General Motors has shed some light on the reality of its race against the clock to develop and test lithium-ion batteries for its Chevrolet Volt plug-in car, which is scheduled for production in 2010. The automaker announced yesterday that it had created a new computer algorithm to test the batteries, which will be required to propel the four-seater Volt up to 40 miles under electric power alone. According to the project's engineers, the T-shaped prototype battery for the Volt is around six feet long, weighs a hefty 375 pounds, and will be built into the structure of the car, running longitudinally in a central tunnel between the seats. In a tacit acknowledgment of the Volt's ambitious production timetable, the project's chief engineer said that the challenge was to predict 10 years of battery life in just two years of testing time; both GM's testing facilities in the U.S. and Germany are running around the clock to test the durability of the lithium-ion cells.
In tandem with battery development, GM is working on a body design for the Volt that minimizes wind resistance, adding to improved range. Based on work with scale- and full-sized models in aerodynamics laboratories, the current Volt prototype has a drag coefficient 30 percent lower than the original concept. According to GM, the batteries will soon be put into road-going "mules"--probably modified Chevy Malibus--for real-world testing. Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking.