• Mar 2, 2009
Click above for high-res image gallery of the 2011 Chevy Volt

A new study by Carnegie Mellon University has found that the cost to create an automotive battery pack capable of providing a range of 40 miles per charge is prohibitively expensive. Coincidentally (or not), that's exactly the range that General Motors is aiming for with its upcoming Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle.

GM's not offering any specifics about how much the Volt's lithium-ion battery pack will cost, but current estimates place the figure over $15,000. If the car's going to have mass market appeal, that battery pack may represent nearly half the car's total cost to the consumer, which would be an unsustainable situation without the assistance of federal tax credits and incentives.

Even if the government subsidizes the cost of the Volt's initial purchase, questions remain about the replacement cost of the battery pack despite GM's assertion that it will last the life of the car. GM has until late 2010 to get it all worked out, and we remain excited about the prospect of gas-free motoring that plug-ins like the Volt will provide. Still, studies like the one from CMU cannot be dismissed and cast doubt over any automaker's ability to bring electric or extended-range electric vehicles to market in a cost effective manner.


[Sources: Bloomberg, Carnegie-Mellon University]


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  • 68 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Just think how effective $5,000 worth of oil exploration per car sold in the United States would lower the cost of oil for everyone, never mind $15,000 for a battery pack! I don't mean federal spending, but the kind of private-sector drilling that the onerous federal and state governments are not currently permitting.

      Get with it, people. Burn oil in vehicles, grow corn for human consumption and power laptops with electricity. Mixing and matching these three is silly.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Do you promise to God that all of that oil will stay in The USA?

        Next post please.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Bill P.

        I've been a believer in the peak oil theory and have also worried about the conflicts and wars that would ensue after oil becomes too expensive to use commonly.

        However, there has always been a certain part in the back of my head (really back there you know) that says oil is not from dinosaurs but is in fact a renewable resource made deep in the earth from rock, magma, and what not.

        You brought up a very good argument that is not heard often, and explained it well. I thought that we were at peak oil last summer and would never have thought oil would trade for $35 a barrel just 4 months removed from $150. For our sake, and human sake, lets hope you're right.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Jake:

        The fact is that when you charge a car using electricity produced by a coal-burning power plant instead of using a gasoline car, you are emitting LESS carbon into the atmosphere. Also, you are spreading pollution around instead of centering it in the cities (smog). Finally, there is more coal in the ground to last us than there is oil.

        And whoever is going on about oil lasting forever and peak oil being an artificial scam really must have their head up their ass.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Thank you for your detailed explanation regarding the origins of oil. I laughed out loud when reading it as I have been saying for along time that there is no way that oil comes from a pile of dead dinosaurs. I always suspected the earth created it and that coal is the frozen form of it... just as water can freeze oil can harden. Well put argument. I am pretty sure the oil companies are going to read this post, find us, and shut it down since the truth will only hurt them.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Head up their ass? Hardly. One day we'll scoff at the cartoon of the dinosaur on the gas station sign. "Fossil" fuels....Hah!

        From 321energy.com:

        If hydrocarbons are renewable- then is "Peak Oil" a fraud?
        by Joel Bainerman

        Are hydrocarbons "renewable"- and if so- what does such a conclusion mean for the future of the world's oil and natural gas supplies?

        The question is critical due to the enormous amount of coverage the issue of "Peak Oil" is receiving from the mainstream press. If the supply of hydrocarbons is renewable- then the contrary to the conventional wisdom being touted throughout the mainstream press today- the world is NOT running out of oil.

        Unbeknownst to Westerners, there have actually been for quite some time now two competing theories concerning the origins of petroleum. One theory claims that oil is an organic 'fossil fuel' deposited in finite quantities near the planet's surface. The other theory claims that oil is continuously generated by natural processes in the Earth's magma.

        One of the world's leading advocates for the theory that hydrocarbons are renewable is Dr. Thomas Gold who contends that oil is not a limited resource, and that oil, natural gas and coal, are not so-called “fossil fuels.”

        In his book, The Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels, he explains that dinosaurs and plants and the fossils from those living beings are not the origin of oil and natural gas, but rather generated from a chemical substance in the crust of the Earth.

