Is GM getting more cagey than usual dropping suggestive hints it knows people like us will now start to wonder about?
If it keeps this up, it may be able to reduce its ad budget and let increased grassroots enthusiasm help it along as does Tesla.
So what do you think? Is the future mystery car a Tesla Model X fighter? A Model 3 CUV fighter? Do the hints add up to an electrified vehicle? They seem to. What could it be?
Yesterday General Motors announced Monday it is investing $245 million in a “new vehicle program” at its Orion Township plant where the Chevy Bolt will be produced but this is not to be confused as monies for the Bolt.
Rather, said plant representative Chris Bonelli in a phone interview yesterday, the automaker is preparing 300 jobs and a new assembly line for an all-new car “unlike any in the plant’s 32-year history.”
Bonelli clarified that $160 million has already been invested in Orion for the Bolt – and where the Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano are also built – so this new higher dollar amount investment is only for the car yet to be identified.
The automaker for now is not revealing if it will be electrified, but hopes are already running high for news-snooping readers on enthusiasts’ forums, and elsewhere.
They may have to wait, however. Bonelli said not even the brand of the car will be divulged at this point, nor type of vehicle, nor any other pertinent details, and the time frame for its production he said GM is quoting as 3-4 years out.
Such a quote might be interpreted as sandbagging, given the advanced Bolt is believed due by 2017, although GM is not confirming this either, stating Bolt production time lines reported are only rumors.
If GM’s new “Vehicle Program” requires 3-4 years from now to be up and running, it could also mean the mystery vehicle is in the early stages of development or the automaker is awaiting technological development, or reduction of costs or other factors. This of course is all unknown, and for its part GM is saying nothing more than it’s unprecedented at Orion.
“Orion Assembly is a breeding ground for manufacturing innovation,” said Cathy Clegg, GM North America vice president of Manufacturing and Labor Relations in a statement. “It serves as a model for how to engage the entire workforce at all levels to achieve success. The plant is up to the challenge of building this brand-new product, something it’s never seen before.”
The automaker says 300 jobs will be supported to the plant still rejuvenating after $962 million was invested to reopen it in 2010 after its being idled. The latest infusion of capital also is part of $5.4 billion GM will invest over the next three years in its operations.
“Approximately $3.1 billion of the $5.4 billion has been identified, leaving $2.3 billion to be announced by year end,” said the automaker in its statement.
When the new car to be built alongside the Bolt is announced was not stated.
This may be preaching to the choir, but for any Volt skeptics who you’d like to pass this along to, here you are: independent sources, the federal government and a respected auto website not known for bias for the Volt, no less.
If we showed you an independent research source that reveals how a $32,500 Chevy Volt earns back the difference and then saves you $6,000 in five years ownership time compared to a $21,400 Chevy Cruze, would you be interested?
Before we get to that, if you’re just beginning to look into alternative energy vehicles, a simple way to conceptualize plug-in hybrids is to think of them as hybrids on steroids.
Like the best full conventional hybrids, the plug-in varieties do save on operational (energy) costs for the life of the vehicle, and, with qualifiers attached, the U.S. EPA promotes this assertion as generally true.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) merge the best of both worlds from pure electric vehicle (EVs) and non-plug-in hybrids as their grid-supplied batteries are bigger than those in regular hybrids and allow part-time gas-free operation as well.
Both regular hybrids and PHEVs merge power from an internal combustion engine and blend it with a battery powered electric motor, but bigger batteries mean less gas use, and this can add up.
Reports on car shopper behavior however have shown the higher starting price of PHEVs may mean a snap decision against them as perceptibly too much to pay for what you get, but a closer examination may prove this an unfounded assumption.
Online cost calculators available may reveal the PHEV is still a better choice for your particular needs than a comparably equipped regular hybrid or internal combustion powered near-equivalent.
Real World Results Vary Widely
Operational (energy) costs are typically much less for PHEVs. Where they may vary is what you actually pay for gas, and what you actually pay for electricity. The federal government’s window stickers factor nationally averaged rates, and this is what gets reported often times.
