LG Chem- - the Unsung Hero For Chevrolet’s Bolt EV and a Great Example of Collaboration
While the range on the Chevrolet Bolt is very impressive, the car also brims with other innovative technology: customizable infotainment screen (hardware and software designed by LG), surround vision (allowing a bird’s eye view of the vehicle), rear camera view (which eliminates the blind spots when the driver backs up the vehicle), 4G data sharing, and Apple Carplay/Android Auto connectivity. Journalists were surprised by the car’s agile feel and verve on pre-production units. 0-60 mph is expected at 7 seconds. The vehicle may not be as sleek as the upcoming Tesla Model 3, but Bolt’s mission is about everyday usability in a CUV format that allows for maximum utility.
While Chevrolet and GM have received tremendous limelight and kudos for the range achievement on the Bolt, I believe the applause should also go to an unsung hero: LG Chem.
LG Chem has had close collaboration with General Motors for at least the past 5 years. Their first major application of an EV battery went to the 1st generation Chevrolet Volt (2011 to 2015). The battery boasted an innovative design that allowed for each cell to be thermally protected with liquid-cooling. This thermal management system (TMS) was integral to the reliability and durability of the battery pack for the Chevy Volt, and many owners benefited, as there haven’t been any widespread documented cases of cell degradation, capacity loss, or perceived range loss. In fact, one owner, Erick Belmer, has crossed over 300,000 miles (over 100,000 of which are EV miles) on his 2012 Chevrolet Volt without any perceived battery degradation or capacity loss.
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LG Chem also benefited from the collaboration with GM, learning valuable insight into how their batteries fared in the real world. The low and high buffers for the Gen 1 Volt pack (original packs were not allowed to charge below 20% or above 80% to improve battery life and maintain capacity) were reduced slightly, increasing EV range from 35 to 38 miles over the life of Gen 1’s production run.
GM initially chose A123 as the battery supplier for the Spark EV, but had to suddenly transition suppliers to LG Chem due to A123’s bankruptcy. Learning from the Gen 1 Volt, LG Chem and GM continued to create a special battery for the Chevrolet Spark EV (a limited production-run car sold only in CARB states). Unlike the Volt, this battery is designed for a BEV (battery electric vehicle), versus a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) application. The Spark EV battery proved to be just as reliable and durable as the Volt application.
LG Chem’s 3rd generation battery went into the Gen 2 Chevy Volt (2016 and 2017). The Gen 2 Volt’s battery is a major achievement, with a battery pack that is lighter, smaller, simpler, and with few cells than the Gen 1 Volt pack. However, the 18 kwh pack is able to provide additional power and regeneration capabilities, as well as provide 53 miles of EV range!
LG Chem’s 4th generation pack had gone into the upcoming Chevy Bolt. The 238 mile range is stunning news, as many had anticipated close to 200 miles, but not 238. This is a huge watershed moment, as currently no other mainstream automaker (Honda, Ford, or Fiat) has an upcoming EV model with this type of range that is due for debut soon. Nissan is due for the LEAF 2.0, but has been very quiet about further details (with no specific debut date announced). Volkswagen Auto Group (Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche) have announced plans for 300+ mile EVs in 2020+. The 2017 BMW i3 is for sale, but has increased their EV range to 114 miles. Toyota remains committed to hydrogen with the Mirai; their only plug-in will be the upcoming Prius Prime with ~22 mile EV range.
I do want to add that many teams and individuals at General Motors should also be credited for their huge contributions to ensure the reliability and durability of the battery packs. Denise Gray, Pam Fletcher, Frank Weber, Larry Nitz, Andrew Farah and the teams they led worked feverishly and gave tremendous energy to ensure these cars exceed the expectations of their owners. There’s much that GM did contribute to developing and fine-tuning the optimal “recipe” for cell chemistry, TMS parameters for battery cooling, strength and durability testing, water intrusion prevention, pack design, etc.
However, I believe that GM was able to accomplish this EV mileage milestone first, due to their strong and continued collaboration with LG Chem. I’m sure that with the Bolt’s announcement, other automakers will have to reassess their relationships wit their battery suppliers (BMW with Samsung, Mercedes-Benz and Fiat with Bosch, Nissan with NEC). Tesla already has a very close relationship with Panasonic, but I’m sure even Tesla may want to study GM’s relationship with LG Chem to maximize synergy between their own suppliers.
These are exciting times. Who would have thought General Motors, a company who had been known for building traditionally large trucks and SUVs, could also create a game-changing,, affordable EV with over 200 miles first? And yet, they didn’t do it alone—they did it with collaboration with a key supplier. I’m sure the extensive synergies between GM and LG Chem will continue to pay off for both companies once the Bolt goes on sale this fall.