Jan. 11, 2007: Technology Review—Powering GM’s Electric Vehicles

Summary: "General Motors (GM) recently announced that it is developing two types of plug-in hybrid vehicles, cars designed to run exclusively or almost exclusively on electricity for daily commutes. (See "GM’s New Electric Vehicle" and "GM’s Plug-In Hybrid.") But the announcements came with this caveat: the battery technology isn’t ready, and production will have to wait. In reality, the battery technology is actually quite close to being ready.

Indeed, GM’s vehicle chief engineer, Nick Zelenski, says that individual batteries are already good enough. "We’ve got enough data at the cell level to feel that the technology is there," he says. What remains to be done is packaging the cells into large battery packs and testing them in actual vehicles. This will be a challenge, Zelenski says, since there is a big difference between using "a single cell and multiplying them all together to get the energy levels that we need for this type of vehicle." But according to development contracts GM recently signed with two groups of companies, such battery packs will be ready for testing in vehicles by the end of this year."

Ready, yes, but prohibitively expensive. As with everything these days, the more you build, the cheaper they get—something that can only happen if an automaker markets a plug-in hybrid.

Will GM take the risk needed to bring the Volt to market?

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