GM Shifts 2015 Chevy Spark EV Battery Production In-House – Pushes A123 Out

4 years ago by Eric Loveday 70

General Motors Brownstown Battery Assembly Plant worker Tina Oaks attaches wiring harnesses on a Spark EV battery pack Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in Brownstown, Michigan. GM is bringing all of its electric vehicle battery building capabilities in-house with production of battery systems for the 2015 Chevrolet Spark EV at Brownstown.

General Motors Brownstown Battery Assembly Plant worker Tina Oaks attaches wiring harnesses on a Spark EV battery pack Tuesday, May 13, 2014 in Brownstown, Michigan. GM is bringing all of its electric vehicle battery building capabilities in-house with production of battery systems for the 2015 Chevrolet Spark EV at Brownstown.

General Motors is bringing all of its electric vehicle battery building capabilities in-house with production of battery systems for the 2015 Chevrolet Spark EV at Brownstown Battery Assembly

General Motors is bringing all of its electric vehicle battery building capabilities in-house with production of battery systems for the 2015 Chevrolet Spark EV at Brownstown Battery Assembly

General Motors will bring all its electric vehicle battery building capabilities in-house with production of battery systems for the 2015 Chevrolet Spark EV at its battery assembly plant in Brownstown, Mich.

That’s the headline statement from a just-released bit of news from General Motors.

As part of this reshuffling US-based battery maker A123 has been displaced as the battery supplier to the Spark EV, as long time partner LG Chem moves in.

Larry Nitz, executive director of GM global transmission and electrification engineering, adds

“Using our in-house engineering and manufacturing expertise enabled us to deliver a battery system that is more efficient and lighter than the 2014 Spark EV without sacrificing range.  Our successful working relationship with LG Chem has allowed us to deliver a new battery system for the Spark EV that helps us to better leverage our economies of scale.”

For 2015, the Spark EV battery system is enhanced in several ways.  Per General Motors:

“A newly designed battery system features an overall storage capacity of 19 kWh and uses 192 lithium ion cells. The cells are produced at LG Chem’s plant in Holland, Mich. The battery system weight of 474 lbs. is 86 pounds lighter than the system in the 2014 Spark EV.”

Chevy Spark EV

Chevy Spark EV

Unfortunately, these improvements have no affect on the Spark EV’s MPGe or range rating:

“Changes in battery design will not affect the Spark’s MPGe, or gasoline equivalent, performance compared to the 2014 model. Range will remain at an EPA-rated 82 miles and MPGe will remain at 119.”

It also should be noticed that while all the specs remain unchanged, the battery pack size has decreased by 2 kWh, from a reported 21 kWh to 19 kWh, meaning that the depth of discharge of the pack has been significantly increased.

(It should be noted GM also likes to ’round off’ numbers, the current Spark EV pack is actually 21.4 kWh)

Brownstown battery assembly is where complete battery packs for the Chevrolet Volt, Opel Ampera and Cadillac ELR are manufactured.

General Motors concludes its press release with the following:

Priced at $19,995 with full federal incentives, The Spark EV is one of the most efficient – and affordable – all-electric vehicles available. Currently on sale in California and Oregon, the 2015 Spark EV features segment-leading technology including Siri Eyes Free, 4G LTE and DC Fast Charging.

Brownstown Battery Assembly’s 479,000-square-foot, landfill-free facility south of Detroit produces the lithium-ion battery packs for GM’s extended-range electric vehicles. It started mass production in October 2010 and is the first high-volume manufacturing site in the U.S. operated by a major automaker for automotive lithium-ion battery production. The site was made possible with the help of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding through the U.S. Department of Energy.

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70 responses to "GM Shifts 2015 Chevy Spark EV Battery Production In-House – Pushes A123 Out"

  1. David Murray says:

    Interesting.. that means they have changed suppliers, then? I thought the Spark was using A123 batteries? (or whatever they are called now)

    Too bad there was no announcement of a wider roll-out.

    1. ClarksonCote says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if a wider rollout follows. It seems like A123 supply issues is what was truly preventing a broader release of the Spark EV.

      1. Bonaire says:

        Historically, A123 parts pricing would have been a negative for a national rollout. With LG Chem cells, they can raise cell usage and hopefully cut Volt pricing and sell Spark Ev nationally.

        Thing is, the car should have a lower range. a123 cells could be used with a wider state of charge range. They chose not to use it. i guess. lg chem cells were babied by the Volt BMS and so hopefully the next Volt uses 20KWh of cells and then offers 80 miles of range similar to the SparK EV. Maybe even a shared pack for scale cost savings? Could be a good year for GM in 2016.

