Kobe has decreed that his next car should get at least 50 miles per gallon, so last night and today he turned me out into the snow and sent me to look at green cars at the DC auto show.
And it’s all about the battery, baby.
When the GM selected the Korean firm LG Chem to manufacture the cells for the battery of their first generation Volt, it did so largely because they felt LG Chem had a better chance than the competing firm, A123Systems of Massachusetts, of meeting the production demand in time for a fall 2010 roll out.
GM is working with A123 for the second generation Volt, however, and A123 has announced plans to build its first lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant in Detroit. They plan to employee 15,000 people there and build 500,000 batteries for plug-in hybrids by 2013. They have already applied for a $1.8 billion federal loan from the fund created by the Energy Bill, which George Bush tried to raid for bridge loans for GM and Chrysler when he didn’t want to use TARP funds.
But when Bob Lutz decided to give the contract to LG Chem, there was also consideration given evidently to the shape of the cells. The LG Chem cells are flat, and the battery of the Volt is roughly 6 feet long and weighs about 400 lbs. It runs down the center of the car where a drive shaft hump would sit in a traditional vehicle. A123 is evidently working to accommodate their batteries to the Volt design for the 2.0 incarnation, but for now you can see one in the back of the Prius as I saw it at the auto show in the YouTube above.
You can buy a Prius right now that is retrofitted with an A123 lithium ion-battery that pretty much delivers what the Volt will. I spoke with Les Goldman at the auto show, an energy lobbyist who represents A123Systems. He said he’d been driving the Pruis with the A123 battery for over a year, and claims it regularly gets over 100 miles per gallon and under maximum conditions will get 180. It can be charged using a standard three pronged outlet and can be 90-95% electric at 30-35 mpg. Les says he fills up his tank about every 8 weeks.
The down side? The battery itself costs about $10,000 and only comes with a three year warranty. Most consumers are going to want warranties that mean they won’t have to bear the cost of a $10,000 battery replacement after year three, and despite stress testing (or perhaps because of it) there appears to be some concern among Volt engineers I spoke with that warranty replacement levels could mean the car cannot presently be produced at a profit. And if ten people on your block want to all buy them at once, there’s no guarantee the grid could power them all.
Kobe just hopes the lithium supply holds up.