GM's Electric Car Battery Research Operation

It’s easy to pile on Detroit’s Big Three as incompetent (trust us, we do it all the time) for failing to produce compelling alternatives to the gas sippers and guzzlers that populate our highways.

But it looks like GM has heard the bell ring at least a little bit. It is working hard to make the Chevy Volt a real and competitive option for consumers.

Green Car Congress met with some of the researchers working on building a better battery for the car. The story gets a little wonky, but it’s assuring. GM is working towards lowering the costs of a battery, all while under the thumb of a very angry public.

Green Car Congress: Despite current market conditions, GM is still aggressively developing talent from within the company, with 50 engineers currently enrolled in a “learn while you earn” program related to the Volt, and another 50 expected to be transferred to the program this summer.

While officials emphasised that they are satisfied with the chemistry, thermal management, controls, and performance of the vehicle’s current battery pack, costs per kWh remain high, and development beyond the current pack is primarily focused on cost reduction. grey noted that the costs of battery-powered personal electronics have declined sharply and expressed optimism that the transport sector might see similar gains. Each of Volt’s 200-plus battery cells will initially be produced in South Korea by LG Chem. However, GM plans to move battery production to the US as soon as possible.

Although the team declined to specify a cost per kilowatt-hour for the Volt during the briefing, Jon Lauckner, Vice President of Global Program Management, rebuffed speculation earlier this month, writing on the GM Fastlane blog (earlier post) that the current Volt battery pack is “many hundreds of dollars less” than the US$1,000 per kWh cited in a recent Carnegie Mellon study, and that “new concepts” promise to move the cost to as low as $US 250 per kWh.

Remarking that “I’m only going to do this job once,” Kruse mentioned another cost-cutting measure: the decision to design the global platform to more stringent European Union recyclability standards.

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