GM CEO: Electric Car With 200-Mile Range Within 4 Years Possible

Follow Nikki

Envia Battery Technology

Envia Battery Technology

Enlarge Photo

In the world of plug-in cars, making an affordable car with a range equal to that of a conventional gasoline car is something of a Holy Grail. 

According to General Motors CEO Dan Akerson talking at a GM employee meeting last night,  that dream could become reality in the next two to four years. 

“I think we’ve got better than a 50-50 chance,” Akerson said, “to develop a car that will go to 200 miles on a charge. That would be a game changer.”

Of course, there are already cars on the market that are capable of such distances.

The 2012 Tesla Model S with an 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack is rated by the EPA at 265 miles per charge. But at $77,400 and up, it isn’t affordable yet.

The battery Akerson is talking about, however, may well be.

Developed by Californian battery firm Envia Systems, the breakthrough lithium-ion battery uses a Silicon Carbon Carbide (Si-C) nanocomposite anode. 

Envia Battery Technology

Envia Battery Technology

Not only is it three times as energy dense as current lithium-ion batteries, but it costs half as much. 

Back in January 2011, GM’s venture capital arm invested $17 million in the battery specialist, betting that it could help the automaker develop cheaper electric car batteries. 

In February this year, Envia released more details of its technology, claiming an energy density of 400 watt-hours per kilogram--far more than the 140 watt-hours per kilogram offered by the battery pack in the 2012 Nissan Leaf. 

The more energy an electric car battery can store for a given weight, the larger its capacity and the further the car can travel.

As Akerson pointed out back in March, an energy-density increase from existing battery technology could mean a car like the Chevrolet Volt could travel as far as 140 miles on a battery pack the same physical size as its current battery pack. 

Or, it could cut the size, weight, and cost of the car's current 16-kWh pack substantially while maintaining the existing 38-mile range of the 2013 Volt.

Volt Battery Pack

Volt Battery Pack

Enlarge Photo

That was the course of action discussed by now-departed Volt engineer Frank Weber before the car launched.

Weber said firmly 40 miles was the right amount of electric range for the daily needs of four-fifths of Volt drivers, with the security of limitless range on gasoline as a backup.

The more affordable batteries could also make a pure battery-electric vehicle practical.

Thus far, the only known GM electric-only project is the 2013 Chevrolet Spark EV, a low-volume compliance car that uses cells from A123 Systems.

Much testing remains before the Envia battery is ready for production cars. And many questions have yet to be answered about how the battery technology would work in future electric cars. 

Acknowledging the caveats, it may be that longer-distance electric cars could appear sooner than many in the auto industry thought they would. 

If so, that can only be a good thing. 


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow Us

Comments (58)
  1. Battery development is a long and tortuous road (witness A123). It is great that people are working on better technology, but I won't hold my breath. As Voelcker often says, the 6-8% yearly improvement in existing technology may be what we have to look forward to, which is really not that bad.

  2. This may be the first time I ever heard someone announce as a breakthru an event with a 50/50 chance of occurrence. Other, more impressive battery technologies are closer at hand and have far better than "50/50" chances. What's often most important is what ISN'T mentioned. The size of a battery that's acceptable does not simply depend upon its range, but its speed of recharge. I note no mention here of recharge speed, meaning it's probably not very fast. Normal silicon claims are for 9 times the density, not 3. Also no mention of deterioration rates or power, a bad sign. And the Tesla's "265 mile range" is illusory where really needed : Don't even think about an extended trip in a Model S, regardless of battery size, or you'll be sorry

  3. @ Kent, even if you can charge a large battery pack fast, the infrastructure needed is huge. Typically, we get about 4 miles per KWh. If you need a 200 miles recharge in 30 minutes (pretty darn fast), then you would need to dump at least 50 KWh in 30 minutes, that is 100KW charging rate. How many places can provide you that kind of "power rate"? 100KW at 240V is over 420A, @ 380v, it is over 265 A... Even at 100 mile range, you are talking about 50KW charging rate...

  4. Of course the "superchargers" Tesla proposes are already ~90KW. So 45 minutes should give you an extra 200 miles of range wit a Models/85. Of course no such network is available at this point, but it will happen.

  5. In the mean time, you stay within the range...

  6. 100 kW is less than an average business or office draws. If you don't have a suitable connection, then simply phone your energy company and order one, at a price of ~200 euros per month.

  7. Charging a Tesla will draw more current than a "small" business draws in its entire office. I don't know what kind of "average" business you are talking about. A 100KW system is way more than an average US household is allocated. A small business in the US don't draw 100KW...

  8. So, you are going to set up those 100KW chargers at 1 per station every 200 miles?

    Have you been to US, especially West Coast along the route of major cities? Do you know how much 100KW is to set it up?

