to let complex chemical reactions take place prior to putting batteries into service.
The Smyrna battery plant has actually been operational for several months now, but full Leaf production only got rolling toward the end of February.
Click on image to expand.
And now we shall see how Nissan’s gambit in electric cars continues to play out. Certainly it was a carefully thought-out business decision, intended to pay dividends if not instantly, then over time.
The yen-to-dollar exchange rate, and costs to ship Leafs from Japan have led Nissan to say the long-term investment on American soil was worthwhile.
Nissan has not said what it would do if Leaf sales remained static, and one insider told us we may see sales on par with the end of last year for a while, but the goal is to grow the business as word gets out that EVs can make sense, and more buyers warm up to them in time.
Also implied, but not stated is Nissan is planning more all-electric models with Nissan and Infiniti badging, and aimed at a variety of demographics.
Do you think the Leaf’s looks might turn off the aesthetic tastes of some buyers? The Leaf comes across like the proverbial ecocar even more than Toyota’s Prius. This styling was based on early adapter preferences expressed, but Nissan knows other people will want an electric car that blends in better. No specifics on this, but stay tuned.
Also, there is no talk at present of subcontracting excess manufacturing capacity and it is designated only for Nissan vehicle requirements.
For now, the plant’s production is scaled down, and Nissan is content to plod along with Leaf demand still the only reason for having built America’s largest EV battery factory.
But you can be sure it won’t be this way any longer than is necessary. Nissan has plans within plans and has shown willingness to push them into being with more boldness than just about anyone.
The 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV’s efficiency ratings are out. General Motors’ new EV is rated at an EPA-estimated combined city/highway 119 MPGe fuel economy equivalent and a combined city/highway EPA estimated range of 82 miles when fully charged.
This means that when compared to the average new vehicle, the Spark EV can potentially save its owners up to $9,000 in fuel cost over five years.
The Spark EV goes on sale this summer in California and Oregon.
“Being able to provide our customers with the best overall efficiency of any retail EV has always been a key target for the Spark EV engineering team,” said Pam Fletcher, GM executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles. “We’re poised to deliver to the market an EV that’s not just efficient, but also thrilling to drive thanks to the 400 pound-feet torque output of its electric motor.
The company said the Spark EV’s 21 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack will continue Chevrolet’s tradition of offering industry-leading limited warranty protection – eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.
The Spark EV will be the first vehicle on the market to offer as an available option the recently approved SAE combo charger for DC Fast Charging. The capability, available shortly after launch, will enable the Spark EV to recharge up to 80 percent of its capacity in approximately 20 minutes.
According to Chevrolet, the battery system is capable of handling multiple DC Fast Charges daily.
Charging can also be completed in less than seven hours using a dedicated 240V charge. A 120V charge cord set comes standard.
Charging of the Spark EV can be managed and monitored remotely using the Spark EV’s smart phone application, provided by OnStar, which is standard for three years.
“The Chevrolet Spark EV is a great city car which blends technology, functionality and style in an unexpected package” said Cristi Landy, director of Chevrolet small and electrified vehicle marketing. “We built on the success of the Volt and the gas-powered Spark to offer an affordable, fun and efficient mini car our customers will love to drive.”
Chevrolet also said the Spark EV will set an acceleration benchmark for an urban city electric vehicle – 0-60 mph in under eight seconds due to the mating of a permanent magnet electric motor, which produces more than 100 kilowatt (130 horsepower), with the coaxial drive unit.
The GM designed oil-cooled, permanent magnet motor is the heart of the Spark EV’s propulsion system.
Per General Motors, putting more than half a million road miles on development versions of the Spark EV enabled engineers to make the performance of the electric motor the best it could be by using a bar wound copper stator and unique rotor configuration.
The motor and drive unit are assembled at GM’s Baltimore operations plant in White Marsh, Md.
Last week, the plant celebrated the Spark EV motor production in Baltimore, marking the first time a major U.S. auto manufacturer has designed and built both a complete electric motor and drive unit for a modern electric vehicle in the United States.
I sure hope my Chevy Volt battery lasts for years and years. I keep my cars for a long time — my 2012 Chevy Volt replaced a 20-year-old Toyota Camry with 175,000 miles.
How long will the battery last? GM performed simulations that led them to conclude the battery will last many years past the 8-year warranty period. My old Camry lasted more than a decade after all its warranties expired, so hopefully my Volt and battery will last far beyond my 8-yr warranty period.
Given the Volt only uses about 10 kWh of the battery’s 16 kWh capacity, it is conservatively designed to last a long time. We know from the Toyota Prius design, which only uses 50% of its battery’s capacity, that using only part of the battery’s capacity allows it to last a lot longer. Given the Toyota experience, the Volt battery should last for many years. Additionally, I imagine GM may “unlock” more of the battery capacity with a future software update, enabling the Volt to keep the same driving range over time by using more of the battery.
For this exercise, lets assume I want to replace the Chevy Volt battery in 8 years (the length of the warranty). Since I purchased my Volt in 2012, that means it will be 2020 when I’m in the market for a replacement battery pack.
What will batteries be like in 2020? Globally, there are billions of investment dollars racing to invent the best car battery. What will the range, cost, size, and charge time be in 2020? To simply, I limited myself to four scenarios. I can come up with many more, but four is a nice number.
The first scenario is, in 2020, I purchase some type of improved Lithium-Ion based battery. The technology is essentially the same, but improved on a linear scale from now until 2020. We’ll call this scenario: Linear Lithium-Ion.
The third scenario is based on what Steven Chu, the former US Secretary of Energy, predicted. We will use his predictions from a speech at the Detroit Economic Club. We’ll call this scenario: Steven Chu’s Prediction.
