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GM & the Race for PHEVs: New Front-Runner?
Aug 16, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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A week's vacation finds auto analysts changing the odds on who will be first. Now the handicappers put GM in the lead. (What a change: even six months ago it would have been astonishing to see top Toyota and GM execs to be responding competitively? Today, when you search at Google for the exact phrase, "plug-in hybrid race" you get 1,840 links; and if you search simply for the four words, you get 1.45 million...)

For readers who haven't been tracking all the details, this distillation of the most important aspects in media reports follows our August 6 posting, "Media See 2 Races: PHEVs and V2G" It offers our take on recent developments and includes excerpts from stories about GM in Autoweek, Forbes, Reuters, LA Times, Chicago Tribune , Associated Press and Detroit Free Press.

GM has been in the news about its battery contracts, but it's difficult to see what's changed. Recall that in addition to battery contracts for a Saturn Vue PHEV, the company has contracts for Volt battery development with two consortia:

  • Compact Power Inc. of Troy, MI, with its parent, LG Chem of Korea for lithium-polymer batteries: read the summaries and listen to the two-part interview by editor Bill Moore with CPI's President and CEO Prabhakar Patil at and (Both are "Premium Access" articles, meaning you need to subscribe to, well worth the $29/year.)
  • Continental Automotive Systems of Frankfurt, Germany, partnering with A123 Systems: A123 has also made available its nanophosphate lithium batteries for conversions by two aftermarket companies: Hymotion of Ontario, Canada (which A123 recently acquired) and Hybrids-Plus of Boulder, Colorado (the only company currently offering conversions to individuals). See for links.

The news came from GM's Vice Chairman Bob Lutz in speeches and press briefings at an auto conference in Traverse City, Michigan. (See the press release at What's changed? A direct co-development project means A123 will accelerate design and production of large-format cells specifically for the Volt. For technical and business discussions, see the informative AutoblogGreen interview with A123's CEO David Vieau and VP Ric Fulop\ -vieau-of-a123-systems. To read 38+ comments, see

The other news is Lutz projecting delivery of the first cells this October, with cars on the road to test next spring, and an "expected" delivery date for the Volt now stretched to "by the end of the 2010." As we see it, GM is still hedging because it isn't sure batteries will be ready to meet what we see as unrealistic standards for Version 1.0 PHEV prototypes: 40-mile range, battery not needing replacement, and fully competitive pricing. GM says it has a "timeline." We think it's the case that GM still has NO FIRM TIMETABLES for production of the Volt. (Barely mentioned is that GM also says its Saturn Vue PHEV could arrive in 2009.)

Below, from news stories that pick up the "PHEV race" theme and provide details, we present excerpts; in some reports, we've also combined short paragraphs:

Plug-In Hybrids: Will the General get there first?\ atestnews

At one of the auto industry’s annual gabfests (this one called the Management Briefing Seminars and held in Traverse City, Michigan), General Motors Corp. vice chairman Bob Lutz said his company has cut a deal with battery maker A123 Systems Inc. to help develop electric-car batteries. Lutz said his goal is for GM to develop a plug in hybrid on sale by 2010.

This could help GM in a big way in what has become a two horse race between it and Toyota to get a plug in hybrid on the market. The same day Lutz was talking, the Wall Street Journal reported a bit of a setback for Toyota when it said it might delay the launch of its new gas-electric hybrids by perhaps as much as two years because of possible safety problems with its lithium-ion batteries. “It very definitely opens a window of opportunity for us,” Lutz said of Toyota’s potential delay.

The system GM is developing is called E-Flex. It has the potential to match battery power with several different energy sources, like an internal combustion engine, or a hydrogen fuel cell. A123 Systems Inc.’s batteries are essential because they could provide a 40-mile range. E-Flex was in the Chevrolet Volt unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January. In addition to the Volt possibly being on the market by 2010, Lutz said GM is pushing to have Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid on the road by 2009.

GM Says It Could Lead Electric Car Race
By TOM KRISHER 08.09.07

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - General Motors Corp. has signed an agreement with a battery maker that could propel it ahead of Toyota Motor Corp. in the race to bring plug-in hybrid and electric cars to market, a top company official said Thursday. A123 Systems Inc., based in Watertown, Mass., already produces millions of nanophosphate lithium-ion batteries for use in cordless power tools, and it plans to apply the technology to automobiles.

