Chevy Volt takes a step toward reality

GM awards two battery contracts for the Chevy Volt's E-flex power train

Chevy Volt: charging ahead?
Chevy Volt: charging ahead? CNET Networks

When GM unveiled the Chevy Volt at this year's Detroit auto show, it admitted that the electric-powered required a technological breakthrough in battery development for the concept to become a reality. Skeptics suggested that the unveiling was little more than pie in the sky or PR hoopla intended to paint the General in more a more non-electric-car-killing light.

This week, however, GM has gone some way to dispelling that skepticism by awarding contracts to two firms with credentials in the lithium ion battery and automotive industries to come up with a solution to the Volt's power requirements. Compact Power, a subsidiary of LG Chem, and Continental Automotive Systems, a division of Continental A.G, have been tasked with providing lithium batteries for GM's E-Flex range-extender system, the drive train behind the Chevy Volt.

The E-Flex system works by using large lithium ion batteries (charged primarily via a 110-volt AC outlet) to store electricity, which powers the car's electric motor. When the batteries run down, a small onboard internal combustion engine is used to generate more electricity to extend the car's range. To date, however, lithium ion batteries have not been able to meet the power, weight, and durability requirements of such an application. The contracts are not a confirmation that the Volt will be put into production, rather "an opportunity to deeply understand the differing battery technologies before making a production decision," according the GM press release. Still, it's a sign that the Volt might avoid the same fate as GM's EV-1 in the electric-car graveyard.