GM Gets Ahead of the Curve on EV Battery Recycling

“GM’s zero-waste initiative aims to divert more than 90 percent of its manufacturing waste from landfills and incineration globally by 2025,” said Ken Morris, GM vice president of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles. This is one effort toward that end.

By Gary S. Vasilash

No one can say that General Motors and its partner LG Energy Solution aren’t being proactive.

The two companies operate a joint venture, Ultium Cells LLC. Ultium Cells will build the Ultium batteries that GM will use in its forthcoming electric vehicles (EVs).

Ultium battery for the GMC HUMMER EV Pickup. Those white slats slot into that container. (Image: GM)

GM’s current EVs—the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Bolt EUV—have lithium-ion batteries, but not Ultium batteries. That’s because the vehicles were developed pre-Ultium.

However, vehicles like the forthcoming Cadillac LYRIQ, which is to become available the first half of 2022, will have Ultium batteries on board.

Ultium Cells announced that it will be working with L-Cycle, a battery recycling company, to, well, recycle the material scrap from battery cell manufacturing.

Cobalt. Nickel. Lithium. Graphite. Manganese. Aluminum.

According to GM, 95% of the reclaimed materials can go into things like new batteries.

Li-Cycle says that the hydrometallurgical process it uses to recycle the materials is more energy efficient than other methods, like high-temperature “smelting” processes.

Which is fitting to what Ultium Cells is up to, as Thomas Gallagher, the company’s COO, said, “We strive to make more with less waste and energy expended.”

And at the very least, it undoubtedly beats the heck out of mining those materials.

The recycling process is scheduled to go on line later this year.

After all, they need to develop batteries so they can develop scrap.

How Many EV Chargers in the U.S.?

If you live in California, there is a reasonably large number. Of course, there is also a reasonably large number of electric vehicles. Chicken or egg?

By Gary S. Vasilash

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are now 25 states that have at least 1,000 non-residential electric vehicle charging units. This means that if you had an electrician come over to your garage and wired it up for a Level 2 charger, it doesn’t count.

Yet for some reason, public and private chargers are counted.

No surprise that California has the most. 36,913 chargers.

Alaska has the least: 69.

Large yet comparatively out-of-the-way states have low numbers, too: 116 in North Dakota and 134 in South Dakota.

Even a small out-of-the-way state, Hawaii, has more than those two continental states combined: It has 784 chargers.

While the number of chargers is on the increase, the whole charging infrastructure is still a challenge for the acceptance of electric vehicles.

And this isn’t even taking the amount of time it takes to charge the average EV in relation to how long it takes to fuel a vehicle that runs on gasoline.

Arrival: The Cleverest EV Company on the Planet?

Making electric commercial vehicles seems to be what several companies are doing. But the approach of this U.K.-based company is unlike what those other companies are doing.

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the more interesting companies in the electric vehicle space is Arrival, a firm that was founded in London in 2015, where it has its HQ, and which has also established a North American HQ in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Arrival is in the business of developing electric vehicles.

Arrival Automotive CEO Mike Ableson. (Image: Arrival)

Initially a bus (start of production: Q4, 2021). Then a commercial van with a payload up to 4,400 pounds (start of production: Q3, 2022). Then a larger van with a payload up to 8,800 pounds (start of production: Q3, 2022). And eventually a small consumer vehicle (start of production: Q3, 2023).

Here’s one thing that makes these vehicles notable: There is a modular structure so the vehicles can be tailored to the specific user and application. While “special builds” generally drive costs, starting with this design approach helps minimize that.

Here’s one thing that makes the Arrival approach notable: Rather than building these vehicles in conventional automotive assembly facilities that have a stamping plant and paint shop, as Mike Ableson, CEO of Arrival Automotive (and 35-year vet of GM, where his last position was vice president of EV Infrastructure, with a variety of advanced technology, strategy and engineering positions before that), points out on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” the Arrival approach, known as “microfactories,” is predicated on establishing a manufacturing facility within what would ordinarily be considered a warehouse.

This is low-volume, regional manufacturing.

It will put its first U.S. microfactory, which will start producing buses later this year, in York County, South Carolina. There will be a second in West Charlotte, North Carolina, where as many as 10,000 electric delivery vans will be built, with production starting in the third quarter of 2022. It has another microfactory in Bicester, UK.