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said the deal, coupled with a published report that Toyota Motor Corp. would delay launches of lithium-ion battery powered hybrids for up to two years, could give GM the lead in bringing the new clean technology to market.

"I think that our No. 1 competitor has some problems with their technology, and I do think that it very definitely opens a window of opportunity for us to be first to market with a genuine plug-in hybrid," Lutz said at an automotive industry conference in Traverse City where the battery deal was announced.
Toyota spokesman John McCandless said the company does not comment on its product plans, but he disagreed that the developments give GM an edge. "No one can leap ahead of anybody until the products get to market," McCandless said.

Lutz said the lithium-ion battery being discussed by GM is safer and manages heat better than the technology Toyota was using.
A123 expects to have the batteries, which would be flat and similar in appearance but larger than those that power cell phones, ready for GM to test in vehicles by October. GM still hopes to have electrically powered vehicles on the market by the end of 2010. David Vieau, A123's president and chief executive, said the technology can be moved from power tools to plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. "What you have to do now is put it in a vehicle" to test its thermal properties and see how it stands up to shock and vibration in a car, Vieau said.
A123 provides batteries made in China for Black & Decker and DeWalt power tools, and plans to develop a flat, rectangular battery for use by GM, Vieau said. The companies expect the batteries to have a life of 10 years with more than 7,000 charge cycles.
Lutz said that despite the setback Toyota is not out of the race. "Never discount Toyota. They're extremely smart people," he said.

GM to begin testing Volt electric car by spring
Product chief Bob Lutz says the plug-in vehicle is on track for production in 2010.
August 9 2007

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (Reuters) -- General Motors Corp. will begin road testing its Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid in the spring of next year and remains on track to produce the rechargeable car by late 2010, a senior executive said Thursday.

As the race to bring a mass-market, rechargeable electric vehicle to the market heats up, GM's global product chief Bob Lutz said he expects to have next-generation lithium-ion battery packs ready for the vehicles by October this year.

"We should have the battery packs by October," he said, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an industry conference. "We'll have some on the road for testing next spring, and we should have the Volt in production by the end of 2010."

GM is the only automaker to have provided a timeline on the production of a plug-in hybrid vehicle, even though other companies, such as Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. are working on similar technology.
"The cost of the battery would likely be high even at the time of production," Lutz said, adding that GM is exploring options that would allow consumers to lease the battery when buying the vehicle in order to bring down the sticker price.
Lutz said GM is requiring a 10-year life for the battery, and said the No. 1 U.S. automaker would look to price the vehicle like a "traditional mid-market car."

GM is racing rival Toyota to offer the first mass-market electric vehicle. Toyota last month unveiled a "plug-in" car based on its popular Prius hybrid model, saying it would test the fuel-saving vehicle on public roads - a first for the industry.

But Toyota said the car, called the Toyota Plug-in HV, is not fit for commercialization because it uses low-energy nickel-metal hydride batteries instead of lithium-ion batteries, believed to be a better fit for rechargeable plug-in cars.

Environmental advocates have been pressing automakers to roll out plug-in vehicles that could be recharged at standard electric outlets as a way to reduce oil consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions.
On Thursday, GM announced another contract with A123 Systems, which has been working with Continental on battery technology. GM said both Compact Power and A123 could end up providing the batteries for the Volt, or only one of them might meet the automaker's requirements.

GM deal to spur development of plug-in hybrid batteries
A123Systems will help the automaker power its Volt electric car.
By Martin Zimmerman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 10, 2007,1,440369.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

General Motors Corp. took another step Thursday in its quest to develop a car that will be able to travel as far as 40 miles on a single electric charge.

GM said it had signed a contract with battery maker A123Systems to develop lithium-ion batteries specifically designed to power the Volt plug-in hybrid vehicles that GM hopes to put on the market in the next few years.

The battery technology used by A123Systems is potentially safer, cheaper and more durable than other designs now being tested, the automaker said. This would give Detroit-based GM a boost over Toyota Motor Corp. and other rivals in the race to produce a viable plug-in car for the U.S. market.

GM said it expected to start road-testing prototype vehicles powered by A123Systems' lithium-ion batteries by the end of this year or in early 2008.

Cars equipped with the batteries could be in commercial production by the end of 2010, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said at an industry conference Thursday. The company said this previously announced timetable was dependent on the development of a suitable battery.

