General Motors has put many of the engineers involved in its long-abandoned EV-1 electric car project into a new group to develop E-Flex technology.
E-Flex is the hybrid powertrain shown in the Chevrolet Volt and Opel Flextreme concept cars. It employs an electric drive motor and a lithium-ion battery pack and has a small combustion engine on board to charge the batteries and extend the car’s range.
The key to the technology is the lithium-ion battery pack, which GM estimates will cost $10,000 (£5,000) per vehicle. When the E-Flex project started GM intended to farm out the battery construction and associated control systems to specialist companies in the electrical industry. It will shortly announce which of the two battery suppliers involved in the development – CPI, part of LG of Korea, or Continental AG – will supply the multiple lithium-ion cells for the first E-Flex production cars, which should be available in 2011.
General Motors is betting big on E-Flex, which its veteran product supremo Bob Lutz predicts could account for a million cars a year in 10 years’ time. The new team of some 500 engineers – many of whom worked on EV-1 until the project was scrapped in 1999 – is an indication of the importance that GM now places on electric cars in the future. It has decided to bring more of the electric vehicle technology in-house.
Lutz told Autocar, “The whole battery pack – cell chemistry, pack construction, control and monitoring systems – is new core knowledge for the auto industry. We see mainstream cars rapidly transitioning to electrification.”
Prime minister Gordon Brown recently examined the Flextreme at the British International Motor Show and is said to be interested in helping GM establish a production site for E-Flex cars at Ellesmere Port on Merseyside. The first cars to have the system will use the same underbody architecture as the next-generation Vauxhall Astra. Their price is expected to be around £32,000, batteries included.