Car Companies Make Progress on Electric Vehicles

General Motors, Ford and several other automakers have recently made strides toward the production of electric vehicles.

| January 26, 2010

  • Chevy Volt
    The Chevy Volt can be driven for at least 40 miles on the electricity stored within its battery. Regular production of the Volt is set to begin in the fourth quarter of 2010.

  • Chevy Volt

General Motors (GM) manufactured the first battery pack for its upcoming extended-range electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt, on Jan. 7. The advanced lithium-ion battery pack rolled off the line at GM’s Brownstown Battery Pack Assembly Plant just five months after GM invested $43 million in the facility to prepare for the manufacturing of the Volt and other electric vehicles with extended-range capabilities. The Volt is designed to drive up to 40 miles on electricity alone, after which a flex-fuel engine-generator kicks in to extend the total driving range to about 300 miles.

GM’s initial battery production at Brownstown will be used to validate the plant’s equipment and processes, and batteries will be sent to GM’s Global Battery Systems lab in Warren, Mich., for testing. This spring, GM will begin shipping batteries to its Detroit-Hamtramck plant, the assembly location for the Volt, for use in production validation vehicles. Regular production at Brownstown and Detroit-Hamtramck is set to begin in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Ford is also investing heavily in electrified vehicles. The company announced on Jan. 11 that it will invest an additional $450 million in Michigan as part of its aggressive electric-vehicle plan. Ford intends to build a next-generation hybrid and plug-in hybrid in Michigan beginning in 2012. The new investment is in addition to a previously announced $550 million investment in the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., in part for the production of an all-electric Ford Focus, starting next year. But first, Ford is collaborating with Azure Dynamics Corporation to produce an all-electric Ford Transit Connect van, which will be sold in the United States and Canada this year. Azure will integrate its battery electric drive train in the Transit Connect van for commercial fleet and retail use. The collaboration with Azure Dynamics for the Transit Connect BEV will build on the existing business relationship between Ford and Azure as well as their shared experience with Johnson Controls-Saft, its battery supplier. Looking toward the future, Ford is even working with the University of Detroit Mercy to retrain automotive engineers to develop electric vehicles instead.

GM and Ford can expect plenty of competition in the electric vehicle arena. In addition to Toyota’s plans to offer an electric vehicle for model year 2012, the Norwegian company Think (once part of Ford) is investing $43.5 million in a factory in Indiana that will produce the all-electric Think City, a highway-capable urban vehicle. Think says the plant could begin assembling vehicles early next year. In the truck market, Balqon Corporation introduced a heavy-duty electric truck for short haul applications, the Mule M-150, in late September, while Smith Electric Vehicles US Corp started assembling electric trucks in Kansas City, Mo., in October.

Organizations are also preparing for the coming electric vehicles, as the Society of Automotive Engineers released a standard for an electric vehicle charging coupler in mid-January. The Tennessee Valley Authority, the Electric Power Research Institute and U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are also working together to test and deploy solar-assisted electric-vehicle charging stations across the state of Tennessee. The prototype charging station will be built in Knoxville this spring, followed by a second prototype in Oak Ridge, with plans to install additional stations in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville over the next few years.

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