Spark EV: How GM is leveraging a $1 billion bet
SAN FRANCISCO -- For General Motors to recoup the more than $1 billion it poured into the Chevrolet Volt's development, many observers say, the automaker must use the Voltec system on many other vehicles to amortize those hefty costs.
That's true. But the planned launch next summer of an electric version of the Chevy Spark minicar shows how GM can leverage its Volt investment for other electrified vehicles -- even ones with vastly different drivetrains and battery packs.
Pop open the hood of the Spark EV, and you'll find little resemblance to the Volt's powertrain.
The Spark has a single electric motor and no clutch, while the Volt has two electric motors, three clutches and a gasoline engine that powers a generator to keep the motors running when the battery runs low.
But GM has been able to carry over many of the Volt's parts and systems to help hold down the Spark EV's cost, says Chuck Russell, the chief engineer for the EV.
For example, the Volt and Spark use similar charging and battery management systems, Russell says. The motor controls and cooling systems are largely shared. Many high-voltage connections are common.
"To be able to leverage some of those components so they can go into a Volt or go into a battery electric vehicle is huge for us to go down the cost curve," Russell said during a GM media event here.
Leveraging costs among its electrified offerings will be important as GM pursues a narrowed focus on EVs and plug-in hybrids. This month, GM product development chief Mary Barra said that the technology underlying the Volt will be a "core piece" of GM's future electrification strategy.
The Volt's development, which began in 2007, required GM to build "expertise in automotive batteries, electric motors and power controls," in part by hiring some 1,000 engineers and researchers, Barra said.
That electrification team now is hitting its stride, Russell said. The expertise needed to, say, design and validate high-voltage connectors "is a very long process. You don't want to do that twice.
"Our ability to accelerate the execution" of the Spark EV, Russell said, "is largely because we now know how to electrify a car."
In September, GM sought to tamp down speculation over its per-unit loss on the Volt by urging a big-picture view of its investment.
GM has growing expertise in battery cells and packs, controls, electric motors, regenerative braking and other technologies. Those areas "have applications across multiple current and future products, which will help spread costs over a much higher volume," the company said in a statement.
"This," GM said, "will eventually lead to profitability for the Volt and future electrified vehicles."
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