General Motors Corp. has taken another step toward bringing its Volt plug-in electric car to market by opening a new studio where work is being done exclusively on its next generation of electric vehicles.
The studio, made from a former management training center on the grounds of GM's Warren Technical Center, has clay and vinyl models of the next generation Volt, which is to be powered by an electric motor run from lithium-ion batteries. A small gasoline motor or a hydrogen fuel cell would be used to charge the batteries when they become depleted.
The Volt, a Chevrolet unveiled at the 2007 auto show in Detroit, will be designed so it can be plugged in to a home outlet to recharge the battery pack, giving the electric motor a range of about 40 miles. The motor would then kick in and recharge the battery pack, extending its range.
Designers using computer and small clay models already have cut 30 percent from the wind drag of the original concept, said Ed Welburn, vice president of global design.
"The easier it is to push this vehicle through the air, the less energy you use," said Nina Tortosa, the aerodynamic development engineer on the Volt.
GM still has a target of bringing the Volt to market sometime in 2010 and is now testing the first of two competing versions of batteries made by outside companies. In the past, the company has said the only thing holding back the vehicle from production is a battery that is small, powerful and safe.
Bob Boniface, design director for the company's flexible electric vehicles, told reporters that a separate facility was needed because the Volt has so many unique features and challenges compared with other GM vehicles.
Designers working on the new prototypes are trying to make the car look different from others so it makes a statement, "but it can't look like a science project. It's got to be something that people want to buy."
The center now has 45 designers and sculptors working on the Volt.
Company spokesman Rob Peterson said the battery development is on schedule. GM engineers are testing one version now that has performed up to expectations. Another version is expected in early 2008.
The company hopes to have drivable versions of the Volt for testing in the second quarter of next year.
Earlier this year, GM signed two battery development contracts with Compact Power Inc. of Troy, Mich., and Frankfurt, Germany-based Continental Automotive Systems.
Compact Power will develop battery cells with its parent, LG Chem of Korea. Continental will use cells being developed jointly by GM and A123.
The batteries being tested are made by Compact Power, while the A123 battery is expected early next year, Peterson said.