        Dr. Gold: "Astronomers have been able to find that hydrocarbons, as oil, gas and coal are called, occur on many other planetary bodies. They are a common substance in the universe. You find it in the kind of gas clouds that made systems like our solar system. You find large quantities of hydrocarbons in them. Is it reasonable to think that our little Earth, one of the planets, contains oil and gas for reasons that are all its own and that these other bodies have it because it was built into them when they were born? That question makes a lot of sense. After all, they didn’t have dinosaurs and ferns on Jupiter to produce oil and gas?"

        He continues: "Human skull fossils have been found in anthracite coal in Pennsylvania. The official theory of the development of coal will not accept that reality, since human beings were not around when anthracite coal was formed. Coal was formed millions of years ago. However, you cannot mistake the fact that these are human fossils."

        "The coal we dig is hard, brittle stuff. It was once a liquid, because we find embedded in the middle of a six-foot seam of coal such things as a delicate wing of some animal or a leaf of a plant. They are undestroyed, absolutely preserved; with every cell in that fossil filled with exactly the same coal as all the coal on the outside. A hard, brittle coal is not going to get into each cell of a delicate leaf without destroying it. So obviously that stuff was a thin liquid at one time which gradually hardened."

        Gold claims that the only thing we find now on the Earth that would do that is petroleum, which gradually becomes stiffer and harder. That is the only logical explanation for the origin of coal. So the fact that coal contains fossils does not prove that it is a fossil fuel; it proves exactly the opposite. Those fossils found in coal prove that coal is not made from those fossils. Where then does the carbon base come from that produces all of this?

        Says Dr. Gold: "Petroleum and coal were made from materials in which heavy hydrocarbons were common components. We know that because the meteorites are the sort of debris left over from the formations of the planets and those contain carbon in unoxidized form as hydrocarbons as oil and coal-like particles. We find that in one large class of meteorites and we find that equally on many of the other planetary bodies in the solar system. So it’s pretty clear that when the Earth formed it contained a lot of carbon material built into it."

        Dr. Gold's ideas would lead us to believe that there is so much natural gas in the earth that it is causing earthquakes in trying to escape from the Earth. If you’ll drill deep enough anywhere, you will find natural gas. It may not be in commercial quantities every time, but more than likely it will be.

        Is the oil and gas industry reconsidering things in light of his work?

        Absolutely not.

        "In many other countries they are listening to me: in Russia on a very large scale, and in China also. It is just Western Europe and the United States that are so stuck in the mud that they can’t look at anything else.&quo
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Jake B

        It'll take at least 10 years before plug-ins become a large minority (see the slow progress of hybrid adoption, plug-ins are way more expensive so they'll take even longer). I imagine by that time we will upgrade our grid at least partially. Also there's offpeak charging which greatly reduces the strain on the grid. We could switch 84% of our cars to plug-ins overnight on the existing grid if we took advantage of offpeak charging. With the slow adoption rate, even without offpeak charging we won't be straining the grid at all.
        http://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/12/doe_study_offpe.html

        Don't be so lazy, a quick Google will show a plug-in running even on 100% coal will be cleaner than an equivalent car, but not a hybrid. I believe there is no study out there that disputes this point.
        http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/04/plug-in-hybrid-cars-co2-emissions-electricity-energy.php
        A graph I stumbled upon that assumes 100% coal:
        http://www.ibtimes.com/data/articleimgs/209717-emissions.jpg
        No normal MINI in that chart, but a normal 2009 MINI emits 62 lbs/100 miles.
        Keep in mind, these graphs don't factor in the offpeak charging & load balancing advantage of plug-ins.
        Luckily 100% coal is very rare so everyone will do better. By my own calculations, the US average grid brings the emissions numbers lower than hybrids. A cleaner grid like California's roughly halves the emissions compared to hybrids.

        Depending on your local power source, you can greatly reduce emissions or at the worst case (100% coal or close) be cleaner than a normal car but not a hybrid.
        http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/how-clean.html

        This link will easily help you figure out whether a plug-in makes sense with your local source of power. If the emission levels are higher than the US average by a significant amount (usually when there's a huge percentage of coal), then it doesn't make much sense emissions wise.