The contract with A123Systems "should significantly accelerate commercial release of the Volt," said Michael Millikin, editor of Green Car Congress, a website that tracks developments in eco-friendly transportation technologies.
California, the No. 1 state for sales of gasoline-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, would be a major market for vehicles with extended all-electric range, Millikin said. If GM succeeds in getting the Volt or something similar into showrooms before its rivals, it would be a major coup for the company whose green credentials are somewhat tarnished in the Golden State.
The company already makes batteries in China for use in power tools. The GM road tests will help determine whether the batteries can stand up to the extreme conditions of powering a full-size vehicle in daily use. "We'll be able to tell at that time how close these guys are to developing the battery technology that meets our needs for power and energy storage," said Nick Zielinski, chief engineer of the Volt.

Toyota is working with Panasonic to develop lithium-ion batteries for its proposed plug-in hybrid. The Japanese car company has been saying for months that it would take years before it had a battery capable of powering a commercially viable plug-in. "There's still a lot of development that needs to be done from the standpoint of cost, safety and weight," a Toyota spokesman said this week.

Analysts have speculated that Toyota's plug-in prototypes would have an electric-only range of about 10 miles. If true, that would give GM a huge competitive advantage if the A123Systems batteries prove successful as an automotive power source.

GM betting on new hybrid battery
By Rick Popely | Tribune staff reporter
August 10, 2007,0,6719188.story

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - General Motors Corp. on Thursday took a step to propel itself into the lead in the race to get electric vehicles on the road by 2010.
"Testing is going to take a couple of years, and, if all goes to plan, our target is still 2010," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said at an industry conference here.

That's the tentative date GM set for the introduction of the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid that made the auto-show circuit this year in concept form.

"The big thing is how fast they can bring the battery cost down," he said. "The target is to come in at the price of a midmarket car. The average new vehicle costs around $28,000, and most midsize cars are in the $20,000 to $25,000 range."
GM's deal "really one-ups Toyota," at least for the moment, said Philip Gott, consulting director of industry forecaster Global Insight.
Toyota has burnished its image for efficiency and technology with the Prius and other hybrids, Gott said, and GM could steal some of that thunder if it builds the Volt before Toyota has a similar model.

GM probably would lose money on the Volt, but Gott said: "The [public relations] is going to be worth it. The most brilliant thing about the Prius is the marketing strategy. Because of the Prius, people think every Toyota is fuel efficient."

Gott, however, warns of the difficulties of making lithium batteries work in a car. "That's a lot to ask in three years. I don't think they have enough time," he said.

But David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, said, "Stay tuned. Things could unfold pretty quickly." Toyota or another manufacturer could find the solution sooner, and being first doesn't ensure success, he said. "It's a question of who gets to really high volume on plug-ins. When they start talking about a million vehicles, then they will have a competitive advantage," Cole said.

Lutz, GM's head of global product development and an avid proponent of the Volt and plug-in technology, wasn't crowing. "I think we're hooked up with the right team, and I think our competitors are having some problems with the technology. I'm hoping we'll be first to market," Lutz said. "I never discount Toyota. They're extremely smart people and they can shift to a different [battery] very quickly."

GM: Deal could put it in lead in electric car race
August 9, 2009

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — General Motors (GM) has signed an agreement with a battery maker that could propel it ahead of Toyota Motor (TM) in the race to bring plug-in hybrid and electric cars to market, a top company official said Thursday.
GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said the deal, coupled with a published report that Toyota would delay launches of lithium-ion battery powered hybrids for up to two years, could give GM the lead in bringing the new clean technology to market.

"I think that our No. 1 competitor has some problems with their technology, and I do think that it very definitely opens a window of opportunity for us to be first to market with a genuine plug-in hybrid," Lutz said at an automotive industry conference in Traverse City where the battery deal was announced.

GM: Battery on track for Chevy Volt
Detroit Free Press
August 10, 2007
By Katie Merx, Free Press Business Writer

TRAVERSE CITY -- General Motors Corp. is growing increasingly confident that battery developers will be able to create a safe, durable and affordable power source that will allow it to begin selling its electrically driven Chevrolet Volt to consumers by the end of 2010.

Speaking before a crowd of more than 1,000 at the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City on Thursday, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz announced that the automaker will develop lithium-ion battery cells with A123Systems Inc. to power its electric-drive vehicles.
"Breakthrough battery technology will drive future automotive propulsion, and the company that aligns with the best strategic partners will win," Lutz said. "Frankly, I think we're hooking up with the right crew."

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