larry nitzAnyone who still doesn't believe that General Motors is serious about advanced technology in general, and vehicle electrification in particular, hasn't yet learned that post-bankruptcy GM is a very different company run by different people with a different set of priorities, most of which we would all applaud. One clear sign of this was the company's offering of a long list of key executives, including top technology leaders, for media interviews during January's Detroit Auto Show.

"I hope that we can look back at the Volt in 20 years as the inflection point where we started this journey."

While it's typical for automakers to put sales, marketing and (sometimes) design execs out there, if anyone else sent its top technology types out for media grilling at Detroit this year, I was unaware of it. And that is why I had the opportunity to interview both GM chief technology officer John Lauckner and global electrification director Larry Nitz. I began by asking Nitz about the cost vs. benefit of GM's mild-hybrid eAssist system standard on the mid-size Buick Regal and available on the Buick LaCrosse and Chevy Malibu.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco - front three-quarter view, black

LN: We're in our second generation of eAssist, and we're very bullish on it because it provides a couple of fundamental things – regenerative braking and load shifting – that can improve the fuel efficiency of a combustion-engine car in ways that other technologies can't. The electric motor provides added torque that allows us to balance the car differently to improve highway fuel economy. It's not knock-limited [unlike turbocharging], and you don't have to put more air in, charge it and spark it to get extra torque when you want or need it.

ABG: Are you satisfied with where the Chevrolet Volt is today?

LN: I hope that we can look back at the Volt in 20 years as the inflection point where we started this journey. For many of us who drive a Volt all or most of the time, it represents a balance of gas-free commuting with drive-anywhere capability, and the cost of ownership is pretty compelling, after the initial cost, because of the cost of electricity vs. petroleum. My daughter has a Volt and loves it because it's fun to drive, it does everything she wants it to do, and she doesn't need to go to a gas station very often.

ABG: Do you see much volume opportunity for BEVs like the Chevy Spark?

"Will EVs become mass-market cars over time? I think it's too early to tell."

LN: Maybe a BEV can be a first car for a very limited segment of the population, but many, many households in the US have two cars. I feel that if it can be the second car, we will have cracked the BEV code of success. It takes affordable cost – not just the cost to buy it but the total cost of ownership: fuel, maintenance, insurance and everything else – and a certain usage pattern. What will it take to get that cost of ownership to a point where it can become the second car in people's families? That's something we are working on every day. Will it become a mass-market car over time? I think it's too early to tell.

ABG: How can you improve both affordability and desirability of BEVs?

"The Spark EV's charger, some of its power electronics and more than 70 percent of its drive unit are shared with the Volt."

LN: We have two generational approaches on technology, which continues to get better. Even though our batteries are still big, they are getting better, more capable, more compact and less costly. The motors and electronics are getting better as well, and their cost is coming down as we're finding points of efficiency. Another factor is sharing technology, parts and components among electrified vehicles. We're looking at it holistically, across product lines, not just one product at a time. The Spark EV's charger, some of its power electronics and more than 70 percent of its drive unit are shared with the Volt. The motor is not exactly the same, but it comes from the same family of motors, so we can build it flexibly on our production equipment.



ABG: The BEV as a second car may be fine for short commutes, but there is still range anxiety on days when you need to go further.

LN: In EV1 days, there was not much of an infrastructure. Today we're getting some buds, some green shoots of an infrastructure. Where cars are when they're not being driven is at home and at work, and getting a second charge at work doubles the utility of a BEV. You can double your range or reduce your range anxiety. Or maybe reduce the battery size.

ABG: Do GM people who drive Volts have the opportunity to plug in at work?

LN: We're putting in more and more charging stations at every site, both level I and level II, but probably don't have enough yet for everyone. It's still first-come, first-served.

ABG: So someone will miss out when there are more EVs than plugs.

"If I have N Volts, do I need N+1 chargers? It's never going to line up perfectly."

