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BREAKING: GM Battery Czar Denise Gray Leaves Volt Team For California Startup

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Denise Gray, director of global battery systems engineering, General Motors

Denise Gray, director of global battery systems engineering, General Motors

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A key member of the small team brought together four years ago to create the 2011 Chevrolet Volt electric car is unexpectedly leaving General Motors.

Denise Gray, director of global battery systems engineering at General Motors, will leave the company on Friday, March 5, to take an unspecified position with an unidentified battery startup in California.

2010 chevrolet volt 019

2010 chevrolet volt 019

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Four different battery technology firms have announced plans to build new development centers in the state of Michigan

Four different battery technology firms have announced plans to build new development centers in the state of Michigan

Enlarge Photo

2010 chevrolet volt 013

2010 chevrolet volt 013

Enlarge Photo

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Enlarge Photo

Volt as a startup

The entire Volt project was "largely a startup" within the broader GM enterprise, said Volt vehicle line director Tony Posawatz. With the 2011 Volt extended-range electric car less than a year away from dealerships,  Gray may have succumbed to the allure of startup fever.

Indeed, on January 7, the first lithium-ion battery pack for the 2011 Chevy Volt was built on production tooling at GM's Brownstown Township plant in Michigan. That meant Gray's team had met its goal of getting the Volt pack tested, certified, and delivered on time.

Startup fever

What led Gray to leave the only company she'd ever worked for? "The opportunity to create and build and plant seeds and mold and shape an organization," she said--just as she was able to do with the small Volt team.

And in a theme common to many professionals who've left solid jobs to join startups, she said simply, "I didn't want to look back and say, 'I could have, I should have ...' "

Her new position, a senior leadership role, will keep her squarely in advanced battery technology. She'll work with products that can be applied to electrified transport and to stationary applications, and her job will include profit-and-loss responsibility.

Stealth startup

About the company itself, Gray is even more circumspect. She would say only that it's a venture-funded startup, located for the moment within the state of California, that's still in stealth mode.

With venture capital and private equity intently focused on funding new forms of energy storage, that description could apply to many startups. Companies like Amprius are at least public, though noted VC Kleiner Perkins is said to have backed a new battery cell venture.

Batteries for plug-in vehicles

At her departure, Gray was responsible for delivering all "energy battery" systems, used in extended-range electric vehicles like the 2011 Volt and other plug-ins. The tally included those for a second generation of the Voltec drivetrain, to be launched in future years.

Her counterpart and co-lead for the battery systems group, Ronn Jamieson, will temporarily assume Gray's duties. He is responsible for the "power battery" systems used in current Two-Mode Hybrids, next-generation hybrids, and also the operations of GM's battery lab.

When that lab was founded under Gray's direction, it had 25 employees. At her departure, it will have more than 200 on three continents, as well as the ability to draw on the expertise of other engineering groups throughout GM.

From Detroit public schools to Silicon Valley

Gray, a fiercely proud native of Detroit who attended the city's prestigious Cass Technical High School, has worked at General Motors her entire career. She remarked that at the beginning, she took the city bus to her job because she didn't have a car yet.

She started at GM as a coop high school student in 1980, earning electrical engineering degrees at Kettering Institute and Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute in 1986 and 2000 respectively.

During the 1980s and 1990s, she specialized in formal software testing procedures, which she rolled out across many different engine and vehicle programs. Her husband recently retired from GM; she has one son in college, and another in high school.

For more background on Denise Gray's unusual career, see IEEE Spectrum's story, "GM’s battery czar."

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Comments (27)
  1. "About the company itself, Gray is even more circumspect. She would say only that it's a venture-funded startup, located for the moment within the state of California, that's still in stealth mode."
    Can you say "Tesla"?
    I hear they suddenly have 3 openings...
     
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  2. The comment about Tesla having 3 openings is in EXTREMELY poor taste. I'm not a fan of political correctness, but there is such a thing a simple human decancy...ever heard of it?
     
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  3. Most automotive battery scientists doubt privately that the battery will last 10y, and the only reason GM doing this is for PR, they can't make money, since Denise is the 4th high profile person (Volt project) to leave, if the Chevy project is such a revolution, why they all leave? Most scientist&engineer don't leave an opportunity (with such purported significant of historical importance) for startup company, you have to ask: Is sth really wrong at Government Motors?
     
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  4. I bet I know why she left GM... it's called MONEY! Bet she can make a bunch more as President of a VC-funded startup than she ever would as low-level exec at conglomerate like General Motors. Stock options if the startup ever goes public... think Google, eBay, Amazon, etc... (IF it all works out).
     
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  5. Hi david, i think same with you. this is a nice writing. thx for it.
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  6. What type of engine have you used in the car that you have shown in this blog.
     
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  7. hi david...
    thx for this writing...
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    thank you very much. i hink same with u for this comment.
     
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  8. This decision is going to hurt GM any top company will hire Denise Gray but GM will not get some one like Denise Gray.
     
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  9. I think this wont be good for GM. Electric cars will be part of the future. thanks for the informative article.
     
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  10. I agree with some of the first commentors, this seems more like a political move than anything. The volt is not anything to be impressed about as it only has a 40 mile range and is more priced way too high. Why should I buy the volt when I can get the Model-s for slightly higher or the Nissan Leaf for a lower cost and longer range? Whatever company Denise decides to go to, hopefully she does a better job with improving range and battery quality.
     
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  11. You have to admire her passion to succeed
     
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  12. well electric it the only key factor with that we can open new door of our car industry to make it live & happen for more year to this world.
     
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  13. Yeah this is an awesome concept, I am glad they didn't collapse with most of the auto-industry! That would of been a sad-sad day!!
     
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  14. As a concept, the Volt makes perfect sense. The Prius (gas-powered, with an electric motor to help) was the first major stepping stone between ICEs and full-electrics, the Volt (electric-powered, with a gas motor to help) is the logical next one.
    At this point, it all comes down to execution. Initial manufacturing quality and marketing at launch will make or break this car--and GM has, with past products, given ample reason to be skeptical on both counts.
     
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  15. It’s really great post. I would like to appreciate your work and would like to tell to my friends. Thanks for sharing!!Please click here sonneries portable telephone
     
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  17. this was a much needed development i think.great move by them on this front help
     
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  18. Can I make a suggestion? I think youve got something good here. But what if you added a couple links to a page that backs up what youre saying? Or maybe you could give us something to look at, something that would connect what youre saying to something tangible? Just a suggestion.
     
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  19. Its great to see us moving towards a electric future. Hopefully the battery tech will catch up with the hope we all have for this platform.
     
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  20. it is a amazing new design and it has very good aerodynamic it look great.
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  21. You go girl!
     
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  22. I dont think its going to make much of a difference if Denise Gray leaves. But still, GM, you have just lost another WOmen PoWER!
     
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  23. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
     
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  24. That is the largest Car Battery I've ever seen... Congratulation to Chevrolet hoping to see more battery car in future...
     
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  25. wow. that really big car battery.
    thanks a lot for the great read.
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  26. With $5/gallon gas predicted by 2012, we had better all hope that they perfect electric cars and the batteries that operate them real soon.
     
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  27. Hey Hey now gas prices are going crazy
     
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