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The Chevrolet Volts now being delivered to enthusiastic retail customers would not have been possible without the lessons learned from previous General Motors electrification efforts.
Many of the technologies resulting from the development of the ground-breaking EV1 in the 1990s, the Two-Mode hybrid SUVs and pickup trucks and the fuel cell Chevrolet Equinox used for the Project Driveway program are part of the Volt.
"The band is back together – only this time there are fans," said former EV1 chief engineer Jon Bereisa.
Regardless of whether a vehicle uses a hydrogen-powered fuel cell, a battery charged from the grid or just recovered kinetic energy from a hybrid drive system, the electric propulsion systems feature many common components and sub-systems. Traction motors and generators, power electronics and battery management systems work in much the same way for each. Improving one type can benefit all. Each alternative drive vehicle also relies on systems like electric power assisted steering, electronic brake control and electric climate control.
While earlier vehicles were not built in mass-production numbers, many of the engineers that created them also contributed to the Volt development, including chief engineer Andrew Farah.
“By adapting sub-systems such as the EV1-descended motors developed for the front-wheel drive hybrid system and electronically controlled brakes from the fuel cell Equinox, the engineers were able to focus more resources on the new lithium ion battery and overall vehicle integration,” said Farah. The hardware engineers weren’t the only ones to benefit from the earlier programs. “A new drive system like this involves a lot of complex control software such as the regenerative brake blending which benefited from the Two-Mode hybrid development.”
As the transportation ecosystem moves from a dependence on petroleum over the coming decades, electrification will allow vehicle engineers to separate the propulsion and energy storage systems.
“In the future, vehicles will likely combine different energy systems including batteries, ultra capacitors and hydrogen fuel cells with common and scalable electric drives systems depending on regional and application needs,” said Daniel O’Connell, director of fuel cell commercialization.
And the advancements will pay off in future generations of the Volt and other electric and hybrid vehicles coming to market. Even traditional internal combustion vehicles like the new Chevrolet Cruze and the 2012 Buick LaCrosse with eAssist consume and pollute less thanks to the use of more energy efficient systems developed for electrified vehicles.
“Throughout GM’s first century, internal combustion engines were the heart of the company’s products. GM engineers are now using the lessons learned over the past two decades to make electric propulsion and energy storage systems a core competency for the next century,” said Jamie Hresko, vice president of Global Powertrain Engineering.