    I don't live in EU. 200 euro wouldn't even get you a seperate electricity meter setup on an average household for 200A service...

  9. GM owns the patent - they may sell it to Mobile Oil. Been there, done that.

  10. That NiMH battery technology GM sold soon became obsolete and replaced by Li-ion...

  11. Don't be so quick. The NiMH packs in old RAV4 vehicles are still going strong a decade later. Will the same be said for today's Li-Ion packs? Not the LEAF's, certainly. For others it's too soon to tell.

  12. old RAV4's battery pack is much smaller than Leaf's Li-ion pack. How many of those old Rav4 were sold in AZ and TX?

  13. Also, as far as technology cell goes, I can tell you that Li-ion based electronic devices are more powerful and last longer than the NiMH based devices. From electronic toothbrush to power tools to portable electronic devices. The power density and energy density are just better.

  14. I was wondering if Envia was specifically mentioned by Ackerson, or was it assumed that Envia was the battery maker since GM had the investment stake in them prior? Just curious.

  15. According to the article linked, Ackerson specifically said this was from Envia.

  16. can we take this to mean that Envia is within a year of phototype testing? they would have to be at least that close if we can expect production manufacturing in 2-4 years.

    we hear so much about new energy storage techniques and breakthrus but then they fade away. if Envia was really that close, it would be strange that they are not attracting a lot more attention but then again, they are one of dozens

  17. Not strange at all. If Envia has buyers lined up, why would they need to advertise? Most of these companies would prefer not to be bothered by the press, they do not see the need as they are not selling to the general public.

  18. With this battery, a midsize/crossover Volt with 5-7 seating is possible. A 60-100 miles version is easily done and the price will be sub $30k if it can happen in few years...
    But I will hold my judgement until it happens..

  19. Wow in 4-5 years we might be able to drive 200 miles in an EV?
    Too bad Stan Ovshinsky made batteries that did 200 miles in the EV1 nearly 20 years ago!
    See below video at 3:00 mins:

    GM knows this is a joke. We would all be driving 500 mile range EV's by now if GM hadn't sold Ovshinsky's battery patents to Chevron/Texaco! You can see in the video how much he regrets their partnering with an oil company.
    He does mention something about being involved in another battery project though so perhaps there is hope after all? I hear his patents owned by Chevron/Texaco are due to expire very soon so maybe it has something to do with that?

  20. EV1's 200 miles range was based on NiMH battery.. far inferior to LI-ion...

  21. 2014. iirc

  22. "We would all be driving 500 mile range EV's by now if GM hadn't sold Ovshinsky's battery patents to Chevron/Texaco! "

    What nonsense. You conveniently forget that the EV1 was a small, low, narrow two-seater. Look at how popular the orginal Insight was. 2-seater cars are a niche-market.

  23. There are more comments in this thread
  24. We'll be hearing a lot of early battery claims as many companies jockey for the next great battery....


  25. The article states that the anode is 'Silicon-Carbide'. That should be silicon-carbon. Silicon carbide is something very different.

  26. @Anne: Quite right, and our apologies. We've fixed the error.

  27. I agree that 40 mile range for an erev is the right target. Use the superior technology to make it smaller and cheaper.

    There are several research groups that have come up with very high performance anodes such as mentioned by Envia. My favorite is but the real challenge is to create an equally impressive cathode. Hopefully we will get a breakthrough announcement in that soon.

    Another very promising company is No announcements for 1-1/2 years now, but still in business. We hear about these companies when they are trying to raise money, then go silent as they work towards production prototype.

  28. if they could increase the volt Electric range to 90 miles that would cover a huge number of people. That would also let them look at going to a Pure EV/Generator system rather then the EREV hybrid architecture.

  29. How is Pure EV/Generator system more efficient than the current Volt's EV/EREV Series/Parallel hybrid system?

  30. EREV is already a PURE EV/Series Generator system. The generator system is called series hybrid. The parallel hybrid is only after the PURE EV portion and at speed above 70mph. That is for improved efficiency...

  31. Huh? The Tesla Model S already goes almost 300 miles. The SIM-Drive cars will go over 200 miles. The Illuminati 'Seven' goes more than 200 miles. Dave Cloud's Dolphin goes over 200 miles -- on lead acid batteries.

    The EV1 would go about 200 miles on the Leaf battery pack.


  32. None of them cost under $30k.

  33. I'd love to see someone in a Tesla get 300-miles on a charge. I highly doubt that will ever happen. Even the EPA estimate is 265 miles. Unless you drive the Model-S at 40mph steady-state, you won't reach 300 miles.