Below we’ll show you where the feds redeem themselves and let you fine tune your actual energy costs on cars that can cost an average $4,000-$8,000 more than conventional equivalents.
Meanwhile, if you pay less or more than the 12 cents per kilowatt-hour or 2.79 per gallon the EPA figures for regular gas ($3.19 for premium) at the moment, your results could be better or worse than boilerplate window sticker assumptions.
On the other hand, anyone with access to renewably sourced energy, such as from a solar array, has a much higher likelihood of benefitting from the electric drive of PHEVs and it’s tantamount to receiving free fuel. Employers or other sources where you can get a free opportunity charge in your daily going to and fro also helps skew things in your favor.
How PHEVs Beat Conventional Cars
If you figure every machine costs money to run, PHEVs are like those which are most frugal with the energy “budget,” as it were.
Hybrid technologies like regenerative brakes capture energy otherwise wasted during stops.
And on those stops, Stop-Start systems ensure the gas engine is not running, idling, and burning fuel while you wait for the light to change.
Smaller than otherwise needed gas engines are right-sized to match their power with the electric drive.
PHEVs get stronger motors than regular hybrids that let them hit highway speeds in all-electric operation – usually up to 62-100 mph, depending on model.
However, plug-in hybrids differ – with the most notable metric to be aware of being battery size and effective all-electric range, as well as efficiency in gas-plus-electric or gas-only operation.
Also affecting the outcome will be your driving habits, particularly how far you drive between recharging.
Not Just About Costs
PHEVs let you bypass gas stations, which is convenient, liberating, even, while letting you “refuel” at home (assuming you have a place to do it).
They are estimated by the EPA to use about 40-60 percent less petroleum than conventional vehicles and this is conservative. Some drivers who stay within their electric range may beat this by much more. The EPA’s plug-in cost calculator which we’ll link below estimates how many gas station visits you’ll need depending on specific cars, and your exact energy costs, drive, and charging opportunities.
Prius PHEV. Numbers based on 40 miles per day, 15,000 per year, 15 miles to work, 110-volt charging on both ends of commute. Eighteen gas stops per year. Other PHEVs with larger batteries are much fewer. The Volt would never need to stop for gas and could do much more than this with its superior AER. Source: EPA.
Another benefit, of course, is PHEVs typically emit less greenhouse gas than conventional vehicles. True, some of those emissions are upstream at the power generation plant, and this varies by region. Nuclear, hydroelectric, and other renewable sources are cleaner than coal-fired power plants, but even the worst case scenario has seen scientists come out endorsing electrified vehicles over fuel burners.
And yet another reason to go with a PHEV is they can be enjoyable to drive. All-electric operation is quieter, smooth and can spoil you, and stories of people who went on to pure EVs have been told.
When It’s About Costs
Beyond sticker price, a wise buying decision factors all costs of ownership.
To drill down on your specific situation, the EPA’s My Plug-in Hybrid Calculator is a handy tool to determine energy costs. It covers every PHEV on the market, some of which are supercars like the million-dollar McLaren P1 which is sold out, but among more-ordinary vehicles, there are eight sold in the U.S. covered on the HybridCars.com monthly sales Dashboard.
Beyond this, evaluating ownership costs means weighing available federal and potentially state incentives along with other meaningful info needed to make a qualified decision. An unaffiliated site that has a useful tool is Edmunds.com and its proprietary True Cost To Own calculator.
2015 Chevy Cruze Eco. Do you get what you pay for? Source: Edmunds TCO calculator. We simply inputted zip code and model. This is the result of the websites’s proprietary algorithms. Cruze Eco (most fuel efficient) bought for $21,405 sure looked cheaper. Unfortunately, it will cost another $20,300 to own in five years, according to this calculator.
2015 Chevy Volt. It costs $11,100 more than the Cruze Eco. What a rip-off. We can almost hear the conservative talk show hosts now. Edmunds.com however says despite heavier depreciation in year one, and with a full $7,500 federal tax credit, this buyer will pay another $2,900 over initial payment net net instead of $20,300 in five years. We did not make this up – and as always, your actual results may vary.
