• Jan 7, 2010
First Volt battery pack of the line – Click above for high-res image gallery

It was exactly three years ago today that the original Chevrolet Volt concept rolled onto the stage at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show. Last summer, we visited a facility in Brownstown Township, MI that General Motors had chosen to manufacture battery packs for the production Chevrolet Volt. In the intervening five months, GM has been busy installing assembly equipment in the formerly empty building and today GM invited the media back to Brownstown to watch the first "official" pack roll down the assembly line.

Starting today, the battery packs are full production-spec units, but GM engineers are still tweaking the management software in an attempt to maximize range and lifespan. Between now and November, the plant will be producing several hundred packs that will be used for a variety of development tasks. Some will be heading straight into the cyclers at the test lab in Warren, MI, while the the rest will be going into the pilot and production verification Volts that will begin rolling out of the Detroit Hamtramck assembly plant by April. More details after the jump.



[Source: General Motors]

The 160,000 square-foot Brownstown plant currently has 25 employees assembling the packs, with that number set to grow as production ramps up. GM officials declined to say exactly what the capacity of the plant is right now, but the did espouse the plant's flexibility to add additional shifts and speed up the build rate. And judging by the amount of empty floor space, there's plenty of potential for expansion.

The assembly process is broken down into three main areas, beginning with module pre-assembly where the cells are installed into one of the three modules that make up the pack. From there, the individual modules are installed into the main case. All the connection welding is done by automated equipment to ensure a high level of quality. Finally, in the pack main line, all the remaining systems are connected and the packs are tested. Testing includes both electrical and electronic integrity, as well as mechanical leak testing (the pack is liquid cooled).



We had a chance to talk with GM's battery director Denise Grey about the current state of battery development. Packs and cells are still being tested around the clock at the Warren, MI battery lab. Over the Christmas holiday, the test cells were running in automatic mode, with only a skeleton crew dropping in to check on the units. The test equipment in the lab is able to automatically notify the engineers if anything unexpected happens.

We asked Grey about the cost of the batteries considering this is one of the largest issues in making the Volt a profitable, big seller. Many estimates have put the cost of automotive lithium ion battery systems at up to $1,000/kWh. However, Grey echoed what program management VP Jon Laukner told us previously: The current cost of the Volt pack is much lower than that. While neither would be nailed down on specifics, they indicated that the cost was currently around $500-600/kWh, which puts the 16 kWh pack in the $8,000-9,500 range. Grey says that GM is working closely with suppliers to optimize the cost of all the pack's components and hopes to hit the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium target of $300/kWh by 2015.



Finally, we asked Grey and spokesman Rob Peterson about the comments made by Chairman/CEO Ed Whitacre the day before about launching the Volt earlier than November. At this stage of the program, it is extremely difficult to pull much of anything ahead. As development is completed over the next several months, a slew of safety and emissions certification testing must be completed, all of which takes time. Whitacre asked the team if they could pull the Volt launch up, but that's unlikely to happen any sooner than November 2010. At best, the car might arrive in some showrooms a few weeks earlier than planned, but don't count on the Volt arriving in the early fall. Nonetheless, Peterson emphasized that by the end of 2010, Chevrolet will have "well over 1,000 Volts" on the road, including the pilot build and production verification vehicles coming out this summer.


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  • 39 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      The cold hard reality is that GM is going to HAVE TO take a loss on the Volt to be able to sell it. It's cutting-edge technology here, and since it isn't being aimed at the high-margin luxury crowd, then they are going to have to sell it for less than they can build it until costs drop.

      That's how the electronics industry has worked for ages now. And many other high-tech industries... either sell it to the rich folk that can afford it and have them pay for your R&D, or sell it below-cost until economies of scale and component costs drop.

      Toyota is on it's 3rd generation Prius - which presumably is finally making a profit for them, but it took 12 years for them to get to this point.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz - correct, anyone arguing otherwise is on crack. Well, that is, if GM want's it to succeed. If they don't, like their last car capable of traveling over 30 miles on a charge, than not taking a low margin/loss is fine. Oh the joys of ignoring market dynamics because you’re short on cash. It ‘Cant All Be Hookers and Sunshine’
        • 5 Years Ago
        The only real development in the volt is the battery + the controller. The ICE is still an ICE, the generator is a generator, and electric motors have been the same for a century now. I'm not even sure what cutting edge technology you are talking about. The reason it took so long to develop was because they wanted to optimize the controller box so that you could maintain a minimal charge in the battery while driving in range extended mode, So as to make the maximum benefit from plugging in your car over night. Cutting edge? Only because this is the first real attempt at an electric drive-train that everyone can live with. Complicated? Doubt it. I just explained the entire thing to you.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Boyprodigy1 - You obviously don't work in engineering or IT, because if you did, you would know how ignorant you sound right now.
      • 5 Years Ago
      is the battery user replaceable or do we have to ship the car back to manufacturer like the iphone? hahaha
      • 5 Years Ago
      I am liking the way this looks - I wonder if you are sitting on it in the back seats?
      If so, will it radiate your balls and leave you impotent?
      supposedly you are not even supposed to use electric blankets any more.......
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm sure there's a joke somewhere in there about the type of people (greenies) that buy this car needing to be impotent.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Laptops and electric blankets are hot, that's why they kill sperm. They need well under body temperature to survive.

