Friday, June 26, 2009

The Buzz on Electric Cars

General Motors has previously tried to dispel rumors that bankruptcy might affect plans for the hybrid-electric Volt, insisting pre-production and planning will continue.

Now the automaker is getting help tamping down those rumors from Chevy Volt enthusiast Lyle Dennis. The neurosurgeon and author of the Chevy Volt fan site posted a link on his Twitter account this morning to an eight-minute video he filmed during a tour of GM's Advanced Battery Laboratory, complete with shots of the battery pack. (Hint: skip to 2:30 minutes to get to the show-and-tell).

A company spokesperson in the video noted there are 155 unique parts within the sealed battery pack, 147 of which are designed by GM. There are 200 Lithium Ion cells within the LG Chem-designed battery pack, he noted along with a dig at Tesla: "You can't reliably attach 6,000 cells over a large number of batteries."

The current design is the fifth iteration of the Volt's battery pack since the the original 18 months ago, the spokesman said. The pack is mounted underneath the vehicle and sealed from dust and water. A poster in the background noted that more than 100 battery packs have been built to date, and the company projects more than 300 will be built by the end of the third quarter.

In a slicker video promotion on GM's website, two test engineers roll the battery pack into a thermal chamber for extreme temperature testing. The company announced the opening of the battery lab in Warren, Mich., on June 8.

"The new global GM battery lab will benefit consumers across America by helping us advance the development of battery technology in the United States and put cleaner, more efficient vehicles on the road more quickly and affordably," said Fritz Henderson, GM president and CEO, in a prepared statement at the time.

"Our new lab improves GM's competitiveness by speeding the development of our hybrid, plug-in and extended-range electric vehicles, including the Chevrolet Volt," Henderson continued.

In other electric car news, Electrovaya will roll out its Maya 300 all-electric vehicle in 2011, according to Greentech Media.

The battery maker will use ExxonMobil's battery separator film, which is "an integral part of battery system design and critical to overall performance," according to a press release (PDF) from January 2008.

"The car will run on lithium-ion batteries, charge in about eight to 10 hours, run for 60 miles and plug into regular 110-volt outlets. It will cost around $20,000 to $25,000. An extended-range battery option will run for 120 miles on a charge and cost $30,000 to $35,000," Greentech Media reported.

The company will reportedly make the big announcement Wednesday, but information on both ExxonMobil's and Electrovaya's websites is sparse, while the dedicated site, Mayamobility.com, is largely under construction.

It is hard to see, however, how Maya 300, a $20,000 low speed (25-35 mph) plug-in vehicle, could gain market share. Other around-town electric cars such as Chrysler's GEM car are cheaper (about half the price) despite the top speed of only 25 mph with a range of about 30 miles. Is it worth two or three times the sticker price to have twice the range? Maybe it depends on how the vehicle is used.

In the meantime, electric and hybrid vehicle fans will continue to wait until more affordable, longer-range, higher-speed options are available.

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