        I think the reoccuring argument (and believe me, it gets brought practically up EVERY SINGLE TIME there's a long post about plug-ins) about the grid are just excuses to put off plug-ins; once you analyze, you realize it's not a big deal. The critical thing for acceptance will be the cost (which is expected to come down).
        • 5 Years Ago
        Oh, and for those who also still believe in Global Warming:
        Go read this and learn something new...
        http://www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm
        • 5 Years Ago
        Not to mention that America's craptastic electrical grids are super old and strained as it is. Even if a large minority of Americans drove plug-ins it would be curtains for our power grids.

        Also, could I get sources for Coal power plants being more clean than automobiles in terms of energy output and such...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Most of the electricity produced in the US is from non renewable sources anyway so we really aren't being THAT green with hybrids and plug ins.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Just think how effective $5,000 worth of oil exploration per car sold in the United States would lower the cost of oil for everyone, never mind $15,000 for a battery pack! " - Bill

        You don't get the economics of oil.

        First off, we already of have Billions in tax credits for new exploration/drilling.

        Second, finding and developing new oil deposits in the US is considerably more costly than in places like Saudi Arabia (in Saudi Arabia, it's about $5 bbl; it's over $60 bbl for US offshore).

        Third, the US just doesn't have the oil reserves to make a significant impact on the price of oil; whatever price drop there might be w/ additional production from the US, Saudi Arabia could simply negate by lowering their own production.

        Fourth, the recent huge and rapid increase in the price of oil/bbl had little to do w/ supply and demand.

        During the period of greatest increase (Winter/Spring of 2008/9), the demand for oil actually decreased while the supply was increased (the Saudis increasing production).

        If market forces were at work - we should have actually seen a drop in oil prices, but instead, we saw the sharpest, quickest increase in the history of the oil market.

        This was all due to speculation - institutional investors, hedge funds and i-banks poured Billions into oil futures - which resulted in an artificial bubble (sound familiar?).

        We have Phil Gramm to thank for that - who was primarily responsible for the deregulation of the commodities market which made it prone to manipulation/over speculation (btw, Gramm was responsible for the "Enron Loophole" - which enabled Enron to manipulate the energy market in the Western US).

        As for corn-based ethanol, it's a poor substitute for gasoline.

        It contains less energy than other alternatives (such as sugar-based ethanol) and requires significant energy to produce.

        We have the big agribusinesses (such as ADM) and US Sugar to thank for this.

        Basically, our legislators sold out to the lobbyists/special interests and we, as usual, have to pay the price.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yo Bill: Ever heard of peak oil? The whole idea is to find an alternative to "Burn oil in vehicles" because the oil isn't going to be there forever and things are going to be problematic as the supply dwindles. More exploration, at best, can delay the problem, but it certainly cannot solve it. Did you think the industry is investing all this money in alternative fuel sources because it is bored?

        The attraction to electric vehicles is that it tkes the problem of deriving energy from non-fossil fuels out of the car. Whether it is wind, solar, nuclear, or from magic crystals, electricity is the commen endpoint and electric vehicles can take it from there. Obviously, we are not there yet, in terms of technology or infrastructure, but that is the inevitable end-point. I applaud the efforts of all the manufacturers to advance the technology. Just because it is not practical now doesn't mean it never will be. Consider the lack of efficiency of the otto-cycle engines of a hundred years ago. That is where we are now.

        Most readers here understand this.
      • 5 Years Ago
      No free lunch. And batteries are not as easy to handle as a fuel tank.

      Then there is the chemical volatility of most lithium powered batteries, and the heavy metals that are used to manufacture batteries, both lithium and nickel based.

      Personally, I abhor the political-chic of this enviro-activism, but the technical theory of a hybrid vehicle should be evaluated on a technical and business plan basis.

      Personally, I want to see a car that is a hybrid of a gas-turbine/electric drive hybrid, with minimal, but good battery capacitance for short stop-and-go, and to minimize the idle-time of the turbine engine, but otherwise have the gas turbine driving a generator, and have that fairly directly connected to the drive motors, and regenerative braking system.