GM-Volt.com is not compensated by your car buying choice; this article is purely info to enable you to decide what is best for you. Caveat emptor still applies.
On June 19, 2015, the feature article on the GM-Volt website examined how the new Chevy Bolt was likely derived from the Chevy Sonic, and some of the comparisons between the Spark EV, Sonic, and Bolt.
So now the question becomes; what will Chevy use for a battery pack?
Since the Spark EV has a range of 82 miles, and utilizes a 96S2P battery arrangement, a 2.5 scale-up would give 205 miles of range, thus the new pack would be a 96S5P. Sounds pretty simple and straightforward.
However, let’s look at this arrangement. Figure 1 is an illustration of the Spark EV chassis.
Over the rear wheels, we can see the large composite housing that contains the batteries. Imagine the size of this battery system if we need to increase its size by a factor of 2.5! Not only would it take up most of the undercarriage, but it would raise the height of the floorboards by the better part of 12 inches. This doesn’t fit the mission that Reuss stated, “5-passenger with utility”. Figure 2 provides another look at the Spark EV battery pack.
Again, imagine trying to place 2.5 of these battery packs in the Bolt.
There has to be a better way.
One major step in shrinking the size of the battery pack is to increase the energy density of the individual cells. Apparently, LG Chem has been working on this for an EV. It seems that there are tradeoffs between energy density and power density. A smaller battery pack, such as the 18.4 kWh pack in the Volt, needs cells with medium power density, but that compromises the energy density potential. However, a larger battery pack that would be used in a 200-mile EV could have low power density cells (since there are many more of them). This would allow the designers to optimize the chemistry for high energy density.
This is discussed by LG Chem’s CEO Prabhakar Patil in this link, but also in subsequent linked articles.
In fact, in his interview, Mark Reuss states that it is more challenging to build a flat battery pack, and “…the battery chemistry and the development of the battery pack coincides with the ability to package something like this. This is quite different from the Volt.”
So it seems that we are seeing not only a different package (flat platform battery pack), but that the cell chemistry has been optimized for the application (long range EV).
Let’s now look at a video of the Bolt at this website.
Please see the Bolt EV Interiors B-Roll video.
At 1:13 in the video, and also at 2:02, we get a glimpse of the floor thickness. It doesn’t appear to be much thicker than that of a conventional car. At 2:28, we see an energy diagram on the main screen, and an X-ray view reveals what looks like a mattress under the passenger compartment. Unlike many hippie vans of the ‘60’s, this mattress is actually the battery pack (although not likely drawn exactly to scale).
To fit within the required volume, this mattress-sized battery pack might be about 6” high, 40” wide, and 70” long (estimate only). This equates to 275 liters. I’m not sure of any volume data on the Spark EV battery pack, however, the Gen 2 Volt’s 18.4 kWh battery pack displaces 154 liters (see Figure 3).
So even two measly Volt battery packs (28 kWh usable) could not fit in this space. So it seems that Reuss is correct, this new battery pack will be quite different from the Volt.
So how will GM construct this battery pack? How do you package cells (such as those from the Spark EV and the Volt) that are approximately 5 inches wide and 7 inches tall (see Figure 4) in only 6 inches of height? How do all the coolant lines fit in this small package?
Figure 4. Each of the Gen 1 Volt’s cells is a “building block” within the
larger battery module and pack. An individual cell is about the size of
a 5-inch by 7-inch (12.7-cm by 17.7-cm) photo frame, is less than a
quarter-inch thick and weighs nearly a pound.
So it is obvious that there needs to be not only improved chemistry that is geared towards higher energy density, but also there needs to be a more optimized cell geometry for the package. What would be the best configuration, and what would be the best cooling scheme?
As I searched the internet, I found that LG Chem has been working on a new battery system in cooperation with the DOE. Here is a link to a 2013 progress report.
There is a great deal of information on cell life and other improvements, however, I took great interest in their low profile battery pack that is cooled by refrigerant. This battery pack is shown in Figure 5.
