With New Wireless EV Battery System, GM Is Determined To Kill Off Gasmobiles (Eventually)

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What’s up with General Motors and the month of September? GM kicked off last week with a big announcement about Honda, moved on to another big announcement regarding Nikola, and now just yesterday the company let word slip about a new wireless EV battery system aimed at bringing more electric vehicles to market, more quickly and more efficiently. And all this while shepherding more renewable energy into the grid, executing a sharp pivot to making ventilators and PPE for COVID-19 response, and managing worker safety in the middle of a public health crisis, too.

EV battery GM fuel cell
GM’s new wireless EV battery system will help trim electric vehicle costs down to the bone (photo courtesy of GM).

A New Wireless EV Battery Management System For More & Better EVs

If you’re thinking this new wireless system has something to do with wireless EV charging, not exactly. The focus is on introducing new EV models and new battery technology more efficiently, at less cost. GM claims that the new system, developed with the firm Analog Devices, is the first of its kind for any auto manufacturer.

So, what’s the big deal? The new system reduces the amount of wiring need within an EV battery by up to 90%. That’s a big deal, which GM is happy to explain.

“This 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 states, adding that the system will “drive GM’s Ultium-powered EVs to market faster, as time won’t be needed to develop specific communications systems or redesign complex wiring schemes for each new vehicle.”

GM Takes The Ultium EV Battery Ball & Runs With It

If you’re new to the Ultium EV battery topic, that’s the new energy storage platform that GM has been developing with Honda.

The new wireless EV battery will help “ensure the scalability of Ultium batteries across GM’s future lineup, encompassing different brands and vehicle segments, from heavy-duty trucks to performance vehicles,” GM explains.

The space and weight saved by removing up to 90% of the wiring will also also enable GM to pack more batteries into a vehicle, thereby improving range.

GM anticipates that the wireless architecture will have a broad impact. It introduces a whole new level of standardization that will enable the company to roll out new models more rapidly, while incorporating new technologies as they come along.

As for who’s gonna pay for all this, GM notes that the wireless EV battery environment brings new lifecycle efficiencies to the table that will help cut the cost of electric vehicles. That includes “more robust manufacturing processes,” and more efficient pathway for repurposing spent EV batteries.

What’s All This About GM & Honda?

The new EV battery management system could also have a ripple effect on Honda. Honda has been collaborating with GM on battery technology for some time now.

This may seem counter-intuitive in terms of beating the competition, but not as GM President and CEO Mary Barra sees it. GM is focused like a thousand points of light on cutting the cost of electric vehicles, and one way to do that is to achieve economies of scale by manufacturing more batteries, and one way to do that is to recruit more battery buyers into the field.

In the latest development on that score, just yesterday GM announced a new North America “strategic alliance” that builds on its existing relationship with Honda, to “explore sharing vehicle platforms and propulsion systems for a variety of core segments.”

The non-binding memorandum of understanding commits the two companies to retain their brand identities while cooperating on purchasing and R&D among other behind-the-scenes areas.

In terms of brand identity, GM has pledged itself to a zero-emission future, but it looks like the new alliance will leave some wiggle room for gasmobiles, at least for now.

“Under the proposed alliance, Honda and GM would collaborate on a variety of segments in North America, intending to share common vehicle platforms, including both electrified and internal combustion propulsion systems that align with the vehicle platforms,” the company stated in a press release.

The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Angle

Although the big GM news this week is all about the EV battery, GM is also still betting on a diversified zero emission propulsion future that includes hydrogen fuel cells as well as batteries.

GM and Honda have been collaborating on battery and fuel cell technology for more than years. In 2017, they ramped up their activities by announcing plans for a joint fuel cell manufacturing facility.

That announcement followed several years in which Honda went all-in on its Clarity fuel cell EV, including a commitment to help build up the hydrogen fuel station network in California.

Fuel cell EVs are still struggling to catch on in the US, and the joint manufacturing effort could help Honda by bringing down the costs.

“GM and Honda also plan to share R&D and engineering costs for select future co-developed vehicle and propulsion platforms. This would create substantial efficiencies and free up capital, enabling both companies to meet the increasing requirements to invest in various future mobility trends and additional growth opportunities for each company’s distinct brands,” GM said.

As for what’s in it for GM, deconstruct that statement and you may find yourself going down a trail that leads to the US Department of Defense.

Although GM has not (yet) developed a fuel cell EV for the civilian market, it did drop some hints about its growing interest in hydrogen propulsion back in 2016 when it renamed its GM Powertrain division to GM Propulsion Systems.

That follows the launch of a 2012 partnership with the US Army to explore fuel cell technology, soon followed by a fuel cell R&D venture with Honda in 2013, which the DOD anticipates may eventually lead to a fuel cell tank among other vehicles.

The GM-Honda-Army mashup is of interest from a brand identity perspective because GM supplies vehicles to the DOD, whereas Honda does not (though Honda does offer a military discount, which is not the same thing).

So, here’s where it gets really interesting. Back in 2016 GM unveiled a “mission ready” fuel cell SUV for the US Army based on its popular Chevrolet Colorado platform. Apparently the Army like the Colorado angle, because last summer it went looking around for someone to manufacture its new all-terrain Infantry Squad Vehicle troop carrier, and it awarded a $214.3 million contract to GM Defense LLC to supply more than 2,000 of them.

The ISV is based on the 2020 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 truck. Connecting all the dots, the contract may set GM up for future orders deploying fuel cell technology.

In addition to power, speed, and stealth, hydrogen fuel cells also provide for off-grid fuel generating opportunities with an assist from renewable energy, which dovetails with the DOD’s new emphasis on fuel scavenging. If you have any thoughts about that drop us a note in the comment thread.

Interesting! Aside from military applications, the DOD is also taking a look at fuel cell technology for disaster relief. Considering the size of the DOD vehicle fleet, the agency could help sustain a market for mobile fuel cell technology until the civilian world is ready for action.

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Photo: New wireless EV battery management system courtesy of General Motors (note: this facility follows GM guidelines for COVID-19 protection; however, the photo was taken on 2-25-20, before the outbreak was recognized in the US).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3234 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey