GM Electrification Downplays All-Electric Cars

By · July 26, 2013

On Wednesday, General Motors published a roadmap for its vehicle electrification program. Pam Fletcher, global chief engineer for Volt and plug-In hybrid electric powertrains at GM, explains the three broad categories of vehicle electrification: light electrification, plug-in hybrid (or extended-range EV), and pure electric. She also makes it clear that most of GM's emphasis will be on the first two categories—with the Chevy Spark EV, a limited production vehicle, the sole mention of any pure electric cars.

Three Degrees

2014 Buick LaCrosse

GM's eAssist models have a small lithium-ion battery pack, an electric motor that provides boost under heavy acceleration, and a trigger to turn the engine off when it would otherwise idle. This system is found today in the Buick LaCrosse, Buick Regal, and Chevy Malibu—and will be used in the 2014 Chevy Impala. GM claims this feature saves $2,500 in fuel over five years. Because the electric motor assist doesn't drive the car in electric-only mode, this is not technically a hybrid, according to Fletcher. This technology reduces fuel consumption, but does not offer the dramatic reductions in oil consumption that come with using grid-supplied energy from a plug, stored in batteries, and put through an efficient electric motor.

2013 Chevy Volt

The Chevy Volt has been GM's most visible foray into electrified vehicles. Later this year it will be joined by the Cadillac ELR, which also features an extended-range electric drive train. It has a large enough battery pack to give the Volt a 35 to 40 mile electric range, and a gasoline engine that's used to maintain the pack state-of-charge when it becomes depleted. GM claims that on average, Volt owners get 900 miles of range out of a tank of gasoline, or about 6 weeks of driving. Annual fuel cost is $950 a year, which GM said represents about $1,450 a year in fuel savings.

The 40-ish mile electric range was chosen because the typical driver, in the U.S., drives less than 40 miles a day, on average. That means typical daily driving can be done in electric mode, assuming the car is recharged at home every night. Volt drivers avoid range anxiety, and GM's marketing of the Volt for years has told us to be very afraid of the range anxiety that comes from a pure electric car. However, Volt owners report a different problem referred to as "gasoline anxiety"—the worry associated with trying to avoid conditions where the gas engine turns on. Volt owners charge more frequently than drivers of battery-electric vehicles.

The Volt is indeed a plug-in electric car. However, the on-board gas engine supports the mindset that the only way to travel long distances is by burning gasoline. Perhaps more importantly, the Volt—which for years was championed by GM as its poster child for electrification—is characterized by Fletcher as just one technology in a continuum from start-stop microhybrids to pure EVs (not to mention fuel cell cars that could be around the corner). The Chevy Volt is no longer portrayed as a silver bullet.

Not Much for Pure EVs

Chevy Spark EV

GM recently began selling the Chevy Spark EV in limited quantities in California and Oregon. This is the company's first all electric car since the EV1. The limited manufacturing volume and distribution have led EV supporters to describe the Spark EV as a "compliance car," produced only to just barely meet California's mandate for zero emission vehicles. It has an electric range of about 82 miles. GM claims a Spark EV owner would save $1,800 a year in fuel costs. It's also quickly earning a reputation for its impressive torque.

Using its SAE DC Fast Charging fast charging port, the Spark EV can get about an 80 percent charge in as little as 20 minutes. (The fast charging support isn't compatible with the CHAdeMO standard.) As Fletcher admits, the SAE-compatible chargers will be available "in the near future," so there will not be Fast Chargers available for the first customers. That means the fast charge port on the Spark EV will be of little value for an undetermined period of time.

In March, GM's management repeated its hope for an electric car with 200 miles of range, resulting from a breakthrough in battery technology. Perhaps the company is waiting for that possibility,
and a novel technology's ability to provide the level of driving range that consumers say they want, before making a big push into all-electric cars. Who knows? But according to its published roadmap, the future of vehicle electrification will mostly use batteries and electric motors in combination with internal combustion engines and tailpipes.


· · 4 years ago

"In March, GM's management repeated its hope for an electric car with 200 miles of range, resulting from a breakthrough in battery technology. Perhaps the company is waiting for that possibility ..."

It's a lot more than just a hoping and waiting. GM has an investment in Envia Systems, which has already demonstrated a battery with sufficient energy density, under a DARPA program. The real questions are: How durable are the Envia batteries? How soon can they be brought to market? The projected target was five years a while ago. Batteries with high energy density could definitely be a game changer for EVs.

· · 4 years ago

GM is basically saying unless we have a 200 mile battery breakthrough, Volt is about the only solution to the problem.

It is a sad truth. Tesla's general battery approach is a high cost approach. Even Tesla is "banking" on the battery improvement to support its 2016/2017 launch of the mid price ranged 200 miles bluestar sedan.

Currently, in order to get a consistent 200 mile range, the battery size needs to be about 65-70 KWh. Currently, it costs about $3 per 10Wh for the commodity battery cell or $300 per KWh. A 70KWh battery pack would cost at least $20k. So in order for Tesla to do a $35k 200 mile car, the battery pack has to be cheaper by at least 50-70% in order for profit to make sense.

· · 4 years ago

Dear members of PluginCars,

I am currently joining Climate-KIC, which is a summer school funded by European Union. The aim of the summer school is to develop an innovative business idea that can help to mitigate climate change.

My group's business idea is called "Blow Batt". The idea is to have Supercharging stations for electric cars on highways, in which the energy is generated using wind energy from existing wind farms near highways (So we are going to be partners with the wind farmers).

As you all might know already, it takes approximately 20 minutes for a Supercharger to deliver a half-charge. The reason why we are putting Supercharging stations on highways is so that electric car drivers who are in hurry to get somewhere can charge their cars instantly. The other reason is so that long-journey drivers who are low on battery can charge their cars at Blow Batt.

As I recognize that all of you are members of PluginCars, I am writing you this post to ask if it would be possible for you to help my project by filling in the questionnaire below:

I really appreciate your help!

Thank you

Priska Prasetya

· · 4 years ago

As I've mentioned several times before, I think GM would sell many more plug-ins, if they made the easy switch to SUV's , pickups and Roadsters (XOLTS, PICKOLTS, and ROALTSTERS), all running off their proven Voltec Platform. PICars viewers have seen pictures of the Voltec Suv already, proving theyve basically already designed them.

The biggest GM powertrain news today has been the firing of GM's head powertrain guy and ten others due to falsification of emissions reports in the Indian Market.

· · 4 years ago

Gas anxiety is more of an "aw, shoot" problem, while range anxiety is an "aw, sh!t" problem.

· · 4 years ago

GM is going to change their tune once they realize how important the Spark EV could very well become. It's got the goods to be a breakthrough EV with the 99%ers who can only dream about Model S'es. Decent price and great performance for such a small car. If GM puts some marketing effort to support their dealers in selling the Spark, they are going to move a bunch.

· · 4 years ago

Well I guess, so much for GM's "special let's study Tesla team". They will eventually produce a larger EV after Nissan and Tesla show them how it's done!

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