The cooling system shown utilizes a refrigerant and refrigeration cycle, similar to an air conditioner. The cold refrigerant flows through a cold plate at the bottom of the pack. Between each pair of Li-Ion cells is a thermal fin, which conducts heat away from the cells and down to the cold plate. With temperature sensors and controls, the temperature of the cells can be maintained within a few degrees of optimum.
It also seems that there are distinct advantages to utilizing refrigerant in lieu of direct water cooling, including lower flow rates and reduced pumping losses. The following link on this type of cooling system from Parker Hannifin, states that pumping losses are only 10 percent of a direct water-cooled system.
The lower flow rates should equate to lower volume in the battery pack (less fluid to move). Another advantage would be the ability to maintain the cells at ~ 70° F, even when ambient air temperatures are much higher.
Further in my search, I located a patent application by LG Chem that seems to be related to this battery pack system.
If you click on the link “Download PDF 20140322563”, you can view the entire patent application and its associated images. Figure 6 below is a basic schematic of the system in the LG Chem patent application.
So, these low-profile battery systems could be placed in the Bolt’s skateboard chassis to provide the needed electrical energy, however, air passageways would be required for the necessary cooling air. This could add a great deal of duct work, which adds more volume.
But, if this battery pack could be integrated with the Bolt’s heating and air conditioning system, there are some significant advances that can be achieved.
So let’s look at how the Bolt’s heat/AC could be configured. See Figure 7.
This heating/AC system (air module) utilizes dampers to control the temperature and air flow in the car. Recirculated inside air and outside air is mixed and delivered to the blower. The position of the inlet damper determines the mix of inside and outside air. The heater core damper determines the amount of air that goes through the heater core. Other dampers determine which car vents supply the air. A similar air module could be employed in the Bolt.
So now imagine an integrated heat/AC and battery cooling system.
For the battery pack, the low-profile LG Chem configuration (seen in Figure 5) could be utilized, using the most energy dense cell chemistry for this application. However, the packs would include only the cells, thermal fins, cold plates, and any necessary electronics; no refrigeration system or equipment would be included. This power-dense battery pack would have external connections for “refrigerant in” and “refrigerant out”.
Now, let’s see Figure 8 for a schematic of a possible integrated system.
As seen in Figure 8, a motor driven compressor is utilized in the refrigerant system. This could be a variable speed motor whose speed is modulated to meet the demands of the system. As I describe this system, I will use four different temperature nomenclatures; hot, warm, cool, and cold.
The refrigerant is compressed in the motor driven compressor, and exits as hot refrigerant (S1). This hot refrigerant is directed to the heater core in the Bolt’s air module. This can now provide heat to the Bolt’s cabin, if necessary. The hot refrigerant continues from the air module via S2 to a radiator at the front of the car, probably located directly behind the Bolt’s front grill. After being cooled by the incoming air flow across the radiator, the warm refrigerant is directed to the expansion valve.
After expanding through this valve, the refrigerant is cold. From here it goes to the ambient air evaporator. In cool weather, this evaporator will draw heat from the ambient air. Next the refrigerant goes to the air module. Here the cabin evaporator can absorb heat and provide cool air to the cabin. The cold refrigerant then continues to the battery pack to cool the battery cells and then to an evaporator at the power unit. This would cool the power electronics and also the oil used in the motor/final drive. The cool refrigerant would now return to the motor driven compressor.
On hot days, the motor driven compressor would be working at higher load, and the heater core in the air module would be isolated. After being cooled in the radiator, the cold refrigerant exiting the expansion valve would bypass the ambient air evaporator (or this evaporator could be isolated, as we don’t want to add heat to the refrigerant in this mode). The cold refrigerant then goes to the cabin evaporator to provide cool air to the occupants, and then goes to the battery pack and power unit to provide additional cooling.
On cool days, the hot refrigerant from the motor driven compressor provides heat to the occupants through the heater core. The ambient air evaporator draws heat from the air and then continues through the system collecting heat from the battery pack and the drive unit (cabin evaporator is isolated). So now the system is acting like a heat pump, deriving heat not only from the ambient air, but also from the battery pack and the drive unit.
