General Motors claims battery breakthrough

Source: By David Ferris, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2020

General Motors Co. said yesterday that it will pioneer a new wireless standard to make the batteries of its future electric vehicles more flexible and compact.

The news is the latest in a barrage of moves that are clarifying how GM intends to make good on its plans to electrify its vehicles and complete with market leader Tesla Inc.

GM’s announcement relates to the battery management system (BMS), which oversees the health of battery cells and how they are discharged and recharged.

The new BMS could eliminate up to 90% of the battery’s physical wiring and 15% of its volume, according to Analog Devices, a Massachusetts semiconductor company that is developing the solution for GM. Reducing battery size and weight is crucial to automakers in their quest to make EVs cheaper and capable of going farther on a charge, and eventually turn a profit.

Analog suggested in a news release that it intends to make the technology available to other automakers.

The battery news follows on the heels of Tuesday’s announcement that GM would partner with EV upstart Nikola Corp. to manufacture an electric pickup truck and supply both batteries and fuel cells (Energywire, Sept. 9, 2019).

Also Tuesday, GM said it would offer discounts to Uber drivers who buy its electric vehicles. Last week, GM and Honda deepened a partnership to work closely on developing EVs.

GM’s electric strategy is starting to pay off in China, where a tiny EV that the U.S. automaker developed with Chinese partners outsold the Tesla Model 3 last month, Reuters reported.

Simplicity is the biggest benefit of the new wireless battery system, GM said. It asserted that the BMS would free the automaker to more easily modify its batteries to any type of vehicle, from sports cars to heavy-duty trucks.

The wireless system “will be a primary driver of GM’s ability to ultimately power many different types of electric vehicles from a common set of battery components,” the company said in a release.

The wireless BMS will be designed to work with GM’s Ultium batteries, which will underlie its future EVs, as well as Nikola’s. A plant to build the Ultium battery is currently under construction in Lordstown, Ohio.

GM also said the wireless architecture could make it simpler to repurpose EV batteries after they lose their oomph, allowing EV batteries to someday serve as grid energy-storage devices.

“They can be combined with other wireless battery packs to form clean power generators,” GM said. “This can be done without a redesign or overhaul of the battery management system traditionally required in second-life usage.”

In other EV news, electric-auto startup Lucid yesterday unveiled its first vehicle, the Air sedan.

The company has been trying to bring an EV to market since 2007. But the Lucid Air has snagged headlines recently for specs that best the Tesla Model S, the reigning luxury electric sedan.

Lucid has claimed in recent weeks that the Air will have a range of 517 miles — better than the Model S’s 322 miles — and will also be faster, going from zero to 60 mph in as little as 2.5 seconds.

Lucid wants to differentiate itself from Tesla with attention to the finer details and materials that distinguish luxury cars, or “the pitch of the stitch, the weight of the thread,” as Sue Magnusson, a Lucid design manager, said in the online debut yesterday.

Lucid said yesterday that the Air will be priced from $80,000 to $169,000 depending on its configuration. Production from the company’s factory in Casa Grande, Ariz., is slated to start in mid-2021.

Lucid’s CEO, Peter Rawlinson, once held the title of chief engineer at Tesla until he left that company in 2012, and claims that his contributions were vital to the Model S’s success.

On Tuesday, Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, sought to poke holes in Rawlinson’s account on Twitter.

“Rawlinson didn’t design Model S. Prototype was done before he joined & he left us in the lurch just as things got tough, which was not cool,” Musk wrote. “He did make some contributions to body/chassis engineering, but not to powertrain, battery, electronics or software.”