  34. To Anne above.
    How does the failure of GM to build a useful car in the EV1 relate to the battery technology that was clearly available nearly 20 years ago?
    I have heard many times that we can expect an 8% improvement in battery energy storage per year on average. So keeping everything else the same that EV1 that did 200 miles could today be doing nearly 600 miles per charge with gradual improvements in Ovshinsky's design. He even stated at the time of the 200 mile test he was already working on much improved second generation batteries that would have added significantly more range.
    Mass proliferation of EV's has been held back at least a decade due to Chevron's hoarding of the Ovshinsky battery patents. They made more money selling gas.

  35. Where did you get that 8% from? Is that 8% constant over 8 years?

    I work in the high tech industry and I havne't heard anything like that before..

    Does your cellphone/laptop devices improve at 8% per year in the last 20 years?

  36. @Xialong: As you know, working in the industry, the cost-performance of microprocessors & other digital chips improves by Moore's Law, roughly doubling every 18 months.

    The cost-performance of Li-ion cells doesn't improve at that rate. As described below, commodity Li cells have improved over 20 yrs at an *average* of 6-8% a year. It's not a linear change, but a stair-step, as new chemistries & production processes are developed & ramped up to economies of scale. The vehicle battery engineers I've spoken with seem to accept that number as applicable to automotive-scale Li-ion cells too.

  37. Well, we all heard about the Moore's Law in ICs... But that has NOTHING to do with batteries. Moore's law don't apply to different industry.

    As far as 6-8% goes, it is a "fuzzy" number. As far as I know, the battery technology is more a stair step like you said. 6-8% is more an ideal case. And when you talk about batteries, it is more than just cost improve 6-8%. There are energy density, volume density, power density, charging cycle and temperature to worry about. Cost is only part of that equation. Automotive usage requires just about every factor listed above. It is significantly different from personal electronics or other applications.

    Discrete Step improvement requires "breakthrough". 6-8% is more a linear approximation.

  38. @Xiaolong: All true, and good points. Nonetheless, at a macro level, every engineer I spoke to in the battery or plug-in car business agreed that--over time--we would see 6 to 8 percent average improvement per year. In stair-steps.

    The auto industry is very, very good at wringing incremental cost, quality, and performance improvements out of complex electromechanical devices produced at high volume. It's what they've been doing for a century-plus.

    I'm willing to be persuaded that 6-8% is not the right number, but so far, I haven't heard a coherent case that it's not. FWIW.

  39. Whoops forgot to compound for every year. So 200 miles per charge 20 years ago would mean nearly 900 miles per charge today!
    So Anne I think it's fair to say that yes we could easily all be driving 500 mile range Hummer's at that rate! Funny that...GM might still be making the Hummer (as an EV) had they continued their development of electric cars 20 years ago!

  40. Your wisdom consists of mindlessly punching numbers into your calculator and taking the result as the holy grail of truth.

    And your numbers are suspect. According to the wikipedia page "the NiMH cars could travel between 100 and 140 miles between charges". Let's take 120 miles and put 8% improvement per year from 1999-2012. That gives 326 miles. Hmm, pretty close to what the Model S achieves. But artficially stretching the range to 200 miles and putting the release year of the NiMH version 7 years back in history, you get what you want to confirm your conspiracy theories about oil companies taking away your 900 mile electric car.

    And if Ovshinsky said that he was working on much improved batteries, then that is all you have: his words.

  41. For a 900 mile range, the LEAF would need a 300 kWh battery, requiring about 6x higher energy density than today's state of the art lithium batteries. Lithium batteries that weren't encumbered by oil company owned patents.

    To make matters worse: these batteries would have to sell for around $ 30 per kWh to keep the LEAF affordable. And lastly the EV1 was 35% battery, the LEAF and Model S are ~20%. You must sacrifice almost half of your battery to be able to take 3 more passengers with you.

  42. Well I knew the 900 mile calculation was a bit of a stretch anyway! This would be overkill making the car too heavy and unaffordable.
    I think 500 miles is the holy grail for EV's, as most people would struggle to drive more than that in one sitting before needing to rest/sleep offering the chance for an overnight top up charge. Also with cheap flights most people traveling more than 500 miles in a day will probably choose to fly anyway.
    Not sure what you mean by more seats = less battery? If GM had continued their development of EV's they would have quickly evolved to Tesla's flat floor bottom pack which doesn't seem to be restricted in size with additional seats.

  43. EV1 cost as much as Tesla today. flat floor bottom saves space but it won't reduce cost since the battery pack has to be reinforced and becomes part of the structure. That is costly. Today's car all have unibody welded together before any assembly. Many of the panels are part of the structure/safety cage. If the battery is part of that structure, then its body have to be designed from ground up for it. It is very expensive to do so at low volume. So far only Telsa is designed that way. Even the Leaf, Miev and Volt are all heavily leveraged other gasoline cars.