  2. Anon says:

    Thought B234 had some of the best li-ions on the planet in production?

  3. kdawg says:

    Wow. I wonder if they got the costs down more as well. Do they ship these packs to Korea to be installed or is that done here? Seems so silly to ship to Korea, then they get shipped back here. Logistics of a world economy.. nuts. Just bring production to the US and then sell this thing in every State.

    1. GeorgeS says:

      Yeh. Ditto on that. seems silly to ship ’em to Korea.

      1. Anon says:

        Hey, why not build the BODY of the car in the US, too. 😉

        1. GeorgeS says:

          Great idea Anon!
          Did you think of that while wearing a beret and striped pants. 🙂

          1. Anon says:

            And you do grasp that logistics has absolutely nothing to do with apparel?

      2. Spec9 says:

        Well . . . shipping stuff to Korea is probably very cheap. Ships come here full of products and leave unfilled or filled with low value stuff like garbage & recycled materials that will get recycled in Asia. So the rates are cheap. :-/

        1. kdawg says:

          Probably, but IIRC, the batteries must be temperature controlled.. so it may not be that cheap. GM put out a statement about how much $ they saved when they started the cell production in Michigan due to no longer paying shipping costs from Korea with temperature management.

          1. See Through says:

            The ‘temperature control’ is needed only when the battery is charged, so there isn’t a decay in battery. If discharged batteries are shipped, they don’t need to be temp controlled.

            1. Koz says:

              Not close to true for Li. Half charged is closer but still not so much. I don’t how empty the boats are heading west from US. It still costs a lot of $ and emissions to ship AND handle 474lbs in a sizable package to Korea and back. Production is not at the docks.

    2. Ocean Railroader says:

      It is one of the reasons why I think things are going to get really bad really fast when global oil production fails by 25% across the board. In that in this day and age we have taken outsourcing to the extreme.

      1. See Through says:

        People will grow corn and veggies in backyards. Squeeze the oil out and pour into the ICE cars. Now that’s a self-sufficient household.

        1. Spec9 says:

          You’d many many acres to do that. With an EV, all you need is a subsection of a typical roof to create enough electricity to drive 10,000 miles a year.

  4. GeorgeS says:

    Wow this is pretty “big” news in my book.

    I love the first photo.

    Did you know that the Spark cools its batteries from the bottom?

    Yes that’s correct. The cooling tubes are in the battery tray as opposed to being in between the cells in the Volt.

    Lower cost system that will probably be in Gen 2 Volt.

    1. TomArt says:

      Since heat rises, I don’t see this as an advantage…unless heat radiated up from the road is a bigger issue…

      1. GeorgeS says:

        Yes, while it is probably less efficient from a heat transfer POV, if it still gets the job done and it lowers cost then it seems like a good way to go. I believe the i3 also cools in this manner.

        1. WopOnTour says:

          George, the new 2015 Spark EV batteries use essentially the exact same coolant path as the Volt (see photos above)-WOT

      2. David Murray says:

        Heat does not rise. Hot AIR will rise because it becomes lighter. When dealing with a solid object, heat doesn’t care about gravity.

      3. Koz says:

        Heat “rises” in convection not in conduction and radiation.

    2. DonC says:

      Shocking actually. The usable density is amazing. Obvious which supplier has the best batteries once you realize that a Spark with an 85 kWh pack would have a range of well over 350 miles. (Not that this would make any sense).

      1. Koz says:

        It would not have 350 miles of range (even if they could find space in the Sparkfor it) unless the extra 66kwh were weightless.

  5. Spec9 says:

    Interesting. The Spark EV is so low volume and sold at a loss so why bother . . . unless you are planning to build a LOT MORE batteries for this and other EVs in the future so you are getting ready to ramp up battery production.

    I think this is a sign that we will eventually see more pure EVs from GM.

    1. Ocean Railroader says:

      This might be a signal that they are trying to cut the cost by a few hundred to a thousand dollars to build this EV. GM could also be preparing to add this EV to say Oregon and Maryland along with New York to at least not sit on the sidelines while the other EV makers sell with no GM competition.

      1. kdawg says:

        It’s available for fleet sales for Canada, but I’ve never heard if there are any out there. I have seen a Spark EV in the wild in Michigan, and it didn’t have manufacturer’s plates. I think some people are buying them outside of the launch state(s).

        At its price, and what you get, I think it would sell like hot-cakes, especially in areas where EVs seem to be popular now (ie Atlanta). I see lots of gas version Sparks in my area, and I wonder how many of those would have be EV versions if they were available.