On very cold days (less than 30° F), there will likely be a need for resistive heating elements.
In summary, Mark Reuss states that packaging the Bolt’s flat battery pack is more challenging than that of the Volt, and also states “…the battery chemistry and the development of the battery pack coincides with the ability to package something like this. This is quite different from the Volt.”
Therefore, it seems that to package the ~ 50 kWh of battery capacity into the limited volume skateboard chassis of the Bolt will require a more energy dense battery chemistry as well as an innovative battery cooling system. It appears that LG Chem has been working on such a system for several years with funding from the US Department of Energy.
By utilizing this new “cold plate” battery cooling system, and integrating the system with the Bolt’s heat/AC system, the Bolt could not only have a smaller and lighter weight battery pack, but may also have a system with lower coolant flows, smaller radiators, an integrated AC system, and a heat pump extraordinaire!
Recently, spy photos of the new Chevy Bolt have been showing up on the Internet. These photos, along with information that we already know, can help us conjecture about the Bolt’s design.
First, GM has already manufactured the Spark EV, and some of the technology from this vehicle has been leveraged for use in the upcoming 2016 Volt (i.e. the battery pack). This can be seen from the graphic below (Figure 1).
Almost every basic component in the 2016 Volt’s battery pack (repeating frame, cooling fin, cell foam, etc.) is identical to that in the Spark EV’s battery pack. The one major exception seems to be the actual cell from LG Chem.
Thus it would seem only logical to continue this parts/technology sharing for the new Bolt. So let’s examine the overall Bolt design, but leave the battery packaging discussion for another day.
The new Bolt will be built at the Orion manufacturing facility about 30 miles north of Detroit, at the same facility where the Sonic is built. Again, the Bolt will likely utilize hardware/technology from the Sonic to reduce cost.
So let’s look at the different cars photos. First we have the Bolt EV Concept from the NAIAS in Detroit.
We don’t have a lot of a dimensional data from this photo, however, in one of the GM photos, it can be seen that the tire size is 195/55R19. This is a large tire for a smaller car, likely used for show purposes only. It is 27.44” in diameter. The Sonic uses 15, 16, and 17 inch tires for its various trims.
Next, let’s look at the 2016 Sonic RS (Figure 3). This is the sporty/performance version of the Sonic.
This new Sonic might have the 1.4-liter turbo engine with a manual transmission.
The third photo of interest is a spy shot of the Bolt EV (which shall be referred to as Figure 4). It can be found at this link.
As you thumb through the photos, there is one in particular that is a side view. In this view, we can also see a guard rail behind the car with a telephone pole on the opposite side of the guard rail. The telephone pole also has a transformer on it. This is the photo that I shall refer to as Figure 4.
First, look at the hood of the Sonic RS (Figure 3). Note that the bottom of the windshield seems to align vertically with the rear of the front wheel rim. The hood of the car is relatively long, as it houses the engine and transmission.
Now compare this to the spy photo (Figure 4). Note here that the bottom of the windshield appears to align vertically with the center of the wheel rim (perhaps even a few inches forward of the center) and the hood is much shorter than that of the Sonic RS. So although the Bolt EV may be based on the Sonic, they have lengthened the windshield and shortened the hood. This similar shape can be seen in the Bolt Concept (Figure 2).
Also, the Sonic’s rearview mirror is attached at the front portion of the front door. It is the same for the Bolt EV. However, both in the concept and the spy photo, you can see a small triangular window forward of the front door. Note that in Figures 2 thru 4 the front seatbacks are basically aligned with the B pillar.
These three photos were viewed in Windows Photo Viewer and zoomed in until the distance between each wheel on my screen equaled 10 inches. Since the wheel base of the 2016 Sonic is 99.4 inches, this equated to ~ a 10:1 scale.
