During the frenzy of PR announcements yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director for GM’s Chevy Volt. If you aren’t familiar with the Volt, here’s a short introduction: it’s a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle, capable of 40 mile trips before relying on a small internal-combustion generator to repower the battery system. For more background, see Jeff’s posts from last year (Will GM Revive the Electric Car? Part 1).
Here’s a summary of our 10 minute conversation (believe me, I had to be torn away from this interview):
What major issues are keeping the Volt from an earlier release date (I’ve been told 2010):
Posawatz: GM is relatively certain it will be the first auto manufacturer to produce a plug-in hybrid model (regardless of the actual release date), but we want it to be right. The two major factors holding back the Volt’s release are extensive testing requirements and lithium ion battery technology. The batteries aren’t cheap, and they’re produced out of country. They also require extensive testing both in and out of the car before things go into production. Basically, GM won’t release the Volt until it’s proven safe and the batteries work.
Posawatz: GM has been pursuing battery technology from two different partnerships with two different chemistries: lithium ion phosphate batteries from the same group that manufactures Black and Decker, and lithium manganese batteries from from another supplier. GM looked at 27 different battery companies before choosing to work with these two, and it’s important to understand that not all lithium ion battery technology is equal. For example, Tesla Motors is using the same type of battery that you would find in a laptop, but GM decided to take a different route to avoid the prohibitive cost of this system.
What about battery recycling after their reported 10-year lifespan?
Posawatz: After 10 years, the batteries still have 80% of their capability intact. GM hopes to swap the batteries out for use in a secondary market, such as backup power stations or some other use.
Could you expand on the ‘range extender’ that uses ethanol or biodiesel?
Posawatz: The Volt will have a range extender that uses an onboard internal combustion generator to repower the battery system. The generator will be either gas or diesel powered, meaning it can run on either E85 or biodiesel.