Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – General Motors Co. expects its upcoming Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle to have a product-cycle cadence similar to internal-combustion-engine cars and trucks.

As such, the next-generation Volt conceivably could be introduced as early as 2013, says Britta Gross, GM’s manager of hydrogen- and electrical-infrastructure development.

“We’ve had a very thorough evaluation program on the Volt. And if you look at just how far we’ve come from where we were three years ago with our production program, that’s not a lot different than a conventional gas vehicle,” Gross tells Ward’s on the sidelines of the 2010 SAE World Congress here.

“I think you’re going to see the same level of aggressiveness continue all the way out,” she says.

The first-generation Volt EREV is scheduled to launch this fall in California, Michigan and Washington, D.C., with other markets expected to be added later.

Gross is mum on what exactly GM is planning for the next-generation Volt but offers some possibilities.

The first-generation Volt employs a 16 kW/h battery pack, but only 8 kW/h will be used, as GM wants to ensure the battery will last for the life of the vehicle, which is designed for 10 years and 150,000 miles (241,395 km).

“Batteries don’t like to operate at the extremes. They don’t like deep depths of discharging,” Gross says. “So you want to operate a battery in the middle. It is a way to extend the life of a battery.”

Once engineers determine how the battery holds up at half capacity, the pack’s total power output can be tapped, she says.

“The question as battery technology advances is (whether) it’s going (to be used) for more range, or to (cut) the weight and cost of the battery,” she says. “Because one of the near-term challenges is to get the cost down to make (the EREV) compete with the gas vehicle.”

It’s likely GM will not use next-generation batteries to increase the Volt’s all-electric range from 40 miles (64.4 km) to 80 miles (128.8 km), but rather provide the same power output with a smaller battery.

“I’m not sure that’s necessary with the Volt or any extended-range vehicle, because the 40-mile (range) is a very purposeful target based on American consumers,” Gross says,” noting pure-electric vehicles likely will use battery advancements to increase range.

“Eighty-percent (of drivers) commute less than 40 miles a day, so that’s the target, and it doesn’t change in five years,” she says. “The (electric) range (of an EREV) is not a great consumer-value proposition.”

bpope@wardsauto.com