Chevrolet Volt engineering development mule vehicle at the General Motors Tech Center.
November of 2010 will see the start of series production for the Chevrolet Volt, GM’s extended range electric vehicle. Volt is in essence a more practical — and just as expensive — evolution of the late Saturn EV1, with a 1.4-liter gasoline engine aboard to recharge the batteries after the initial 40-mile charge runs flat.
In simple terms, an electric vehicle without this onboard recharging capacity leaves your driveway with about the same range as you current car when the gas gauge reads, err, empty.
In a wide ranging discussion with Bill Wallace, Engineering Group Manager, VoltecBattery Systems, (GM’s brand name for the Korean-supplied lithium batteries from LG Chem) and Andrew Farah, Volt Vehicle Chief Engineer, I learned that the program for the small four-seat car is on track and that irreversible production decisions are now being locked in.
One critical decision involves the final chemical composition of the lithium ion batteries. With 300 of these hand-built batteries packs now undergoing testing, the exact lithium manganese polymer recipe is now set.
This final recipe came after four iterations of chemistry experiments that are a high stakes version of what you might have conducted in high school, only here to eke out 40 miles on a charge, and – critically — to provide ten year’s of life. As always, the issue on battery life is heat. You do not want to park any battery vehicle at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix for the summer while vacationing in Alaska. The result will be hard on warranty costs.
The Volt’s batteries are meeting energy power requirements, according to Wallace, and the team is now balancing issues such as safety, regulations and customer satisfaction with other concerns such as performance, durability, packaging and vehicle design.
What isn’t locked in is the unknown curb weight of the Volt or its 200-kilogram battery pack. In order to exact the maximum performance, ala Newton, (F= MA for those of us many model years away from physics 101), an ongoing diet is underway.