By the numbers, the lab has grown from 50,000 square feet to 85,000. The extra space means there is now room for 112 pack-level test channels (up from 64) and the number of cell-level test channels has increased from 96 to 120. It also means that the Global Battery Systems Laboratory, its official name, remains "the largest battery lab in North America owned and operated by a major auto manufacturer."
What will GM do with all this extra space. For one thing, the company continues to test Volt batteries there, not only to get a better handle on fast charging and longevity for the packs in the cars today, but also to make packs for the next-gen vehicles more power dense and to lower cost. This is done by improving the software algorithms involved, stressing the batteries in shakers and simulating extreme conditions (between -40 and +185 degrees Fahrenheit, and between zero and 100 percent humidity) while cycling electrons in and out.
Perhaps more interesting is the benchmarking area, where batteries from seven different manufacturers are being tested, including packs from Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota (variants of the Prius battery) and Ford. Notably missing were any packs from Tesla, but GM representatives did say there are Tesla vehicles on the grounds that have been tested and taken apart. "There is nothing in the Tesla battery that we don't know," said Doug Parks, GM vice president, global product programs. He added that Tesla's strategy is "very intriguing" and that GM is taking a close look at it, but that simply "matching what Tesla did is not that exciting." He added, "The real trick will be, who can build a 200-mile car at the prices I'm taking about [$25-40,000]." This is something that GM is working on, but it also means future ELRs will not have a 250-mile EV option. Instead, the ELR's powertrain is "not dramatically different" than what's in the Volt, Parks said, just the way the car rides and handles. As for another higher-end plug-in competitor vehicle that is coming out soon, Parks said that the BMW i vehicles "are not integrated the way we integrated [the Volt]" powertrain.
"There is nothing in the Tesla battery that we don't know." – Doug Parks, GM VP
Parks also told AutoblogGreen that GM is not just trying to reduce costs in the expanded lab, but is actually trying to get more performance and longer range along with the lower cost. Even though Tesla is seen by many as the EV leader (sorry, VW), Parks said he is not worried. "This is a long race," he said.
Nearly triples size of Global Battery Systems Lab since opening in 2009
WARREN, Mich. – General Motors has nearly tripled the size of its Global Battery Systems Laboratory, cementing the lab's stature as the largest battery lab in North America owned and operated by a major auto manufacturer.
The latest addition of 50,000 square feet brings to 85,000 the total square footage of the lab. The expansion made possible the increase in the number of pack-level test channels from 64 to 112 and cell-level test channels from 96 to120.
"In the past four years, the competitive landscape in the electrification space has grown exponentially. This has required us to raise our game and draw a new line in the sand," said Doug Parks, GM vice president, global product programs. "To maintain our battery leadership, this additional real estate is filled with new capability that will help us improve speed to market for our next generation of battery systems and help us improve the value equation to our customers around the world."
GM's Global Battery Systems Lab has been responsible for testing and validating both battery cells and packs for all of GM's vehicle electrification systems, including the battery systems for the Chevrolet Volt, Cadillac ELR, Chevrolet Spark EV and GM's eAssist light electrification system.
The additional capabilities of the lab expansion include:
dedicated equipment for future vehicle battery system development such as charger development and testing, cord set testing and competitive benchmarking;
building prototype battery packs for vehicle development programs; and,
the ability to act as the hub for validation and testing of all battery systems designed for use in future GM vehicles around the world.
The lab will also play a critical role in assuring GM's current generation of electric vehicles maintain their battery leadership position. Teams will validate and test updates to existing chemistries and system designs to make the most of performance and reduce cost. For example, updates were made to the battery system in 2013 Chevrolet Volt that added three miles of EV range.
"GM is committed to vehicle electrification and our products in this area must continue to excite customers. A critical part of this plan is to deliver safe, reliable and affordable energy storage systems," said Larry Nitz, GM's executive director of global electrification engineering. "The new capabilities of this lab will enhance our engineers' ability to design, develop, process and validate class-leading products to meet the needs of our growing customer base."
In addition to the lab in Michigan, GM also operates battery labs in Shanghai, China, and Mainz-Kastel, Germany, which are tasked with testing and validation of battery cells, packs, and advanced battery system development. Teams at the China, Germany and Michigan labs work collectively to test battery systems around the clock to reduce validation time.
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Facts: Global Battery Systems Battery Lab
Alternative Energy Center, GM Technical Center, Warren, Mich.
Lab completed: May 2009
Expansion completed: July 2013
Expansion total floor space: 50,000 sq.-ft.
Lab total floor space: 85,000 sq.-ft.
16,500 sq. ft. - Pack testing, Support
18,500 sq. ft. - Cell / Module testing, Vibration #1, Safety and Abuse #1, Support
30,000 sq. ft. - Safety and Abuse #2, Manufacturing Support, Pack Build, Test, Storage
20,000 sq. ft. - Software / Dev. Test, Vibration #2, Modal test, Software / Dev. Support
Increased pack testing
New cell and module testing
New Vibration testing area with added Modal testing capability
Immersion testing (pack seals)
Hardware in the Loop / Software in the Loop testing and development
Manufacturing Engineering area for support of assembly plants (equipment partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy)
Welding of battery systems: Development of new ultrasonic and laser weld capabilities.
Battery system mock-up capabilities: Tooling to hand-build modules, sections and validate parts.
Prototype pack build area
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About General Motors Co.
General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM) and its partners produce vehicles in 30 countries, and the company has leadership positions in the world's largest and fastest-growing automotive markets. GM, its subsidiaries and joint venture entities sell vehicles under the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Baojun, Buick, GMC, Holden, Isuzu, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling brands. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety, security and information services, can be found at http://www.gm.com.