Batteries are a hot area of research, and it has only been getting hotter as the EV space begins to fill up with companies eager to stake their claim in what many continue to see as an EV revolution. It is, however, more of an evolutionary process. The latest stage in that evolution was recently unveiled by GM: wireless batteries. Typically, an electric vehicle’s battery is connected to the car’s onboard management system through wires, and there’s a lot of them. GM has dispensed with that in its Ultium battery packs. Instead of wires, the battery connects to the onboard management system via antennas in a way similar to how Bluetooth works, IEEE Spectrum magazine writes after an exclusive look at the new batteries.
The first huge advantage of this technology over regular batteries is that the battery can be used on any sort of electric vehicle: “GM can essentially plug-and-play battery modules for a vast range of EVs, including heavy-duty trucks and sleek performance cars, without having to redesign wiring harnesses or communications systems for each,” IEEE Spectrum wrote.
Another significant advantage is that the wireless communication allows GM to collect data on every individual battery’s performance over the long term. This makes for a valuable database that would allow the car giant to improve on its battery technology much more quickly that would otherwise be possible. What’s more, the batteries’ design makes it possible to incorporate these improvements into the batteries as soon as they are introduced
The Ultium batteries GM developed made headlines earlier this year. The company noted they were unique for the EV industry because of their flexibility: “the large-format, pouch-style cells can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack. This allows engineers to optimize battery energy storage and layout for each vehicle design,” GM said in March.
Besides that, the Ultium batteries GM developed and now produces in partnership with LG Chem can deliver a range of up to 400 miles, feature fast charging, and, perhaps more importantly, a low price. GM’s batteries cost less than $100 per kWh, and this is really a breakthrough in an industry that has been trying very hard to bring costs down to make its products affordable for a broader customer base. No wonder, then, that GM expects to make a profit on every EV with an Ultium battery that it makes.
GM is one of the companies that have staked a solid claim in the EV market and have the resources to deliver on it. Yet it appears GM also has the smarts to not just follow in Tesla’s footsteps but take things further by improving on current EV technology.
“EVs represent the key growth segment for General Motors,” chief executive Mary Barra said earlier this week at an event. “We’re going to win in EVs and give our customers an amazing ownership experience.”
It’s only fair to expect victory in a battle that you’ve invested $20 billion in and that is getting increasingly heated as every carmaker now has an EV program in anticipation of millions of buyers. These millions have yet to show themselves but based on current trends, it’s safe to say the price tag will be a big factor in the decision to switch to an EV from an internal combustion engine-powered car. GM seems to have the right priorities. It just remains to see if it succeeds in making its EVs cheap enough to motivate those millions.
Plug-in vehicles—EVs and plug-in hybrids—represented 5 percent of all U.S. car sales during the first half of the year. Most of these, perhaps unsurprisingly, were Teslas, the rest a variety of makes. GM is planning on 20 new EV models by 2023, from just one right now, the Chevy Bolt. That’s a serious commitment. It would need to work. Low-cost batteries and wireless control and monitoring definitely won’t hurt.
Eyal Avidov-Lt. Col. (Ret.)
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