In the rear, the Sonic has a short overhang. Using scaled data, this appears to be about 24 inches. For the spy photo, the Bolt EV rear overhang scales to about 28 inches. Also, in the front, the Bolt EV overhang was about 38 inches versus 35 inches for the Sonic. Thus, the overall length of the Sonic hatchback is 159 inches, but the Bolt EV may be about 6 or 8 inches longer.
When scaling the spy photo, it appears that the tires are about 25.5” in diameter. This is far less than the concept tires at 27.44”. The Bolt EV in the spy photo is using smaller wheels and tires, perhaps the same tires as the Gen 2 Volt (they also have a 25.5” diameter).
If the Bolt EV can be as efficient as the Spark EV (EPA 119 mpg-e), then a battery pack that contains 2.5 times the energy will yield a 205 mile range (82 * 2.5). Thus the weight of the battery pack would be 2.5 * 474 or 1185 pounds. If we trade this for the engine and transmission (250 pounds and 183 pounds respectively) in the Sonic RS (2811 pounds), we get an estimated weight for the Bolt EV of 3563 pounds. This is only 20 pounds more than the 2016 Volt! Besides the scaling from the photo, this weight (tire loading) is another good reason to believe that the Bolt EV may use the same tires as the Gen 2 Volt!
Now it would seem plausible to utilize essentially the same drivetrain as in the Spark EV (Figure 5).
Close examination will reveal that this motor consists of ten (10) stacked stator sections. It would seem relatively easy to add two more sections to increase the power output. Thus, the author has assumed this in the calculations. In addition, since the Bolt EV will have larger tires than the Spark EV, a final drive ratio of 4.56 was selected. This keeps the motor speeds similar to the Spark EV at speed, but does provide a slightly lower gearing for improved low end acceleration.
From a coefficient of drag perspective, the Spark EV has been improved, however, its Cd is still 0.325 (Figure 6). There should be room for improvement on the Bolt EV, and an estimated 0.26 Cd should be attainable (small cooling air flow, steeper slope on windshield, smooth underbelly, improved flow separation, etc.).
So let’s examine Table 1 for a comparison of these 3 cars (Spark EV, Sonic, Bolt EV).
Numbers in red are estimated.
In summary, the Bolt EV appears to be a constructed on a modified Sonic platform. It will likely be another progressive step in GM’s EV development that borrows technology from prior products (Spark EV and Volt).
However, designing a long-range, affordable EV can be in the author’s opinion compared to designing an aircraft. In the aircraft world there is an expression “anything will fly if you put a big enough engine on it”. Obviously, this is not an efficient solution.
Therefore, when designing aircraft, engineers must very aware of weight and drag. If the design weight increases, the aircraft will need a bigger wing. This adds more weight and more drag. Then you need bigger engines. This adds more weight and the airframe must be beefed up to support the engines. This in turn adds even more weight. Now the bigger engines consume more fuel so you need larger fuel tanks, which again add weight. I think you get the picture.
So achieving a 200 mile EV range can be done by just adding batteries (“any EV can get 200 miles of range if you put a big enough battery in it”). However, to provide this range at a reasonable efficiency and at an affordable cost requires a more thorough analysis and dedication to efficiency of the total package. In his interview, Mark Reuss mentions that modifying an ICE-driven vehicle is not the answer; the entire package needs to be integrated.
I believe this is the effort we will see from GM on the Bolt EV.
Tesla Motors is gearing up for another battle, this time taking on carmakers in its home state of California.
Unlike at other times, the argument is not over the company’s factory-direct sales method, which previously has pitted Tesla against auto dealers in states like Texas and Michigan. Instead, the issue relates to California’s push to increase the number of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the roads.
In October 2013, California – along with seven other states – said it will require 15 percent of all vehicles sold to be zero emission vehicles by 2025. Only battery electric (like the Tesla Model S) and fuel cell vehicles (Toyota’s Mirai is one of the few) fall under this definition.
However, the regulation does allows auto companies to make up a smaller portion of the ZEV requirements with sales of two types of low emission vehicles: plug-in hybrids (including the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius PHEV) and battery-electric vehicles outfitted with a range extender (like the BMW i3 REx).