The four scenario is based on a what the startup Envia Systems claims it will produce soon. I picked them because they have 3rd party tests demonstrating their claims.
For each scenario, I focus on 2 key factors:
1. The range of the battery, based on its energy density.
2. The cost of the replacement battery pack.
By 2020, we will definitely see improvement. The central question is: how much improvement will we see? Let’s get to the scenarios.
Scenario #1 — Linear Lithium-Ion
Many industry experts estimate that Lithium-Ion battery improvements will continue at the current pace. That pace is about a 7% improvement per year in energy density. We’ve seen this play out with small improvements in the 2013 Chevy Volt battery (going from EPA range ratings from 35 miles 38 miles). The Nissan Leaf Lithium-Ion battery also had a similar growth in range. According to Wikipedia, today’s Volt has a 16 KW-hr battery that weighs 435 lbs (197 kg). So the pack-level energy density is currently:
—————— = 81.2 wH/kg
Taking the 81.2 wH/kg figure and improving it 7% per year, you get 140 wH/kg in 2020. With a Volt you can drive 40 miles (I usually get around 40 in real-world driving) with 81.2 wH/kg so, with all else being equal, you should be able to go about 69 miles in 2020. Using the equation:
x miles 140 wH/kg
———— = —————–
40 miles 81.2 wH/kg
Solving for x, you get 69 miles.
How much will the pack cost? Again, there are so many predictions out there. An article in AutoBlogGreen has GM stating the pack costs between $8000 and $9,500. I’m going to use $9,000 for a good round number. At $9,000, the battery pack has a cost of $563 per kWh ($9,000/16 kWh). The article above states GM “hopes” to hit a cost of $300 per kWh by 2015. That is quite aggressive. I’m being less aggressive and assuming that the battery pack cost goes down 5% per year, which will get to an energy density of $374 per kWh in 2020.
With these calculations, if you buy a 16 kWh battery pack, it will cost you $5,984 in 2020 (16 kWh x $374/kWh). If you select a battery with the Volt’s 40 miles per charge, the battery pack will cost you $3,520.
The bottom line of scenario one is 69 miles per charge for $5,984 and 40 miles per charge for $3,520.
Scenario #2 — Aluminum-air Breakthrough
In my previous analysis of the future of Chevy Volt battery options, I used the IBM announcements around a new Lithium-air battery. According to an article in the New Scientist: IBM thinks it has a solution with a promising new lithium-air (Li-air) battery. According to the technology giant, a typical Li-air battery cell has a theoretical energy density more than 1,000 times greater than today’s industry-standard Li-ion battery cell. Even better, Li-air batteries are one-fifth the size and they offer a lifespan at least five times as long.
For this version of the analysis, I believe a more likely possibility is an Aluminum-air breakthrough. The demonstration by Phinergy feels compelling. They showed 1,000 miles of range in a demonstration car — however it needs distilled water every 200 miles. The Phinergy CEO, Aviv Tzidon, told Bloomberg TV that they signed a contract with a global automaker to deliver the battery in production volumes, starting in 2017. So if they stay on schedule, it will be ready by 2020.
This is the kind of breakthrough everyone is hoping for to enable the electrification of mainstream vehicles, and therefore, reduce global warming pollution plus reduce the US dependency on foreign oil. So what does this mean for our exercise? Phinergy demonstrated 1,000 miles of range, so we will go with that for range.
I have no information on the potential cost of this battery. I don’t know what to do here. So I will leave it with question marks in the summary table below.
Scenario #3 — Steven Chu’s Prediction
Chu, in a speech at the Detroit Economic Club, said that a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle battery that can provide 40 miles of all-electric range will cost $3,600 in 2015, down from $12,000 in 2008. “That battery’s cost will fall to just $1,500 by the end of the decade,” Chu added. “The advanced battery competition is a race the United States can and should win,” said Chu.
So this means for $1,500 I can replace my Chevy Volt battery pack and go 40 miles per charge. It cost me more than $1,500 to pay for a tune-up and other maintenance after 8 years in an ICE car.
Scenario #4 — Envia Systems
Envia Systems is a startup claiming to have a 400 Wh/kg battery in the works. I find their battery quite interesting because GM Ventures, the investment arm of GM, invested in them. Plus Envia has put their prototype to the test at a 3rd party lab, under the sponsorship of ARPA-E, and published the results. Envia claims “When commercialized, this 400 Wh/kg battery is expected to slash the price of a 300-mile range electric vehicle by cutting the cost of the battery pack by more than 50%.”
For this analysis, the Envia battery weighs in at 300 miles of electrical range and we’ll say it costs 50% less than the current $9,000 Chevy Volt battery.
Summing it all up
A summary of all scenarios is in the table below. The breakthrough scenario looks quite compelling. I hope it comes to fruition! The Steven Chu prediction looks quite exciting too, so does the Envia Systems solution. The only one that looks expensive is the linear progression. Only time will tell what the future holds.
In this analysis, I did not account for the cost to install a new battery pack. But that may be more than offset with how much the old battery could be sold for on the open market. There is talk about using it for Energy Grid Storage. Sorry to complicate things here at the end. Let’s get back to the summary below:
#1 Linear Li-Ion $5,984 69 $86.7
#1 Linear Li-Ion $3,520 40 $88.0
#2 Aluminum-air $?? 1,000 $??
#3 Chu’s Prediction $1,500 40 $37.5
#4 Envia Systems $4,500 300 $15.0
Thanks for sticking with me through these estimates. I don’t know what to budget for my replacement battery pack. Maybe I can hold out until the breakthrough battery comes with 1,000 miles of range on a single charge. Then I could remove my ICE generator and cut down the Volts weight. Why would I need a generator if the car can go 1,000 miles on a single charge?
Let’s check back with each other in 2020 and see how this all turns out.