LN: That's true. But what infrastructure is needed? If I have N Volts, do I need N+1 chargers? It's never going to line up perfectly, but that's the beauty of the Volt – it doesn't have to because the at-work charge is not mission critical. I think the bigger challenge will be plug-in cars vs. BEVs. If there is one charger at work and two plug-in cars, a BEV and a Volt, maybe the Volt got there first, but it's mission critical for the BEV.

cadillac elr

ABG: Since the Volt's debut, we've been hearing that Gen II Voltec technology will bring the cost down. Does any of Gen II arrive with the 2014 Cadillac ELR?

LN: The ELR's propulsion system will not be branded as "Voltec," but it will be Gen I improved in a bunch of little ways. There will also be Cadillac-exclusive upgrades, including more power, that will not go back into the Volt.

ABG: Anything you would like to add?

LN: We are committed to electrification as a long-term journey. It will not overtake the world instantly, but it does provide a reasonable, rational opportunity to get off of petroleum to an alternative fuel, electricity, that can come from many different sources.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 28 Comments
      mikeybyte1
      • 1 Year Ago
      I was disappointed in his view on eAssist since the current version has not been all that impressive. Although it seems like a slick technology, there are ICE vehicles that get better mileage, especially on the highway. The Malibu ECO was a bit of a flop. Hopefully they can refine that system in size, weight, and efficiency so that it truly becomes a good compromise between ICE and hybrid/EREV. It needs to regularly beat competitive ICE models in efficiency and come close to approaching hybrids.
      Electron
      • 1 Year Ago
      My point was actually that Dan Akerson no doubt has the inside track on whether for instance their investment in Envia systems is about to pay off. Obviously a guy like Akerson doesn't go blabbing about 200 miles EVs without any hint of such a thing even being feasible for GM any time soon.
      JIM
      • 1 Year Ago
      Hey mikeybyte1 , What abour this? The 2013 Buick Lacrosse with e-Assist gets 37 mpg in hwy and the 2013 Malibu e-Assist gets 36 hwy while numerous reports the 2013 Ford C-Max and Fusion full hybrids get according only between 33 and 39 hwy. Someone talking about the flop?
        ak47
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JIM
        and the mazda 6 gets 38 and the honda accord gets 37.....your point?
      mikeybyte1
      • 1 Year Ago
      My point exactly.
      Giza Plateau
      • 1 Year Ago
      Interview by Gary Witzenburg... the global warming denier. A couple of competent questions instead: Why doesn't GM understand that the key to EV success is light weight, aerodynamics and small agile pack with quick charge? When LGchem batteries only cost 200$/kWh howcome the 16kWh pack in the Volt makes a Chevy Cruze go from 17k to 40k?
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        I'm with Dan on this one. 'stand with Dan'
        John Hansen
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        Giza, did you realize that the Volt isn't a Cruze? The Volt, the Cruze, and the Buick Verano are all built off the same Delta II platform. That distinction may be what confused you. It would be more accurate to compare it to a loaded Verano, which is $29k. Compared to the Verano you get a smoother and quieter drive train with gobs of torque. You also rarely get to visit gas stations. Seems like a bargain when you do a valid comparison!
        Jim
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        First off, a competent question would acknowledge that a $17K Cruze is a base model, whereas a fully loaded Cruze is closer to $23 and much more similar to the Volt in amenities. Second, a lithium battery system (not just the cells) runs for about $800/KWH. Those two corrections alone get you up to a $36,000 price tag. The math is easier when your assumptions are correct.
      DaveMart
      • 1 Year Ago
      The commonality of parts between the Volt and the Spark is the most important thing in the journey to electrification. Much is made of the contest between the different forms of transport electrification, but the reality is that there is a broad underlying technology, and reduction in parts cost with mass production, whether the particular car is a BEV, a PHEV or a fuel cell car. Success in any one helps the others.
        Marcopolo
        • 1 Year Ago
        @DaveMart
        @ DaveMart Most sensible and rational comment I've seen on ABG for a long time !
      Electron
      • 1 Year Ago
      So electrification is a *long term* journey for GM. I wonder how that rhymes with Dan Akerson's recent announcement that they are working on a 200 miles BEV based on breakthroughs on the horizon in battery technology.
        DaveMart
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Electron