      Heat radiates... but there's no measurable amount of actual radiation emitted from either device.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Look at all those silly-ass smiling faces. They'd better get their monies worth because, once the Volt comes to market there ain't gonna be that many buyers . . . certainly I won't be one(!). The car's just too damn ugly.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm wondering if you've ever laid eyes on a Prius before. They're not exactly having a hard time selling those, and they look like what the Volt had for breakfast two days ago.
        • 5 Years Ago
        No 'oldraven' . . . you apparently don't get it. I'm not comparing the Volt to anyother hybrid car. I'm saying - and Panzer Jaeger agrees - that the Volt, in and of itself, is a decidedly ugly car; the point being this. When a manufacturer decides to create a hybrid vehicle and gives the specs to the design department, 'why' do they come up with such odd and/or ugly cars? Why, for instance, didn't the Volt look as decent (and I'm talking proportions here 'oldraven' so you'll understand...) as a Malibu? Why did the car end up looking like a potato on wheels? The 'A', 'B', and 'C' pillars are overly fat, the car is dumpy, and the belt line is to high that the car looks bloated. Again, I'm not comparing vehicles but the Prius and Insight as least look much sleaker and appear - design wise - to weigh a lot less than they actually do. Their stylist did a commendable job of creating cars that at least don't look as though they weigh 6,000 pounds like the Volt does. I'm baffled that just because a car has a unique drive train, the designers apparently feel that it has to look weird or odd or so different from a 'normal' vehicle that it has to stand out. But at what? The cost of good taste? That's not good enough for me, and as a consequence the looks of the Volt turn me against it. It's not appealing (to me), I don't want to even ride in one, and I wouldn't consider owning the car. For some reason, it appears the good design is not a prerequisite when it comes to styling a hybrid car at GM.
        • 5 Years Ago
        +1

        The car turned out really ugly and cheap looking. Ironic for what will be the second most expensive Chevy in the showroom.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I just wanna know if the Volt Dancers where there or not! lol
      • 5 Years Ago
      They are celebrating the first battery? How about actually producing the entire car which should have been out last year. Get this thing on the streets already.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I loved how they "built" the battery. It arrived fully assembled. NOW, show me where they get all the materials and what is involved in building the bettery, THAT would be fascinating to many :)
        • 5 Years Ago
        Duh, sorry... you're talking about the steps they showed on video, not what they'll be doing in real production at the plant.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I think the CELLS come fully built, and they have to be assembled into the battery PACK. Nit-picking perhaps, but the article title says they built the first production battery PACK, not the first battery.
        • 5 Years Ago
        that's a SECRET!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Ancient Chinese secret? (If your old enough to remember the commercials)
      • 5 Years Ago
      That's like the size of an S2000!!
      invisiblepigeon3
      • 5 Years Ago
      Yeee Haw!!! I can't wait for this overpriced toxic-batter-powered POS to roll off the assembly line so I can go buy one and PRETEND I'm being environmentally friendly on taxpayer subsidies!

      Who cares if GM takes a loss on each one!? They've got an infinite supply of government welfare to sponge off of!
      • 5 Years Ago
      That probably gives a good indication of the price.

      A midsize sedan such as a topped out Malibu is 26 grand. Add the battery pack and a base Volt should be around $34,000-$36,000.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Dont forget everything attached to the battery...electric motor, etc..
        • 5 Years Ago
        True, and every dealer will try to sell this way over sticker anyways.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Add the electric motor. And the generator. Take out the transmission though.

        Then realize that prices aren't set on a cost plus basis but instead are set by marketing and you're lost again.
      • 5 Years Ago
      You know what would be great news to hear? Guy/Gal buys a Chevrolet Volt and brings it home for their family.

      I mean come on now, everyday we hear little things like the name of the car's paint, or the app for your phone or the Volt Dancers and campy music. When will they actually release the car? 2012? 2013? 2552? JUST RELEASE THE CAR OR GO AWAY ALREADY!

      Sorry... rant.
        • 5 Years Ago
        For someone who seems to notice a lot of news is coming out about this car, I'm surprised you don't know when it's coming out. On schedule is the word. Remember, this took three years from concept, for a ground breaking vehicle. Lexus LFA took nine years to get to production. The only difference is, Toyota hasn't had to spend the last five years convincing the world that they're not dead in the water. Yes, it's annoying hearing about the car so often, but they're not really taking that long to bring it to the streets, they're just talking too much about it. To be honest, though, they'd be worse off if they weren't telling us about every step.
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