    How many EVs have we sold total today? The total volume is less than the Prius alone. So, it will be difficult for any auto maker to do it for long term.

  44. So using only facts and not the words of a genius (who in the mid nineties said he had the EV 1 over 200 miles and much better batteries on the way - I personally believe him - he is an American legend after all).
    We can definately say the EV1 was doing 160 miles per charge in 1999 (per Wiki). So at 8% per year that gives us around 488 miles.
    I think we can safely say that had Ovshinsky's batteries been able to be used and slowly improved we would be much closer to a 500 mile EV than a 200 mile one (in four years time!) as GM is now projecting. It's such a shame but I do believe we are finally on the right track now - we just lost a decade thanks to Chevron.

  45. 8% per year is all theory. Batteries don't improve like other electriconic technologies. Just look at your laptop/cell phone battery technology. In the last 20 years. It has NOT improved 8% per year at KWh/$ or KWh/kg.

    EV1 was a very expensive car.

    GM is making claim that it is shooting for that range for only $20k. That is a big difference.

  46. How can we count on any, conveniently specific—such as 8%—yearly rate of improvement, for any technology?

  47. This reminds me of the GM speculation of 45,000 sales during 2012 of the Volt. Don't advertise until you prove it in the lab or on the test track.

    Now, a Volt with 100 miles EV and a tight, small generator would be far more appealing to me than a 200 mile EV. I can't go as far as I need to in an EV due to the lack of infrastructure. But a Volt with 100 miles EV range and maybe a 45 mpg generator would be terrific. I just don't see why everyone is spun up on EV's when EREVs are very practical and don't require huge batteries or power infrastructure changes costing millions.

  48. I totally agree. EREV is the most practical solution before we have "instant" charging EVs AND plenty public charging networks. In order for both of them to happen, it will take at least couple decades...

    With that said, for a "multi" car family, it is perfectly okay to have an EREV and an EV to compliment each other.

  49. Many of you are better informed than myself on BEV's, so I'm hoping someone can give me some insight here.

    My wife just bought a 2013 Volt (she loves it), and I have been planning to purchase a full EV for myself ... but I was unsure of the rules on the tax credits. I wasn't sure if there was a limit for only one credit per year or what. So I called the IRS office today, and they told me that there is no longer any tax credit for the Volt, or even a full EV in 2012. That was not my understanding by reading all the news - not only on the outstanding Green Car Reports site, but on many mainline news sites like, Reuters, etc.

    I'm very frustrated and unsure how to proceed. Frustrating if you can't get accurate information from the IRS

  50. I haven't heard such thing. I am NOT sure if the person that you spoke to at the IRS office understood what you are talking about. According to this list, it is still true. And it doesn't end like the IRS says, it phases out slowly based on volume. Even if Congress change the law, I would imagine the program would end in the following tax year instead of the current year.

    Also, if you really worry abou it, "leasing" is probably your best option. You will take the saving in terms of cheaper monthly payment. That is why the Volt has $249/month deal right now.

  51. Another thing to keep in mind that in order to take the tax credit, you have to have enough income or tax liabilities to fully claim that. It means your totally yearly income tax has to be higher than $7,500.

  52. Thank you, Xiaolong. I was hoping you'd see my post and give me your thoughts. I appreciate it.

    Our tax liabilities is far in excess of $7,500 (not sure if I should happy or sad about that!), so no worries there. Is it your understanding that a second $7,500 tax credit is possible for one family in the same tax year? I was thinking about the Rav4EV. Again, our tax liabilities were far in excess of $15,000, so no problems there. Just wasn't sure if there was a limit of $7,500 in any given tax year.

  53. The IRS guy must have misunderstood, as you said. I kept trying to explain what I was talking about ... but he said there was no tax credits for electric cars in effect for 2012. I was stunned.

  54. @Richard, @Xialong: The relevant forms on the IRS website are linked in this article:

  55. @John: Thank you! Do you know if two $7,500 credits can be claimed from one household in the same tax year? (assuming they have a large enough tax liability). We'll have 7,500 for my wife's Volt, and I may purchase a Rav4EV or Leaf this fall for a second 7,500 credit - if that's allowed.

  56. There are more comments in this thread
  57. Envia's, funded by GM, second generation EV battery, is three times as energy dense as current lithium-ion batteries, and costs half as much. this would enable the Nissan Leaf, for example, to double its range to 200 miles while reducing the cost of the vehicle. GM says they hope to start installing these batteries in the Volt in 2-4 years.

  58. Li, just a simple note. For a few years, a now subsidiary of VW, Porsche, has been running its formula racers with an electric boost system that has helped it win races. It is a 100kw KERS system (kinetic energy retrieval system).

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.