      2. Spec9 says:

        The Spark EV is currently sold in South Korea, California, Oregon, and Canadian fleet sales. I suspect it is sold at a loss in California and Oregon so that is the reason they don’t want to sell it in more states . . . they would either have to raise the price or sell it at a loss in states where it doesn’t get CARB credits.

        1. Ocean Railroader says:

          What’s odd about it being sold at a loss is that the Mitsubishi i-Mev is still a few thousand cheaper then it and Mitsubishi most likely is making money off of it.

          1. Chris says:

            The iMev has a smaller battery pack though. and the donor car is cheaper than the Spark ICE I imagine.

            1. See Through says:

              Spark ICE is really cheap. I see it on sale for $13K. The EV version has some nice upgrades ( pseudo leather seats, cruise, GM’s onstar for 3 years). I think GM is making a profit. Can’t imagine the battery to be 15-16 thousand dollars.

        2. WopOnTour says:

          and your “suspicions” are based on what facts exactly?? lol

    2. Koz says:

      or perhaps the same modules or even whole pack will be shared with Voltec II

      Either way it is a good sign. IMO, GM should offer it everywhere, or at the very least it should be offered in all states that have EV incentives.

  6. Mark says:

    Hmmmm….so they are putting in a smaller, cheaper battery, and then discharging it further than the old one. Doesn’t sound great to me at all. Am I missing something?

    1. TomArt says:

      Agreed, particularly since, for reasons that escape me, there is no material change in efficiency or range.

      1. kdawg says:

        Not sure what you mean by “cheaper” but GM never used that word. What you are missing is that the original battery was over-engineered and not as efficient as the new one. GM has been conservative w/their initial products, something I bet Nissan wish they had done. Now that they have more EV miles under their belt, engineers can now do what they do best.

      2. Koz says:

        It could be that the new configuration has not been certified yet. It could also be that the lighter weight and some efficiency gains offset the lesser capacity. InsideEVs is speculating depth of discharged is increased but unless corroborated by GM, this might not be accurate.

    2. Spec9 says:

      Yeah, if you want a Spark EV, it might be better to buy one of the ones available now with the A123 pack instead of the LG pack. I like A123’s battery chemistry more too.

    3. DonC says:

      What you’re missing is that it’s a breakthrough.

    4. pjwood says:

      Yes, if you consider DOD for Tesla and BMW are much closer to 90%, where GM went more conservative. I believe they are only becoming more willing to do what others have chosen.

      The Volt, at ~65% DOD, 16.5kwh, is well short of Spark AER, yet storage is already close to the 19kwh the Spark is looking to receive. It raises the odds Volt 1 gets a smaller battery and keeps range, and that Volt 2 opens up, on hopefully at least the same kwh of storage.

      The 2015 timing seems also to agree with production of new Volt models, late that year.

  7. Ocean Railroader says:

    I really think GM should have used this new battery system to get more range out of the existing battery pack then make it small. In that making a smaller battery is the worst thing you can do now with everyone talking about building a 150 mile range mass marketed EV. GM could have at least used this EV battery management system to add six to ten miles on to the existing EV’s Range.

    I really think GM’s relationship with EV’s is like Kathy Perry’s Song Your Hot and your cold http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTHNpusq654

    The reason why I say this is GM will build a really nice EV like the EV1 or even the Spark. And then a year or a few months later they will say bad things about EV’s or hold back on selling it. In that this is the reason why the Volt Sales are in the fish tank along with the Spark EV.

    Meanwhile BMW is building their EV’s like hot cakes in that they are very motivated in building them and selling them.

    1. TomArt says:

      Not only that, but BMW went so far as to establish an entire sub-brand just for their plug-ins.

      1. kdawg says:

        OR – “In that this is the reason why the Volt Sales are in the fish tank along with the Spark EV. Meanwhile BMW is building their EV’s like hot cakes in that they are very motivated in building them and selling them.”

        BMW just now joined the party. Let’s see how they do. For a while they were not so pro-EV, and they still have their diesel-heads there.

        @TA Ford did the same thing.. but not sure how much it has caught on. IMO, what GM should have done is created a whole brand, not just sub-brand. Something like they did with Saturn. These would be new dealerships that only sold plug-in vehicles.

        1. Rick Danger says:

          ” IMO, what GM should have done is created a whole brand, not just sub-brand. Something like they did with Saturn. These would be new dealerships that only sold plug-in vehicles.”

          Exactly! +1

    2. Surya says:

      I agree. They should at least have kept the same size (21kWh) and increase the range all in one go.
      I think this just shows how dedicated GM is to this project.

