GM Defense aims to convince the US Army to electrify its fleet, with an assist from GM's new Ultium electric vehicle battery platform. Image courtesy of GM

US Military Dips Another Toe In The Electric Vehicle Revolution

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The US Department of Defense emerged as an important early-adopter customer for the solar industry back during the Obama administration, but it has been less enthusiastic about bringing its massive purchasing power to bear on electric vehicles. Still, signs of activity have been stirring, with the latest example being a battery under consideration for military electric vehicle applications, from the Defense branch of General Motors.

The Long Electric Vehicle Journey Of The US Military

The electric vehicle battery project represents quite a turnaround from GM’s notorious Hummer, a gas-guzzler modeled after the Humvee vehicles used by the US Army. The civilian Hummer was originally manufactured by a similarly named but different company, AM General, an Indiana-based firm that also manufactured the first Army Humvees in the 1980s. AM General sold the Hummer name to GM in the 1990s, and the rest is history.

Or, not quite. In 2009, more confusion over the difference between AM and GM blew up after word dropped that GM was selling the Hummer name to a Chinese automaker, compelling the US Army to step in and settle the dust.

“While GM will sell the Hummer nameplate to Sichuan Tengzhong, the military’s Humvee, its designs, unique performance capabilities and technologies will continue to be owned by, and the vehicle produced by, AM General,” the Army explained in a public announcement.

Since then, AM General has been working to launch the Humvee into the electric vehicle field. The company’s new Humvee Charge light tactical vehicle concept is a diesel-electric hybrid aimed at “enhanced fuel economy, extended range capability, increased acceleration, operational stealth, and exportable power for a wide range of missions,” AM General explains.

The New Electric Vehicle Battery From GM

AM General also states that it used commercial off-the-shelf technology to develop the hybrid electric system, to ensure compatibility with levels 1-3 charging stations.

The new Humvee Charge concept was unveiled at the Annual Meeting and Exposition of the Association of the U.S. Army in October 2023. It remains to be seen if the Army takes the bait, or if the new GM Defense electric vehicle battery becomes part of the plan. If you have any thoughts about that, drop a note in the comment thread.

In the meantime, on June 25, GM Defense announced that it is the commercial battery provider for the Army’s “Evaluation of Electric Vehicle Batteries to Enable Directed Energy” program. Funding for the program comes from the Operational Energy Innovation office of the US Defense Department, through the Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund.

Got all that? Good! The electric vehicle project joins GM Defense with the Pulsed Power and Energy Laboratory of the University of Texas at Arlington, and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division.

The Pulsed Power lab will “evaluate the technology to understand current capabilities of commercial automotive batteries under dynamic discharge and charge scenarios,” GM explains.

“The team’s evaluation of the technology will help provide pathways and options for domestically supplied energy storage for future use in military platforms,” they add.

US Military Takes A Closer Look At GM’s EV Battery Platform

The battery in question is in the hands of GM Defense’s parent company, GM, under the new Ultium lithium-ion battery platform. GM unveiled the new EV battery in 2022. The company previously announced a hookup with the Korean battery materials firm POSCO. in support of its battery plans. GM also announced plans to pump another $1 billion into the battery venture last summer.

The POSCO relationship is aimed at enabling GM to produce its electric vehicle batteries domestically. Currently, Asia dominates a key part of the EV battery supply chain involving cathode materials.

“The Ultium CAM [cathode active materials] joint venture will support production of approximately 360,000 Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, Buick and BrightDrop vehicles annually in the 2025-2030 timeframe in North America,” GM stated, with Brightdrop referring to its new electric delivery van branch.

The domestic manufacturing angle is a key attraction for the Defense Department, which explains why GM is involved in not one but two (at least) DOD electric vehicle battery programs. The other one, also under the wing of the Defense Innovation Unit, is called JABS, for Jumpstart for Advanced Battery Standardization.

In addition to providing a prototype battery to the JABS program based on the Ultium platform, GM Defense also demonstrated a high-voltage battery pack on a light tactical utility vehicle. “Key learnings from JABS will help inform the integration requirements of future battery electric defense solutions,” GM notes.

“The work performed in this new effort will provide insights into the performance and design considerations when batteries are used in more dynamic, high-power operations than would be faced by more typical applications,” GM adds.

The Long Journey To A Light Electric Vehicle For The US Army

The Army’s efforts to cut down on diesel fuel almost suffered a blow a few years ago, when its Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicle program went into a sort of limbo. Things began to pick up again in 2022, with a provision for the program in the new Defense Authorization Act. The Defense Department has also been integrating non-tactical EVs into its fleet as well.

GM Defense is not waiting around for the Defense Department to make up its mind about the Ultium platform. The company has unveiled its new Electric Military Concept Vehicle (eISV), which seats up to five passengers accompanied by a cargo box for ammunition, food, water and fuel.

Another recent development concerns the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is also apparently tired of waiting around for the pace to pick up. In January, word surfaced that USACE aims to develop a dual-use EV that is capable of performing off-road missions related to the agency’s construction projects. If all goes according to plan, the vehicle will be used by the Army on disaster response missions, too.

The USACE electric vehicle program also interfaces with other Department of Defense programs involving microgrid and vehicle-to-grid technology. The Texas-based electric vehicle startup Volcon is among those enlisted by USACE to contribute its knowledge and skillset, so keep an eye on that.

The Army is also eyeing at least two other automotive stakeholders, Oshkosh Defense and Canoo, so watch out for them as well.

Follow me @tinamcasey on Bluesky, Threads, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Photo (cropped): GM Defense aims to convince the US Army to electrify its fleet, with an assist from GM’s new Ultium electric vehicle battery platform (courtesy of GM via prnewswire.com).


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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.

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