Although GM plans to design and build its own battery packs, it will rely on other manufacturers to supply the cells that make up the packs. The lab will be used to conduct research in cooperation with these suppliers to improve cell designs. Some GM researchers are also developing new cell materials, says Ramona Ying, a GM battery researcher, although they ultimately need to work with suppliers to build the cells.
The lab is designed so that engineers around the world can collaborate remotely on battery development. Engineers can monitor and control testing equipment in the lab remotely: those at the lab can communicate with engineers at other GM battery labs in New York and Germany, as well as with researchers at the University of Michigan who are part of a new GM-sponsored battery engineering program there.
The Volt’s battery and generator system are being designed to work with a variety of vehicles. GM has already announced a European variant of the Volt, as well as a Cadillac concept vehicle that would use similar technology. But GM executives this week declined to predict what proportion of future GM vehicles will use the technology. Batteries are expensive, and the Volt is predicted to cost more than $40,000, which could limit its appeal. Denise Gray, GM’s director of energy-storage systems, says that the main challenge for the second- and third-generation Volt battery packs, which are being developed at the new lab, is bringing down costs.
“New technology is expensive, so generation one is going to be an expensive battery pack,” Gray says. “We have goals to get the price down quite a bit in order to make it a sustainable business in the future.”