Just as your mileage varies by where and how you drive, so might the performance of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid’s batteries.
The batteries in the GM vehicle due out in a year (November 2010) will have at least 10 years of life, according to company representatives who briefed the media on Tuesday. But vehicle owners who live in temperate climates are likely to see their batteries last much longer.
According to Andrew Farah, Volt chief engineer, after many months of tweaking battery cells (provided by supplier LG Chem) to optimize performance and lifespan, the lithium ion manganese spinel chemistry has been finalized. While customers will be be guaranteed 10 years of satisfactory battery performance, Volt owners in Arizona or Michigan may get considerably less out of their batteries in the long run than someone who lives in more temperate areas, such as the Pacific Northwest or Bay Area.
“10 years is the target life, but depending on where you live, you could see significantly more than that,” said Farah. “In more benign conditions — if you do more city driving — and if you are in a more temperate area, the battery would last significantly longer.”
When exposed to extremely high temperatures for extended periods, some lithium ion batteries (such as the chemistry GM chose) will lose storage capacity. So parking an electric vehicle in desert heat for hours at a time would slowly reduce the amount of energy that can be stored, which eventually translates to fewer miles driving in between charges. “Local weather is important,” said Farah.
GM will be very careful in rolling out these first of their kind production vehicles so that they can monitor vehicle performance and expectations. Battery suppliers whose products give any indication of underperforming may find themselves losing customers. The automotive OEMs are likely to multisource their battery contracts so that they could switch suppliers as needed.
GM has also signed off on the charging equipment that will come with the vehicle. The charge unit is recommended for ground fault protection (GFP) to prevent vehicle owners from getting shocked in places where moisture may be present.
A strong negative reaction by consumers to any model could jeopardize demand across the board for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. Automakers will proceed with caution, and may delay product launches if any uncertainty about reliability or safety presents itself in final testing.
The company has assembled 300 battery packs so far and has tested them without any cell failures, according to the company. GM will start taking delivery of the production cells in the beginning of 2010, and is expected to ship its first Volts by the end of the year.