  8. Anton Wahlman says:

    Yeah, I agree. This is pretty big news, if you think about it. My theory is this: GM had a big take-or-pay contract with LG Chem, and as a result of the Volt selling less than expected over the last 3 years, they were able to reduce the supplier penalty by designing LG Chem into the Spark EV. How’s that for a conspiracy theory?!

    1. GeorgeS says:

      I would bet you money that, when GM first signed on with LG they made LG sign up for getting a more energy dense pack incrementally as we moved forward from the first Volt launch.

      For gen 2 Volt they will have a higher DOD and I wouldn’t be surprised to see 5v Spinel used as the next gen battery chemistry.

    2. Dave R says:

      Or perhaps LG is looking at that big factory that is sitting mostly unused and said hey – we’ll give you a great deal on batteries if you use our batteries instead of A123s.

      I think what is really impressive is that the Spark only has a 19 kWh pack while the Volt has a 16.5 kWh pack yet the Spark has over double the range. Yeah, the Spark is more efficient, but perhaps that also suggests that future Volt packs will also significantly shrink while maintaining the same amount of usable capacity. GM has stated that the Volt pack is a bit overbuilt/engineered, so perhaps they are ready to start being a bit more aggressive in pushing the batteries.

      1. Ocean Railroader says:

        They could find away to put a new Spark pack system into the Volt and give the volt a 60 or 70 mile plug battery range. That alone would at least kill the plug in Prius and the hybrid Prius over night.

        1. pjwood says:

          ..the PiP is already dead on paper.

    3. liberty says:

      Simpler theory. GM didn’t expect A123 to go bankrupt, and they don’t trust the new management. This way they don’t have to manage that bad relationship.

  9. QCO says:

    Bringing value-added pack design and manufacturing in house makes good sense. There is much more design and integration synergy between packs and the vehicle which can lead to cooling and packaging innovation.

    Individual cell innovation is mainly related to chemistry and therefore best outsourced to companies who specialize in battery design and manufacturing.

  10. JakeY says:

    This is kind of iffy, esp. if it results in deeper DOD. The A123 cells I have confidence could last well past the lifetime of the car and can easily handle quick charging demand. LG Chem cells are not as proven, so we’ll see.

    1. GeorgeS says:

      Not as well proven?

      I disagree on that one.

    2. ClarksonCote says:

      The Volt packs (with LG cells) are the best packs available for any EV today. They have experienced zero degradation

      I’m not sure where your concerns come from. Now if we were talking about a Leaf’s pack DoD increasing, given the problems they’ve had in AZ, I would agree with you.

      1. JakeY says:

        The DOD window of a Volt pack is completely different from what any BEV will see, so it’s largely an irrelevant comparison in terms of cycle life (only calendar life can be used, but the Volt hasn’t been out long enough for useful data on that either).

        If it’s true that they are pushing the DOD beyond what even the A123 pack is seeing, that’s definitely a cause for concern.

        And in terms of fast charging, the closest it has done is the 43kW AC charging (~35-40kW DC once conversion losses are figured in) in the ZOE. With the a123 cells even when pushed at the max 100kW of CCS, it’s not a problem at all. Not sure if the LG Chem cells can handle the same.

        1. DonC says:

          You’re ignoring reality. GM has been very cautious about the battery. The complete opposite of Nissan. I have a Leaf and a Volt. I’ve lost 20% of my range in the Leaf. I’ve lost 0% of my range in the Volt. That’s not to say the cells in the Volt haven’t degraded, but GM has been extra cautious in regard to battery range and life.

          GM also has the best battery testing facility. If it thinks the new technology will stand up to higher DOD then it will.

          Did you have the same “concerns” when Tesla announced it was using new battery technology from Panasonic that had higher energy density? If not then your your concerns now are misplaced and inconsistent. If new technology can have higher energy density, why can’t it have a higher DOD?

          1. JakeY says:

            I’m talking about the cells, not the specific pack (I’m not trashing the Volt pack if that’s the impression I’m giving). The longevity of the Volt pack is specifically because of the work of GM (thermal management and a very conservative DOD). In other words, GM “babies” the LG Chem cells in the Volt. They aren’t going to be able to do that here (esp. the DOD).

            “If new technology can have higher energy density, why can’t it have a higher DOD?”
            I don’t think you understand fully what DOD is. It has nothing to do with higher energy density. DOD is simply the SOC window that you use.

            For example, the Volt uses 10.8kWh/16.5kWh or 65%DOD (with a window of about 17-83%). The A123 Spark EV uses 18.6 kWh/21.4kWh or 87%DOD.

