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GM Outlines Alternative Vehicle Research Priorities

November 5, 2010

As I was driving into the office this morning, the radio was abuzz with reports about General Motors’ coming IPO.  In case you missed it, GM will soon begin to sell public stock again for the first time since the US government bailout.  As part of this process a preliminary prospectus was released outlining the state of the company.

While most of the media was scanning every minor detail of the financial status of the company and the IPO, as an engineer in alternative energy I was most interested in their research priorities as the company moves forward and I thought the EWI advanced energy community would be too.  With that in mind, I dove into the almost 600 page document to see what I could find out.  If you’re interested, the link to the SEC filing is here and the research outline section starts on page 176.

As one might imagine, the bulk of the research priorities outlined are for alternative fuel and hybrid or electric vehicles.  In the area of alternative fuels, GM has committed to having 50% of the vehicles produced for the US market have flex-fuel capability, specifically E-85 ethanol, and set a target of 70% or more of the vehicles in 2015.  If they meet this target, that would be represent millions of vehicles sold per year and a huge market opportunity for manufacturers in bio-fuel compatible technologies.

In the area of electric and hybrid vehicles, they make note of the coming release of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid electric, which is partially powered by a 16 kW-hr lithium ion battery, in select markets at the end of this year and with a full market release planned in a year to a year and a half.  The bulk of the research in this area is on advanced battery concepts that provide improved performance and reliability.  

They also outline their efforts in hydrogen fuel cell technology, including an ongoing trial of a fuel cell powered Chevy Equinox SUV that has been driven over a million miles.  For me, the most interesting part of this section is where they note how the research initially done on regenerative braking and thermal management systems for fuel cells has informed and improved their electric vehicle designs.  Definitely an intriguing anecdote on technology crossover in the rapidly evolving alternative vehicle market.

All in all, this is a useful document as it outlines GM’s priorities moving forward in alternative vehicles.  Perhaps the most important point for the alternative energy manufacturing community is that despite all the press about the Chevy Volt, GM has made their largest concrete commitment to ethanol and flex-fuel vehicles.


Posted by Ed Herderick