General Motors is not afraid of the future. And it is not afraid to let go of the past.
On Tuesday the company released details of its production version of ‘Volt’ – the industry’s first Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) that will go into production in 2010.
And this is only the beginning.
GM’s plan to reinvent the auto industry starts with killing the combustion engine.
We believe the company has three strategies for the future:
#1 The Real Revolution is about Manufacturing
GM knows that in the next automobile revolution – it is not how you fuel a car that matters, it’s how you build it.
GM cares less about the price of oil, than it cares about the cost and complexities of building cars around the mechanical combustion engine. The Volt is important because the combustion engine is relegated to a new temporary task – recharge the batteries. The 21st century auto industry begins when we shift to modularity of electric motors (e.g. lower manufacturing costs, fewer factories).
#2 Design Matters
GM knows that design matters, and the bulky, mechanical combustion engine holds them back. If you eliminate the engine and regain 1/3rd of the vehicle chassis you can rethink how cars are built. Transition to ‘drive by wire’ systems for steering and braking – and you open up new potential for vehicle designs and upgrades.
#3 The breakthrough is Electric motors, not the batteries
GM knows auto-engineering. High performance electric motors have arrived. Now we need to develop systems to deliver the streams of electrons. The future of the automobile is not ‘all’ battery or ‘all’ fuel cell – it’s both.
The electric car is not an iPod. The battery is not our end game. It is merely one piece of the puzzle for electric propulsion. Batteries might have a short-term commercialization advantage, but the platform might struggle to evolve into the 21st century. The chemistry is bad. The costs are too high, and the performance is adequate at best. Future electric propulsion systems will integrate all three systems – batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Looking beyond the Chevy Volt
The GM Volt is big – because it is the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine. R.I.P.
GM’s real revolutionary vision is not the Chevy Volt, but its AUTOnomy concept.
That vision starts with simple idea– skateboard kills car.
Then the industry uses the principles of modular design and manufacturing to change the cost structure of how cars are built, bought, sold and upgraded.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded its $1 million top prize for the Wearable Power Prize competition to the team of DuPont/Smart Fuel Cell (SFC) based on a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC)system.
Announced in July 2007, the US Department of Defense Research & Engineering 2008 Prize challenged energy companies to develop a lightweight, wearable power systems capable of producing 20 watts average power for 96 hours and weighed less than 4 kilograms. The prize conclude in October 2008 with the following awards:
$1 million First Place
DuPont / SFC Smart Fuel Cell – the prize confirms DuPont’s ability to help transform energy systems through basic science and applied materials. DuPont is already a major contributor to next generation energy materials used in solar cells, fuel cells, and biomaterials. Smart Fuel Cell is also a leading company in fuel cell power systems.
$500,000 Second Place
Adaptive Materials based on its propane-powered solid oxide fuel cells. According to the team’s press release they lost by weight of 28 grams!
$250,000 Third Place
Little is known or published about third place winner Jenny 600S system of Middleburg, Virginia. [We are investigating!!]
Why portable power?
The US military’s efforts are clear – reduce the weight of energy systems for soldiers carrying an increasingly diverse array of electronic equipment from GPS devices, communication devices to vision glasses. The military is also looking for high density systems to power tiny field sensors, urban surveillance robots and unmanned aerial and mobile vehicles (UAVs).
Portable power is equally disruptive for non-military applications. Effective electron storage systems could lower the costs of electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors; reinforce national electricity grids; and improve performance and reliability of distributed power systems in urban and rural settings. The science and technologies behind this prize are certain to go well beyond military applications.
The US military has a number of contests that push innovation. The most disruptive is its Grand Challenge for fully autonomous vehicles. But in the world of energy, the next logical step beyond portable power storage will be on site power generation! So we’re imagining small appliances that can take any material and convert raw inputs into usable forms of electricity, hydrogen or liquid fuels.
Keep reading for more details…
Yesterday, Canada’s Electrovaya announced the signing of three Memorandum of Understanding MOU’s with Chinese manufacturers of electric cars, trucks and manufacturing equipment including Chana International Corp. which has joint ventures with both Ford and Mazda. Electrovaya’s announcement comes less than a month after signing a strategic partnership with India’s TATA Motors to sell cars in Europe in 2009.
Where is Detroit?
Detroit’s Big Three (GM, Ford & Chrysler) are distracted by short-term challenges. Their ‘legacy costs’ associated with building cars around the combustion engine could keep it from leapfrogging into a new era of vehicle manufacturing and design based on electric motors.
Could we be witnessing a classic ‘low end disruption’ strategy evolving in the global auto industry as Asia grabs reigns on future of electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors?
Global automakers figure out that the revolution is how you build cars, not how you fuel them that matters. (Oil is not the problem, the problem is the combustion engine.) The key to building low cost high performance electric cars revolves around energy storage systems. If it is cheaper to build energy storage systems in China than Ohio and Michigan, than the Rust Belt might struggle to grow cleantech jobs.
Electric car industry is going global, quickly!
Now that the US election is over, the tone of conversations could change significantly to reflect more pragmatic policies. One policy vision that could be destroyed is the notion of ‘energy independence’ via electric cars. This rhetoric could fade quickly as it becomes more clear that both the auto and energy industries are very global, and will likely continue to become more globally integrated in the post-combustion era.
