When General Motors CEO Mary Barra unveiled the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV concept last January at the Detroit Auto Show, the 200-mile electric car was a shock to the industry.
But equally startling was the launch schedule that emerged over the following months: The Bolt EV is to go into production before the end of 2016.
Now GM has revealed how it managed such an aggressive timeline: It partnered with its Korean battery supplier LG Chem for large parts of the car's running gear and electronics.
Automakers routinely contract out large sub-assemblies of new vehicles for not only assembly but in many cases engineering and even detailed design.
Seats, instrument panels, heating/ventilation/air conditioning modules, and other complex units are often designed by the most experienced and trusted global parts vendors.
Yesterday, during a roundtable for automotive media, GM’s head of global product development, purchasing and supply chain Mark Reuss called his company's partnership with LG Chem "unprecedented."
Mark Reuss discusses GM-LG Chem partnership on Bolt EV electric car [photo: Jeffrey Sauger for GM]
While GM was responsible for the design of the electric motor, the battery-control system, the integration of the powertrain into the vehicle body, and validation of all systems, LG Chem went far beyond its previous role as the supplier of lithium-ion cells for the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EV.
The Korean company is designing, engineering, and testing the battery system, several other components, and the infotainment module for the Bolt EV.
Multiple LG companies participate in the Bolt EV effort, including LG Chem, LG Innotek, LG Display and LG Electronics, the latter of which is investing more than $250 million in a Korean facility to support development and manufacturing of Bolt components.
Specifically, according to a list GM provided, LG Chem will supply all of the following systems:
- Lithium-ion Battery Cells and Battery Pack
- Battery Heater
- Electric Drive Motor (to be built from a GM design)
- Power Inverter Module (DC-to-AC conversion)
- Onboard Charger
- Electric Compressor for Climate-Control System
- High-Power Distribution Module
- Accessory Low-Power Module
- Power Line Communication Module (for communication with DC quick-charging station)
- Instrument Cluster
- Infotainment System
"By taking the best of our in-house engineering prowess established with the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EV, and combining the experience of the LG Group," Reuss said, "we’re able to transform the concept of the industry’s first long range, affordable EV into reality."
Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept
He called the Chevy Bolt EV and its development process "disruptive," which he said was necessary to maintain GM's "leadership position" in vehicle electrification.
In 2009, battery maker LG Chem won the battery "bakeoff" competition to supply cells for the first-generation Volt battery pack.
Two years earlier, LG Electronics had been charged with developing the vehicle communications module for the company's Onstar telematics system.
In May 2014, LG Chem became the cell supplier for the battery of the limited-production Spark EV electric minicar, which can now be viewed as a Bolt EV antecedent.
LG VP Ken Chang on GM-LG Chem partnership on Bolt EV electric car [photo: Jeffrey Sauger for GM]
So GM can work closely with a trusted partner that has delivered in the past--by all accounts, Volt battery durability and reliability have been exemplary.
It can not only speed up the development timeline, but shift significant costs of developing and producing the Bolt EV to a deep-pocketed partner.
During Barra's tenure, General Motors has been disciplined in its spending and has focused on profits rather than volume or market share.
And the wide-ranging partnership could establish a blueprint for similar collaborations in the future.
Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car development prototypes in testing, Jan-Jun 2015 [from GM video]
But the significance here is that one of the world's three largest automakers has contracted out so many key components for a critical future powertrain technology.
It's not unheard of in the electric-car world: Tesla Motors developed the powertrain for the Toyota RAV4 EV, and German supplier Bosch engineered the battery, drive motor, and power electronics for the Fiat 500e.
But both of those vehicles are low-production compliance cars built in numbers just high enough to satisfy California regulators.
The Chevy Bolt EV is expected to aim for a volume of 25,000 or more in its first full year of production, and potentially higher in future years.