        Perfectly well. Only a fool bets the farm on breakthroughs. They are nice if they happen, but your plans are made on the basis of your fall-back position.
      Spec
      • 1 Year Ago
      good point. Well, the local technology development center in Palo Alto will probably be more friendly to the Spark EV.
      Levine Levine
      • 1 Year Ago
      Committed to Electrification of cars? Yeah, right ! What a bunch of liars. Look at what GM did to the EV1. GM hasn't built a EV since. Recently, GM finally caved in and produced the Volt, a car that's about two generations behind Toyota's Synergy Powertrain. GM is an irrelevant and niche player but still trying to play with the Big Boys. What a bunch of dishonest Bean Counters.
        Jim
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Levine Levine
        LOL. Still with the EV1? If you're going to keep dredging up ancient history you may as well boycott Japanese cars because of Pearl Harbor.
          throwback
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Jim
          I don't get why people who never leased an EV-!, never even drove anEV-!, are still hung up on the car. There are now several EVs available to buy. Buy a Leaf and and get over it already. The notion GM killed the electric car is simply BS. Toyota killed the RAV4 EV, was that GM's fault too?
          Ziv
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Jim
          Jim, Jim, Jim... You are failing to understand the basic truth, that GM is EVIL! LOL! It is amazing just how firmly a piece of agit-prop can take over the way a person thinks. "Who Killed The Electric Car" is an amazing peace of work, it turned a short sighted decision by the accountants at GM into a movement whose adherents are positively evangelical in their zeal. And Levine is repeating the dogma, word for word. GM should have given the existing EV-1's long-term leases with the people that wanted them and have done with it. But that would have left them open to having to maintain the cars at great expense since they cost around $100,000 each to build and maintaining them was commensurately expensive, but it would have avoided this gaping wound the decision has caused.
        mikeybyte1
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Levine Levine
        Hasn't built an EV since the EV1? What's the Spark EV then?
        Alfonso T. Alvarez
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Levine Levine
        I think it is your comments that are irrelevant and totally outdated!! Yet you still think you have a valid opinion that can be compared with those who are actually, you know, technically competent!
      paulwesterberg
      • 1 Year Ago
      And yet they like to fill people with worry about range. The slow spark launch means that it will likely be a compliance vehicle for California, while they try to sell the Converj to the rest of the country.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Year Ago
      Too bad they kicked off this electrification by crushing all their EV1s and selling the NiMH patents to Texaco/Chevron, eh? You got a lot of makin' up to do, GM :P
        Jim
        • 1 Year Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        Maybe they could make it up to you by releasing a gas/electric hybrid that can run gas free and can be purchased (instead of leased) for 1/4 the actual cost of an EV-1. Oh wait.. they already did.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Year Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        Still not an EV-1, or anything close to it. I know they can do better.
      paulwesterberg
      • 1 Year Ago
      LN: If someone drives a pure electric vehicle to work at GM and they need to charge their vehicle and the chargers are full well, fuk em, this is GM they shoulda bought a volt.
        Alfonso T. Alvarez
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        Seriously?? That is a very tool-like comment. So, GM has a ton of charging stations and is adding more all the time and in your opinion that is bad?? So, what color is the sky in your world where there are always enough charging stations for anyone no matter where they are? GM has a pretty large variety of alternative vehicle types: two-mode, PHEV, e-Assist, EV about ready to roll out, and one of, if not the biggest fleet of fuel cell vehicles on the planet - yet you in your infinite (lack of) wisdom wish to denigrate them because???
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        GM has the Spark EV that is battery only coming out soon.
        Marcopolo
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        @ paulwesterberg 1) Are you talking from personal experience ? 2) Why would a GM employee buy a new car from a rival auto-maker, thereby displaying contempt for his employer, the products he makes, and the efforts of his fellow workers? ( Oh, wait, maybe he's a union official ? )
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