            This new version only has a 19kWh pack (and the same range) so assuming that is not misreported and they didn’t make other efficiency tweaks, that’s 98%DOD, which would be much more stressful on the cells.

            1. Koz says:

              It’s 86lbs lighter for efficiency starters. GM may have also been a little conservative with their initial A123 DOD as well.

              Their have been Volt packs running in pre-production vehicles since 2009, production since late 2010, and in lab since late 2007. They have plenty of real cycle and calendar data to know what they are dealing with, at least with regards to the current gen Volt battery.

              DonC knows what DOD is. Different chemistries and pack systems have different DOD capabilities.

              Quick charging capability if the cells is irrelevant if the car doesn’t also have the hardware for it.

              1. JakeY says:

                The lighter weight might help a bit on the city cycle, but will be insignificant in the highway cycle. GM is saying the MPGe will remain exactly the same, so I think it’s pretty safe to assume there is no significant efficiency improvement if GM actually bothered to retest (1mpge improvement would be a 0.84% improvement).

                “at least with regards to the current gen Volt battery.”
                Again, this is the big caveat I’m pointing out (the difference between comparing cells and packs). The conditions of the Volt pack (specifically the DOD) is completely different from the Spark’s. And I take back even the calendar life too after thinking about it closely. The Volt pack never sees above ~80-85 percent SOC, which makes a drastic difference in calendar life.

                “DonC knows what DOD is.”
                He mentioned higher energy density as tied with DOD, when it isn’t. And batteries tend to have an inverse relationship between energy density and cycle life, so it would make sense to run high density cells at lower DOD to extend cycle life.

                The Spark EV has CCS quick charging so it does matter.

  11. Rick Danger says:

    Is this the LG Chem plant where workers were playing Monopoly because they had nothing to do?
    If so, glad to see them step up production. DUH, GM.

  12. Fishhawk78681 says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say what we are looking at is the same technology going into Volt 2.0. I’m guessing GM got interesting data back from the Volt fleet and they will be digging further into the battery than before (just like the ELR).

    1. DonC says:

      Does seem like much of a limb though I’m not sure it’s tied to the Volt fleet. Different battery technology. A Volt with a current 16.5 kWh capacity battery would have an EV range of over 70 miles, assuming of course it was equally efficient (probably not).

      You’d only need to have a 45 kWh pack to get a 200 mile BEV. Looks like there will be a BEV in the near future — the rumored Opel — though I doubt it will be a 200 mile one.

  13. Bloggin says:

    Interesting.

    GM is now with LG Chem for Spark EV and Volt.

    While Ford gets their batteries from Panasonic(like Tesla), for the hybrid and Energi models(for packs Ford now builds in-house), but LG Chem for the Focus Electric.

    I expect Ford to also build the packs for the next gen Focus Electric also by MY2017 in 2016.

  14. Anthony says:

    I’m surprised they switched away from A123. I don’t know if it was a capacity issue, rather that it might be a price issue. A123 cant get the prices down on their cells as fast as they promised. Moving to LG Chem may or may not save them money, but it is sustainable.

    So the original A123 cells were 21kWh and used 81% (mod-edit) (17.3kWh). The slight decrease in pack weight may shave a few watt-hours, but otherwise I expect it to use about the same, or about 90% of the 19kWh pack’s capacity.

    GM is figuring out the best way to pack and cool batteries. Good news for Gen 2 of EVs. If they can use 90% of the pack’s capacity, whenever we get to these magical 400Wh/kg batteries, we’ll be able to make the most of 200 miles of EV range.

    1. David Murray says:

      That math isn’t adding up for me. 91% of 21Kwh would be 19.11 Kwh, not 17.3Kwh as you state.

  15. Anon says:

    Why no range increase when the vehicle lost 86 lbs? 0-60 should improve a tad. Cutting the size of the battery down, seems like they are intentionally limiting future sales…

  16. Jud says:

    No matter what good looking thing you look at,
    what matters is mileage — have’nt you been looking at the mileage coming down. It started in 2013 NEW BATTERY they said almost 200 miles they said NOW LOOK just over 100 miles per charge. They have to do better then that.
    Look at Telsa over 200 miles per charge.

    What i want is that Milage, and I am willing to pay for it…..

  17. jstack6 says:

    Nice how the battery pack color matches the workers hair color. GM thinks of everything…

    1. Raymondjram says:

      Orange is the industry standard of high voltage components, not her hair color! All manufacturers use that visible color for any component that works above 300 volts, including voltmenters.