      A small multi-fuel capable turboshaft engine or centrifugal-compressor gas turbine would probably not have the throttle response to really be nice to drive, or to reduce the RPMs for mechanical connection to the wheels.

      but electric motors have good torque charateristics, and fairly wide RPM range, and an electric connection could offer the flexibility for the turbine to run at steady or gently-variable rpms. With an exhaust cooling ambient-air-drawthrough or compressor bypass, it could work, without melting the car, or the car behind it.

      Bring out something like THAT, and make it a paradigm shift in automotive transportation, not just a greenie-smug-mobile... and I might be interested.

      Volt just seems like a one-up on the greenie-smug-mobile front, and maybe even an EV1 repeat of non-viability study, if it doesn't work.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Don't feed the trolls, Billp next source will be 123456789oilisbadforyoudickweed987654321.com
      • 5 Years Ago
      Although I'm sure the Volt will not be viable financially, the cost of the battery pack is likely closer to $8K than $15K. If the pack in the Volt were $15K that would make the Tesla pack at least $60K and that's if Tesla made theirs out of large cells like GM does, which they don't, they use laptop batteries, which increases the cost further.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I've been saying this to myself all along. I'm not going to pay what they want for this car. It's just going to be too expensive. I really love the thought of getting in my car, driving to work and back without burning any gas and charging it over night. I do not love the thought of financing a $30,000 - $40,000 CAD$$$ Chev..
      • 5 Years Ago
      Gm, one step at a time.
      Stop trying to make yourselves look better than the Japanese cause at the long run you guys will look stupid, let's not mention the Flex Fuel vehicle !

      And for all of you talking trash about the Prius, its not an overpriced car after all. Otherwise people wouldnt be buying them and there wouldnt be back orders.
      • 5 Years Ago
      For those who kept thinking the oil will last forever well now we know who think only for himself or herself these people don't think about the future generations or think long term.

      Diesel is more fuel efficient than gas power car. The European is thinking of combining Diesel with hybrid but they don't stop there. They still researching for other energy alternative technologies same like the Japanese. American too must not stop developing these technologies if you want to race lets do this race not arm race
      • 5 Years Ago
      Another article attempting to define "value" in limited terms, how au currant.

      What I can't understand is how the pocket-protector set hasn't been able to figure out what "value" is. Oh wait they tried *cough quants cough*, and we all know how thats turning out. A pricetag is only one definition of many for the concept of value.

      Some posters nailed it; one called the Volt "the next hummer." Spot on. If you have more than enough money to live happily, then using your surplus as you see fit is far more important than sticking to a stale concept of value for YOUR dollar.

      Plenty of people have already chosen this car with their hearts, and they are going to see it as quite a good deal if it delivers on half its promise.
      • 5 Years Ago
      .
      I wonder what GM considers the life of the Volt to be, 5, 10, 15 ?? years? Will it put its money where its mouth is and fully warranty the battery? Will it be around to honor the warranty?
        • 5 Years Ago
        15 years. That's the designed life span. Past that, you should replace the battery pack.
      • 5 Years Ago
      People have spent stupid amounts of money on impractical cars for years based on emotional reactions that are grounded neither in pragmatism nor the reality of physics, and I don't see why the Volt would suddenly be exempt from those kinds of reactions.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is news to anybody?

      1. GM is going to have a tough time selling a $40,000 'economy' car to anybody. Here's the math:
      * If the Volt uses NO FUEL AT ALL, EVER, I can still buy a $25k Honda Civic that gets 30 mpg, and run it for 15 years before I spend $40k, assuming fuel costs $2/gallon and I drive 15000 miles per year.
      * At the end of my 15 years with the Civic, I don't have to spend a fortune on batteries.

      2. I work in an industry that produces lithium ion batteries. They are good for maybe 500 charges, but there are many complicated variables which define this. GM has discovered that it is important to keep the batteries within a very narrow temperature range so as to extend their lives. This will limit the utility of the Volt in very cold or very hot climates. Battery life is notoriously elusive, and the warranty claims for such an expensive item will be difficult to make, if you're a consumer. This will make for unhappy consumers, either because the batteries aren't online due to weather extremes, or because they die prematurely and then you have to foot the bill to replace them.

