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Q&A with GM's hybrid chief Robert Kruse

By Staff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor / January 22, 2009

A plug is seen coming from the Chevrolet Volt electric car during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 13, 2009.

Mark Blinch/REUTERS


General Motors was the first major auto maker to announce it would build a plug-in hybrid vehicle. The Chevrolet Volt will be a new-type of car that goes 40 miles on a single charge before a gasoline engine kicks in to recharge batteries. President Obama has said such vehicles are key to unhooking the nation from foreign oil dependence.

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Yet finding battery technology with the right cost, safety, durability, and performance is critical. Robert Kruse, GM's executive director of global vehicle engineering for hybrids, electric vehicles, and batteries, explained his thoughts on emerging plug-in hybrid vehicle battery technology in an interview with the Monitor. For the full story on the worldwide race for better batteries, click here.

On how far lithium-ion battery technology has come on safety, cost, durability, and performance – and whether it is ready for prime time:

RK: When we introduced this concept not long ago, it seemed to resonate. So we said, 'Hey we've got to figure out how to do this. The battery didn't exist. We went through a very elaborate search of cell chemistry and construction. I want to say we looked at hundreds in the early days of the volt. And in that process, we developed what I would describe as probably one of the most rigorous cell assessment processes in the industry.... That enabled me a year ago to pick A123[Systems of Watertown, Mass.] and one of their cells, and [Korean chemical company] LG Chem and one of their cells, coupled with a couple of pack suppliers.... We selected LG as the cell source for Gen-one Volt; and we are also very intrigued and attracted to some of what A123 has to offer and are continuing to do advanced development with A123 for future applications – just not Gen-one Volt.

We also then got a lot smarter and looked at that whole value chain and understood the strategic nature of being able to take cells from a variety of sources and integrate those into modules and packs and deliver that to the vehicle. We decided this battery pack business was really core to being in the electric vehicle market. So part of our [January 12] announcement was that, in addition to announcing LG as the cell source, that GM is also moving to design internally, and engineer internally, and validate internally, and ultimately manufacture internally the battery packs. We will take cells from LG, do a whole bunch of value added to those cells with electronics and thermal ... and build the T-pack, as we refer to it. We will ship that to the Volts final assembly location from a General Motors facility....

On reports that the Volt battery could cost $10,000 or more:

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