If car companies don’t sell enough ZEVs on their own, they can purchase credits from other companies to fulfill their requirements.
For the midterm review coming up next year, automakers are approaching the state to complain that the mandate is too difficult to meet. Executives with Honda, among others, have already been in the press recently, calling for changes to the mandate that allow more credit for plug-in hybrid sales.
“The mandate is already far too weak,” countered Tesla’s Vice President of Business Development Diarmuid O’Connell. “I don’t think it was ever conceived that a pure-play electric car company like Tesla could exist, let alone thrive, but we have. The inconvenient truth is that our success has revealed the weakness of the mandate.”
During a hearing over the mandate last month, Tesla executive Ken Morgan said companies like Subaru and Mazda “have access to the same financial markets that enabled Tesla to raise all of the funding it needed to launch electric vehicles.”
On the other side of the arena, large automakers are crying foul over Tesla’s ability to sell credits.
“All they care about is protecting their market to sell credits,” said one unnamed auto executive, according to Automotive News.
It’s difficult to overlook these credits, especially when they amount to over $76 million of revenue during last year’s third quarter.
Tesla has stated that these credits are no longer a major source of income, though.
“Credit revenue used to move the needle at Tesla. It doesn’t anymore, and it hasn’t for some time,” said O’Connell. “What is a strategic driver of the company is to put as many EVs on the road as possible, whether they’re ours or whether they’re produced by other manufacturers.”
Whether the ZEV credits or increased sales are the biggest motivators behind Tesla’s actions, it all may be a moot point, according to some that have followed the debate.
“I don’t think California is going to roll back the standards,” said Simon Mui, director of California’s Vehicles and Fuels, Energy & Transportation Program.
“Now that we have leaders within the industry with a competitive advantage in EVs, it’s a very different game than it was 10 years ago.”
As the time-honored saying goes (that we just made up), old Chevy Volt batteries don’t die, they just … well General Motors is working on that, and one solution is re-use as renewable energy storage.
That’s what the automaker has done in an experimental but functional showcase at its Milford Proving Grounds in Michigan, where it will help supply power to its new Enterprise Data Center.
Chevrolet’s Volts have each been equipped with 435-pound-plus lithium-ion batteries sized from 16.0-17.1 kilowatt-hours. With over 93,000 Volts and Ampera variants sold globally since 2011, the question of what to do with those packs as they go out of service is becoming more relevant.
Along with the batteries grouped together in a neat logo’d box, GM tied in a 74-kilowatt ground-mount solar array with two 2-kilowatt wind turbines to generate enough renewable power to service the office building and lighting for the adjacent parking lot.
That’s enough renewable power for approximately 100 mWh of annual energy, or roughly the energy used by 12 average homes, and GM notes it’s made possible because even “used” Volt batteries, while beneath as-new spec, do provide energy storage.
“Even after the battery has reached the end of its useful life in a Chevrolet Volt, up to 80 percent of its storage capacity remains,” said Pablo Valencia, senior manager, Battery Life Cycle Management.
“This secondary use application extends its life, while delivering waste reduction and economic benefits on an industrial scale.”
Used Chevrolet Volt batteries are helping keep the lights on at the new General Motors Enterprise Data Center at its Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan. Five Volt batteries work with an adjacent solar array and two wind turbines to help supply power to the data centers administrative offices. (Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors)
This demonstration project does of course cast a nice green hue on the automaker, and in the process helped it attain LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, but where it’s all going may have further pragmatic importance.
As Tesla and subsequently Mercedes are showing, there is a budding market for on-site energy storage for car makers to tap into. The Tesla Powerwall and Mercedes-Benz products use new li-ion batteries but the used and still viable batteries are being tested.
Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors.
GM says it’s a “living lab” to gain a clearer grasp of how the battery redistributes energy at this scale. It and partners are working to validate and test systems for other commercial and non-commercial uses, said Valencia.
“This system is ideal for commercial use because a business can derive full functionality from an existing battery while reducing upfront costs through this reuse,” he said.