      3. Lithium ion batteries are very expensive to produce, and a lot goes into the recipe. Good luck cutting out much cost, without producing them overseas. "Build American" probably can't apply to the Volt batteries, at least not the basic cells.

      4. Nobody has discussed the safety issues related to lithium ion batteries, but consumers will flee from the Volt when they realize they are sitting on a bomb. Just google "lithium ion fires" and watch the videos. You don't want to cut into a lithium ion battery and expose it to atmosphere, so don't ask the firemen to do this when your Volt is wrapped around a tree.

      5. Even at $40k, GM has already admitted that the Volt will lose money. Hello?! Is this vehicle viable when GM is holding the tin cup? Shouldn't they be eliminating unprofitable vehicles, not rushing them into production? The more Volts GM sells, the more money they will need from the taxpayers. No, thanks!

      6. The plug-in requirement for the Volt will eliminate much of the population from its market, namely apartment dwellers and those without electricity readily available next to the car. Are you really going to plug in that Volt when there is freezing rain falling, it's snowing, or just plain raining? I predict most people will just drive around in gasoline mode, because human behavior tells me that most people don't want to 'babysit' their cars every night.

      Will Congress wake up and say NO to the Volt?
        • 5 Years Ago
        On the Lions, if you are in the industry, you know that if your customers charged them to 4.1V instead of 4.2V, they would last more than 500 cycles. If they kept them between 40% and 80% charged, as these cars do, they would last even longer. You also know that at the rated end of life, the battery still retains 80% of its original rated capacity (as it says in the contract when you sell them), it's not done for.

        Now, I don't see how these batteries are going to make 15 years, but they should be good for a lot more than 500 cycles.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Why does everybody keep complaining about the Volt's price and battery price? It's new technology, of course it's expensive. The idea is to get the vehicle out there. If you are someone who sits around and runs numbers to see if you'll save money over the life of the car you will not be buying the first run of Volts. Those cars will go to early adopters. It's the same thing that happens with any new technology. DVD for example. When it first came out it was too expensive, but people who needed the latest and greatest bought them anyway. As the price of the technology came down more people bought them. And not just because they were cheaper. It was because they saw and used one at that early adopter friend's house. As the dvd players came down in price and showed up in more and more houses, people got used to the idea. Eventually the price hit rock bottom and everyone had one. It's the same idea. Why hold this technology behind closed doors for another 15 years and then stick it in a cobalt when you can start paying for the research now with the people who WILL buy it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I can't see how it'd get to even 5,000 cycles, which would be 15 years.

        Maybe I'm just out of my league though. It's not like I have experience with products past the usual 300-500.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I won't argue that gasoline is safe; it's just that we understand it better than the 'green and friendly' battery, at least culturally. Lots of people suffer grievous injuries from gasoline fires and explosions.

        We tend to think of the tiny lithium ion batteries in our cell phones and laptops as 'safe'. They are relatively safe, until you cut one open or bypass its overcharge circuit. Then they explode - just watch the videos. Adding water to extinguish only makes it worse. I would be uncomfortable having 1000 pounds of lithium ion cells nearby in my car.

        As for hydrogen, I'd rather use it than either gasoline or lithium ion. Unfortunately, the Hindenburg set back hydrogen use by a century, for mostly the wrong reasons. Hydrogen storage is very safe these days, and leaks are easily dissipated into the atmosphere, unlike gasoline which lingers.

        And of course, a 'hydrogen bomb' is a nuclear device, with little relationship to gaseous hydrogen.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Why does everyone think these are going to explode? Gasoline catches fire. When the first gasoline cars came out people said the same thing, "its too dangerous, you'll go up in a fireball!"

        And all the people who oppose hydrogen cars also say "you are driving on a hydrogen bomb"

        Please, gimme a break.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The thing is GM has no stated how much replacements will cost. People need to stop pulling numbers out there asses.
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