We have featured dozens of stories of the globalization of the electric vehicle industry including Warren Buffets equity stake in Chinese energy storage company BYD, Korea’s push into energy storage manufacturing with General Motors, and Tata’s intention to sell electric cars inside Europe.
Energy Storage key to Accelerating Change
The key to electrifying the world’s transportation fleet is to advance and integrate energy storage systems around batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors.
Detroit’s future might depend on how the value chain unfolds around global energy storage systems. If Asia appears to be the lowest cost manufacturing hub for energy storage systems it could reinvent the world’s auto industry.
Just a short post to clear up a common mistake made by the media on the future of electric cars:
We do not have to choose between ‘electric’ versus ‘hydrogen’ cars. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are electric vehicles. The only alternative to the combustion engine is an electric motor. The question is – what should power that electric motor? Batteries or fuel cells? Why not both?
Good News: Electric vehicles are coming!
The good news is that stories on electric vehicles are popping up all over the web. Bloggers and mainstream media outlets are covering announcements for production volumes of electric vehicles that are coming from every corner of the world. Sooner or later a leader will step up a confirm our plans to kill the combustion engine-’.
Bad news: People confuse electric motors for energy storage devices
The bad news is that while trying to describe ‘the future’ most bloggers and journalist fall back on merely describing a snapshot view of today. Then they extrapolate it forward assuming the past will dictate the future. They see battery powered electric cars and assume this is the future.
Cars are not iPods, and batteries alone cannot carry the auto industry forward. While there is no doubt that the first generation of electric vehicles are going to be built around advanced lithium ion batteries, next generation electric vehicles (circa 2015-2025) are likely to integrate three different energy storage systems- batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors.
So while bloggers and journalists often describe uncertainty about the direction of the auto industry by asking: Is the future car powered by a battery or fuel cell? – the answer is both.
Hydrogen stored as a solid, then converted in a fuel cell produces electricity.
Hydrogen fuel cell cars are electric vehicles.
A ‘hydrogen economy’ is an economy driven by electricity. H2 is just the chemical storage system.
Related posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
Editor, Garry Golden 6 minute Interview PRI’s nationally syndicated The Takeaway
Related posts on the future of electric vehicles- including:
Electric cars are coming, but most people are still confused about how easy it will be to transform the world’s largest industries – transportation and energy. And there is still much debate over what benefits we can expect beyond the hype.
When thinking about the future, we tend to overestimate (and hype) the rate and impact of change in the short-term, but underestimate its transformational power over the longer term. Electric cars powered by a combination of batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors are no exception.
In an effort to clear up the confusion, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired ‘The Race for the Electric Car’ with correspondent Lesley Stahl surfacing some of the more complicated issues surrounding the emergence of electric vehicles. [12 min video]
In the weeks ahead we will look at the future of the electric car and explore core assumptions of how life might be different beyond the hype.
What if electric cars do not end our dependency on fossil fuels?
What if electric cars make nations even more dependent on each other? (e.g. Chinese batteries for US/Euro cars)
Detroit to World-Nobody Killed the Electric Car
GM picks Korean battery company for Volt
Warren Buffet invests in Chinese battery maker
Could China launch age of electric vehicles?
India’s Tata to produce electric cars for Europeans
France to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure
A recent McKinsey & Co publication titled “China Charges Up” believes that China should expand its capacity to build electric vehicles in the next two decades to avoid issues related to energy security and emissions.
Reuters provides highlights from the publication- ‘within twenty years China could create a world-leading industry and a domestic market alone worth up to US$219.4 billion, even if less than a third of drivers go electric.’ Not only is it plausible that China could emerge as a leader in this new industry, the report suggests is it the ‘Realistic Choice’ given expected constraints of oil supplies and carbon emission regulations.
Could rhetoric of ‘Independence’ fade, as Electric Cars go global?
We have written on several occasions (below) about how electric vehicles, based on the integration of batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors, are quickly becoming a globally integrated industry.
McKinsey does not need a crystal ball to conclude develop a forecast that China could tap its manufacturing might to lead the world in development of low-cost energy storage systems needed to transform the auto industry.
China’s real opportunity- Killing the combustion engine?
The world’s strategic opportunity is not to move beyond oil, but to kill the combustion engine platform which makes oil’s monopoly possible. Shifting to electric motors creates opportunities for ‘all’ energy inputs to create transportation fuels via electricity and hydrogen. (e.g. Today, you cannot put solar electricity into a combustion engine that uses liquid fuels) Domestic energy resources are only valuable to the transportation sector in a post-combustion engine and liquid fuel era.
Now we will see if this McKinsey & Co report brings a new way of thinking to a larger conversation dominated by the rhetoric of ‘energy independence’ that is not aligned with the reality of our global economy. The real upside of global economic interdependence might be the accelerated development of electric vehicles and industrial power provide by China.
Related posts from The Energy Roadmap.com
Detroit to World, Nobody has killed the Electric Car
GM plans to kill Combustion Engine
Electric vehicle industry going global as Asia invests in Energy storage
Hyundai releasing fuel cell car in 2012
India to produce electric cars for Europe
Warren Buffet invests in Chinese battery & electric car maker