Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The race is on, or is it?

Two groups are vying for a contract to provide General Motors Corp. with an advanced battery pack for the Chevrolet Volt: Compact Power Inc., a subsidiary of Korea’s LG Chem Ltd., and Germany-based Continental Automotive Systems, a group working with GM and A123 Systems Inc. of Watertown, MA.

But both could end up winners, a GM executive says.

In June, Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told reporters GM had picked a battery supplier for the Volt, though he declined to identify the company. But Denise Gray, director-global vehicle engineering-hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries, contends no decision has been made.

“We had told everyone last year, when we started out with our two development contracts, that within a year or so we’d make a decision on which battery supplier we’d use and what our final design would be,” Gray says at the Management Briefing Seminars held here last week. Right now, we are just in the throws of honing in on that design, and it’s not just a factor of which supplier has the best design.

“The designs are really a collaboration of General Motors and the suppliers, and we are making sure that the rest of our overall vehicle system is optimized in general,” she adds.

“It’s not a decision on if they’re ready. It’s a decision on when the overall vehicle, including the battery system, is stable enough to freeze that design.”

GM’s goal is to have all of that buttoned up by year’s end. “It will be before the end of the year for sure, but hopefully as soon as possible,” Gray says.

No matter which one wins the bid, the auto maker wants to make sure products from both suppliers end up in its technology portfolio.

A123 is co-developing cells using its nanophosphate chemistry that could be employed in both plug-in electric and fuel-cell versions of GM’s E-Flex vehicle architecture.

But it’s been reported LG Chem is the frontrunner to supply GM with the Chevrolet Volt battery pack.

“I have hybrid batteries, electric-vehicle batteries, they span the range,” Gray says. “From an overall portfolio, there’s room for all in a number of our different programs.

“If both of them can perfect their design, it offers all of us – not just GM, but the industry – more alternatives. That means we progressed in a number of different chemistries in order to meet automotive needs.”

She says the eventual announcement of the Volt battery supplier will signal GM fully has finalized its design and is “on our path to productionization of the whole vehicle.”

Other components beyond the battery also are awaiting the green light, she notes.

In addition to the upcoming Volt, due in 2010, GM already is focused on next-generation versions of EV architecture, Gray says.

“Before the end of this year I’ll have several generations of battery systems we are working on – each getting more efficient, more cost effective.”

Although she declines to specify the number of future vehicle architectures that ultimately could use the Volt propulsion system, a GM executive at a dinner here earlier this week said the range could be anywhere between “two and 99.”

“The Volt propulsion system is fairly consistent,” says GM spokesperson Rob Peterson. “We don’t see this just as a one-off or for one vehicle.

“We see it as the electrification of vehicles. You can see different body styles, and different brands, things along those lines coming out in the future,” he adds.

“You might see anything from a 5-passenger car to smaller cars or other branded cars. The potential is definitely there.”

dstark@wardsauto.com