Volt Battery Pack Too Bulky, Expensive to Compete With Hybrids, Says Study

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When it comes to battery packs for plug-in hybrids, smaller is better, according to new research from Carnegie Mellon University. Led by engineering professor Jeremy Michalek, the study authors found that plug-ins with battery packs large enough for only about seven miles of all-electric range can simultaneously reduce petroleum consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and drivers’ expenses. By contrast, vehicles with battery packs hefty enough for at least 40 miles of electric travel — such as GM’s (s GM) Chevy Volt — will cost too much to compete with regular hybrids on price, according to the study, which will appear in the journal Energy Policy. (Hat tip Bloomberg)

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For plug-in car makers, the upside of the study is that vehicles with smaller battery packs — designed for urban driving and more frequent charging — may prove economically competitive with not only hybrids like the Toyota (s tm)Prius, but also conventional vehicles in a range of scenarios. Michalek explained yesterday in a release about the study:

If gas prices go up or battery prices come down, plug-in vehicles will be more competitive across the board, but the small battery packs remain best on cost, and new charging infrastructure could increase the number of drivers who can benefit.

While Michalek’s findings may be reassuring for a company like Better Place, which wants to provide the infrastructure for those frequent charges, they paint a gloomy picture for GM. Whatever the Chevy Volt can do for the automaker’s standing with federal purse-holders and its reputation as an innovator, GM faces significant hurdles to turn the car into a moneymaker if it wants to price it for the mass market.

In itself, that’s hardly a revelation. GM has said that it expects to lose money on the first generation of Volts. With advances in battery technology and increased production volume, the company hopes to turn a profit on the car by 2020.

Michalek said in yesterday’s release that batteries will have to become “very cheap” for plug-ins with larger battery packs to save drivers money. GM gets that. It has grand plans for battery R&D in partnership with the University of Michigan and maybe some help from the government. As Michigan’s Ann Arbor Business Review put it this morning, “This all portends well for the future, especially if you ignore GM’s growing cash crisis and the looming specter of bankruptcy.”

4 Comments

CR

This states the obvious… Why would GM still even be using cylindical Lithium Ion cells? The volt will not be in the shape of a flash light. There are other flat LI technologies that are scalable for mass market that are more efficient, take substantially less space (i.e. flat) and are more cost efficient.

Finally, nothing about this suggests that it is good news for Better Place. How is news that batteries are bigger heavier and more expensive in anyway a benefit for BP? They are going to have to fast-charge the battereis anyway for their model to work, so why swap them when you can fast-charge (level 3) them in the same time.

And FYI- BP does not have a single deal inked in North America, only Denmark and Israel. I wish the press would do some research before they start publishing reports about “deals” with Hawaii and San Francisco, etc… A mere public records search will show that they are not fully disclosing the truth in BP’s press releases.

Also0 anyone notice how BP is slowly realizing that battery swapping is not going to work and are changing their business model to include charge stations? I wish they were public so we can see what type of cash and working capital they REALLY have on hand.

D Sakarya

Harding surprising. GM spent a decade pissing on hybrids and propping up the hydrogen hoax.

thegeniusfiles

What this country needs, for lack of a better term, is a Manhattan Project for alternative energy. Why is so much research wasted on finding new ways to kill people, when an equivalent amount of research in alternative energy would obviate the need to find new ways to kill people? The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan are about energy policy not terrorism. It’s our patriotic duty to find alternatives to oil.

kerry bradshaw

The Bllomberg study is seriously flawed,partly because it fails miserably in estimating the gas avoided by a Volt. GM, by the way, will be producing a 10 mile ranged plug-in Saturn. But the 40 mile ranged Volt is the only vehicle that makes sense in terms of reducing emissions. Do the simply math (apparently beyond the capabilities of Bllomberg) and you’lll see that a ten year ownership of a Volt will save $22,000 in fuel over a typical 20 MPG car of today, while a Prius will save less than $14,000.
These numbers assume $4 gas, Assume $5 gas and the Volt savings jump to over $26,000 and have an $11,000 advantage over the Prius. A 10 mile plug-in
fares much worse than the Volt in terms of fuel bills, and in less than five years, its cost advantage (now about $10,000) will shrink to less than $5,000, which is nowhere near enough to offset its poor fuel performance. I might add that the study is also foolish because 10 mile ranged plug-ins deserve a much lower subsidy from a country wanting to cut carbon emissions and reduce oil dependencies.
A Volt can avoid five times as much gasoline and carbon emissions as can a 10 mile plug-in, and people are desirous of buying cars that can make a significant diference. The plain hybrid or 10 mileranged plug-in cannot do that and doesn’t deserve any subsidies. One of the truly moronic
concepts of the study is that people buy cars on the basis of fuel costs and cost-effectiveness. Since when?

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