September 17 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2011 Rating: 12 Hot
General Motors is not afraid of the future. And it is not afraid to let go of the past.
On Tuesday the company released details of its production version of ‘Volt’ – the industry’s first Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) that will go into production in 2010.
And this is only the beginning.
GM’s plan to reinvent the auto industry starts with killing the combustion engine.
We believe the company has three strategies for the future:
#1 The Real Revolution is about Manufacturing
GM knows that in the next automobile revolution – it is not how you fuel a car that matters, it’s how you build it.
GM cares less about the price of oil, than it cares about the cost and complexities of building cars around the mechanical combustion engine. The Volt is important because the combustion engine is relegated to a new temporary task – recharge the batteries. The 21st century auto industry begins when we shift to modularity of electric motors (e.g. lower manufacturing costs, fewer factories).
#2 Design Matters
GM knows that design matters, and the bulky, mechanical combustion engine holds them back. If you eliminate the engine and regain 1/3rd of the vehicle chassis you can rethink how cars are built. Transition to ‘drive by wire’ systems for steering and braking – and you open up new potential for vehicle designs and upgrades.
#3 The breakthrough is Electric motors, not the batteries
GM knows auto-engineering. High performance electric motors have arrived. Now we need to develop systems to deliver the streams of electrons. The future of the automobile is not ‘all’ battery or ‘all’ fuel cell – it’s both.
The electric car is not an iPod. The battery is not our end game. It is merely one piece of the puzzle for electric propulsion. Batteries might have a short-term commercialization advantage, but the platform might struggle to evolve into the 21st century. The chemistry is bad. The costs are too high, and the performance is adequate at best. Future electric propulsion systems will integrate all three systems – batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Looking beyond the Chevy Volt
The GM Volt is big – because it is the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine. R.I.P.
GM’s real revolutionary vision is not the Chevy Volt, but its AUTOnomy concept.
That vision starts with simple idea– skateboard kills car.
Then the industry uses the principles of modular design and manufacturing to change the cost structure of how cars are built, bought, sold and upgraded.
On Tuesday GM released images of its production demonstration of Volt – an extended range electric vehicle designed to go 40 miles before a small combustion engine motor kicks in to recharge the battery.
The expectation is that most commuters travel less than 30 miles to work so the electric motor should suffice. So those able to ‘plug in’ at home can significantly reduce trips to the gas station.
The lithium-ion battery packs are recharged by plugging the car into a standard wall outlet. A full-charge cycle is reported to take 6 hours. And gasoline fed to the combustion engine is used to recharge the battery, not power the motors. By using the combustion engine to recharge the battery the car is reported to have a range of 400 miles.
But this is only part of the story. GM’s real strategy is to perfect the electric power train- and accelerate its electron storage systems. To get further along GM will have to continue reinventing the car.
#1 – Electron Storage Solutions
Electric cars are very complicated machines- and they will require a combination of electron power systems including batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors. This is not Lord of the Rings. Not one device ‘to rule them all’. Batteries are not the end game.
The future of electric cars rests on tapping the cost and performance advantages of all systems working together.
The good news is that advanced lithium ion batteries appear to have enough juice within them to support the first generation of electric vehicles.
The bad news is that it only confuses the general public and distracts us from accelerating the only form of electron power that can match the cost and performance of gasoline combustion engines. Hydrogen, the ugly step-sister of cleantech, might have been over-hyped during the Dotcom Boom, but it is a potent source of energy that cannot be ignored. Appliance based H2 production and solid state H2 storage systems are evolving. And fuel cell membrane costs are dropping quickly. Stay tuned.
#2 Wheel based Electric motors – lower cost
GM knows that the secret to 21st century success is shedding the 20th century manufacturing system. It needs to shut down factories and produce multiple chassis on the same factory floor. It needs a modular powertrain system and it can get there with electric motors.
While it might be years away, GM’s real game changing vehicle is AUTOnomy (below). An 11-inch thick skateboard chassis with four wheel based motors and self contained power systems. That can change the cost structure of how we build, buy and upgrade cars.
#3 Drive by Wire
The road to reinventing the auto industry intersects with the electronics industry. If you want to simplify your supply chain, reduce vehicle weight, improve performance and redefine the driving experience— you switch to ‘drive by wire’ systems for steering and braking. Beyond reducing costs on the factory floor, you can tap the power of software to customize the driving experience. When Dad gets in the car the performance feels like a sports coupe. Mom prefers the feel of a smooth luxury sedan. Simply change the programming and it feels like you are driving a different car.
GM has certainly changed the game by committing to a production version automobile platform that diminishes the role of the combustion engine. And they have plenty of room to continue innovating!
We are anxious to see GM’s Volt hit the marketplace. Eager to see the death of the combustion engine.
But if you want a sneak peak at the future – think about how we can change how cars are built….
Welcome to AUTOnomy—
Our forecast on the future of transportation – skateboard kills car.