GM’s “moon shot” might be disrupted by Chevrolet Volt battery fires

Article by Christian Andrei, on November 30, 2011

When General Motors Co. revealed in June 2008 its plans to manufacture the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, executives said that it was a "moon shot" intended to outperform Toyota Motor Corp. in technology leadership. Now, the vehicle has become the subject of a U.S. investigation after the fires that stemmed from its lithium-ion batteries a week after three crash tests.

On Monday, GM offered loaner vehicles to concerned purchasers, stating that its engineers will help the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to identify the cause as well as a way to fix it.

While engineers deal with the safety issues, the company is scurrying to make sure that the Volt's public image is not adversely affected. The vehicle was dreamed up under now-retired Vice Chairman Bob Lutz to beat the technology and environmental applause that Toyota received for its Prius hybrid.

According to CEO Jeremy Anwyl of Edmunds.com, the automaker did not introduce the Volt due to its commercial success, but because of its "can-do" motto -- their counter to the Prius.

"They will do everything they can to make sure people don't draw negative conclusions," Anwyl added. The probe in the Volt has the possibility to harm the image of electrified automobiles. Lithium-ion batteries, like those fitted in the Volt, are also installed in all-electric vehicles. The U.S. and California regulators as well as the automakers are relying on the increased use of electric power to comply with the strict standards on U.S. fuel-efficiency.

Powertrain

If there is a feature that would set apart the Chevrolet Volt from the rest of the pack, it would have to be the Voltec propulsion system. What this system does is to utilize a pre electric drive and then mix it with an efficient engine that can help extend range. It comes as no surprise then to learn that the Volt can go for a total of 350 miles. Electric driving is not only about range as the Volt shows that being in one can be just as lively.

Maximum speed is at 100 mph and comes with peak torque of 273 lb.-ft., or around 368 Nm, available at low speed. Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is possible below 9.0 seconds. It can go from a standstill to about a quarter mile in barely 17 seconds. All of this is possible due to the long-life battery which contains the 16-kWh T-shaped lithium-ion battery pack.

Manufactured at a facility located in Brownstown Township, Michigan, this battery pack measures 5.5 feet and weight 435 pounds (189.1 kilograms). This is the same battery pack that powers the 14-hp (111-kW) electric drive unit in order to move the Volt. With only the energy that has been stored in the battery, the Volt can go for at least 25 miles and as far as 50 miles, depending of course on the temperature, technique in driving, and the terrain, and all without any emissions. Should the energy in the battery be depleted, the Volt smoothly shifts to its extended-range mode.

The power is now sourced from the innovative 1.4-liter gas-powered engine capable of output at 84 hp (63 kW). This then sends energy to the electric drive unit and allow for an extra range of a maximum of 310 miles. Speaking of depleted batteries, charging the one inside the Volt is both intuitive and simple. It can be done through a 240-volt dedicated charging station or even the standard 120-volt electrical outlets at home.

Using a 240-volt outlet, complete recharge takes around 4 hours for the 120-volt outlet, recharging time is between 10 hours to 12 hours. Even if the Volt has been plugged in, owners can still decide whether to charge it at once or delay it. Thus they can set a schedule to make sure that charging time is done once they decide to leave. Owners can even schedule it to ensure charging is done when power rates are less expensive. Chevrolet even allowed remote management and monitoring of the Volt in two ways. The first is through accessing MyVolt.com via computer, with the second option being the OnStar MyLink-powered Chevrolet Mobile App, a rather exclusive application for a smartphone.

GM executive director for global electrical systems Micky Bly said that the company’s customers remain committed to technology that will hopefully lessen dependence on petroleum. In response to this, he added, the company is committed to providing its customers the highest of standards when it comes to performance, quality, reliability, safety, and value. Indeed, from the battery alone all of these qualities are present.

Engineers at GM conducted validation testing since 2007 on the battery pack and completed 4 million hours and at least 1 million miles. The tests were not limited to the battery pack itself as it was also done on the 9 modules and even the 288 prismatic cells. Starting with the development and all the way to the validation testing, the different teams managed to meet thousands of specifications and even authenticated each one of the 161 components that is in the battery. In fact, 95% of the battery was designed and then engineered by GM. Finally, the battery pack is covered with the 100,000-mile/8-year warranty.

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