GM Charges Back
By EV World
General Motors didn't get to be the world's largest automaker by being reticent. It has clout and hasn't been afraid to use it. So, it isn't all that surprising that when its position as king of the carmaker hill has been challenged by Toyota, GM -- despite it's myriad problems -- has gone on the offense.
Between the debut a year ago of its landmark electric car, the Volt (technically, a range-extended electric car in company parlance) and its latest concept roll-out, the Cadillac Provoq (itself an assertive moniker) hydrogen fuel-cell, lithium-ion battery-powered luxury crossover EV last week in Las Vegas, GM has worked hard and spent a lot of money on R&D and advertising to convince the world it can play the 'green game' with the best of them, meaning Toyota.
That aggressive, 'Yes we can' attitude that rallied the troops in Barack Obama's election camp in New Hampshire this week, is echoed in the words of GM's VP for Global Program Management, Jonathan Lauckner in his speech on the opening day of EVS 23 in Anaheim, California.
The underscore the importance -- and urgency -- of the situation, he begins by saying, "our dependence on petroleum presents us with a great challenge. But in that challenge, as in any great challenge, there is opportunity."
He notes that the global auto industry is experiencing significant growth, much of it outside the U.S. and European markets where he estimates some 70 million vehicles will be sold in 2007. By 2016, GM is forecasting total auto industry sales of 94 million units annually. The worldwide vehicle fleet already numbers some 820 million. That means just 12% of the world population "enjoy the benefits of automobile ownership."
He expects that 15% of the world's population will own a vehicle by 2020, or over 1 billion vehicles in the "global carpark." That's enough cars and trucks to circle the globe 125 times if lined up bumper-to-bumper.
"Obviously, something is going to have to power those vehicles..."
He points out that today 35% of the world's energy needs are met with petroleum products. "In fact, we are burning through a billion barrels of oil a second." [EV World editor's note: Current oil production is roughly 82-85 million barrels a day, or approximately 40,000 gallons per second. See also Peter Tertzakian's A Thousand Barrels a Second]. He cites U.S. Energy Department projections that at the present growth rate of just 2% annually, by 2030, the world will need 70% more energy than it consumes today.
"Pick your issue, but the common denominator is oil," he says. "So, the time's come to develop alternatives and that's exactly what we're doing."
GM' strategy is a "broad-based approach" to develop propulsion alternatives not dependent on petroleum. Because he is talking to the Electric Vehicle Symposium, his focus is on electric-drive systems, primarily the E-Flex system found on the Chevy Volt and now the Cadillac Provoq pictured above, both currently only concept vehicles, though GM is aggressively developing the underlying electric vehicle technology for roll-out sometime around 2010... or beyond.
The advantage of the E-Flex approach -- where the "E" stands for electric and is the primary traction power driving a vehicle that can include an ethanol-buring internal combustion engine, a biodiesel-fueled engine or hydrogen fuel cell -- is that it allows for a wide range of fuel options beyond petroleum.
Lauckner explains that utilizing electrical energy stored in the Volt's lithium ion battery pack, the vehicle can be driven 40 miles (that's the goal) without utilizing a drop of oil or emitting an ounce of tailpipe pollutants, meeting the daily driving needs of a large percentage of commuters -- 78% by GM estimate.
"That's not an incremental improvement in mpg. Miles per gallon don't even enter into the equation," he says. GM's research finds that 64% of drivers would complete their daily driving needs on battery power alone, and if drivers with longer commutes were able to charge briefly during the work day, this number would increase to 84%.
"When you do all the math to convert kilowatt hours to cost-per-mile, a conventional vehicle that gets around 30 mpg (7.84 liters/100km) costs about 12 cents a mile to operate. An extended range vehicle like the Volt will costs around 2 cents a mile for electricity from the grid. That means the volt will be cheaper to operate than a conventional vehicle by a factor of six."
On the issue of what will the Volt cost, Lauckner reassures the audience that it will come to market at a price that will be "within reach for a lot of customers."
"We placed a huge priority of getting it into production as soon as possible," he stresses. "The whole of General Motors is behind this project." The corporation as some 200 engineers working on the Volt alone, and another 400 on the E-Flex and related systems.
"That's how much stock we place in extended-range electric vehicles." He adds that GM has nothing against the battery electric car, per se. "You'll recall that we did one," he says, referring to the EV1 of the 1990s. The company hopes to ignite the same enthusiasm in Volt customers as the EV1 generated in its time.
Turning to GM's co-development of the advanced lithium-ion batteries for the Volt, he states that testing has shown that the cells will scale up to pack levels that will produce the target 40 miles range. LG Chem and Compact Power have delivered their first prototype packs and tests are encouraging, but Lauckner stresses it's "too early to declare victory" and GM will continue subject both the cells and packs to extensive testing.
The company also decided to develop the car alongside the battery so both will be ready at the same time, itself an out of the ordinary approach for GM because the Volt is "being developed with a sense of urgency."
"It's about leading the industry forward and recapturing General Motor's technological leadership."
Be sure to listen to Mr. Lauckner's presentation in its entirety by using either of the two MP3 players at the top of the page or by downloading the 3.7MB file to your hard drive for transfer to and playback on your favorite MP3 device.