The vehicles have proprietary composite body panels so there is no stamping plant needed. The colors are molded in the material so there is no paint shop. The factory utilizes robotic transport vehicles that move from cell to cell so there are no traditional assembly lines. The assembly is done with mechanical fasteners and adhesives so welding equipment isn’t required.

Ableson points out that batteries are a big cost component of all electric vehicles. He also notes that essentially all OEMs are faced with the same type of battery costs. So, he explains, that the way to keep costs down is not only in establishing production capabilities, but also in designing and engineering the vehicles is such a way that they can minimize overall cost.

The company uses the term “radical impact” in relation to what it is doing.

Arguably, if they pull off what they are undertaking, that won’t just be corporate rhetoric but a true statement.

Ableson talks on the show with Joe White of Reuters, Mike Austin of Hemmings and me.

Then White, Austin and I discuss a variety of other subjects, most of which have to do with vehicle electrification claims and efforts being undertaken by companies including Honda, Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors.

And you can see it all here.

Ford Making a Big Bet on a Sure Thing

Let’s face it: the future of personal transportation isn’t gasoline or diesel fuel

By Gary S. Vasilash

Hau Thai-Tang, Ford chief product platform and operations officer (think of him as the guy who is in charge of product development) points out that the company has announced that it is in the process of investing $22-billion in electrified vehicles through 2025.

And because making a transformation from a dependence on engines that run on liquids to motors that run on electricity is no mean feat, Thai-Tang says that the company is kicking in an additional $185-million, this for developing and equipping a 200,00-square-foot facility that will be known as “Ford Ion Park.”

That’s ion as in a net electrical charge.

The learning lab, which is going to be located somewhere in southeastern Michigan (let’s see: Ford HQ is in Dearborn; it has a Battery Benchmarking and Test Laboratory in Allen Park; it is restoring the Michigan Central train station in Detroit where it will be creating an innovation hub), will be a place where they will be able to not only determine the best ways and means to develop batteries—lithium-ion and solid-state types—but also how to pilot the production of them.

Don’t try this at home! Mary Fredrick, Ford battery validation engineer, and Dane Hardware, Ford design and release engineer, measuring the voltage of a battery at the Ford Battery Benchmarking and Test Lab. (Image: Ford)

There will be some 150 employees (manufacturing, engineering, product development, purchasing, quality, planning) at the site.

Given the success of things like the Mustang Mach-E, which Thai-Tang says is on dealer lots for about a week before it is snapped up by a customer, an inventory turn time that is nothing short of astonishing in an industry that typically has vehicles on dealer lots for a few months, not a few days (although this has been changed by the global microchip shortage that came right on the proverbial heels of the factory shutdowns last year caused by COVID-19), Ford sees that there is a need to get the wherewithal to produce more EVs (an electric Transit is coming later this year; the electric F-150 by mid-22), and so it is creating the capacity that will allow it to ramp batteries faster.

Thai-Tang notes, of the overall drive toward electrification: “We will no longer take an approach of hedging our bets.”

With the billions it is spending, seems like it is pretty much pushing in a lot of chips.

Cadillac Prepares to Produce the LYRIQ

This electric crossover is the start of a new approach at Cadillac

By Gary S. Vasilash

 Cadillac has revealed the production version of what will become the first of its electric onslaught, the 2023 LYRIQ. With the exception of those who are exceedingly focused on such things, the LYRIQ production version looks essentially like the LYRIQ show car.

Jamie Brewer, the vehicle’s chief engineer, says that they were able to accomplish this by working very closely with not only the design team, but manufacturing, as well as the suppliers.

2023 Cadillac LYRIQ. Strange spelling. Cool crossover. (Image: Cadillac)

It is also interesting to note that the vehicle is going to be delivered nine months earlier than had been initially announced. According to Brewer they were able to achieve this through a virtual development process, in which there was extensive digital simulation and testing such that when they did their first pre-production builds there was “high fidelity” between what was expected and what was achieved.

Andrew Smith, executive director of Cadillac Design, and his team certainly had a big challenge in front of them, given that this is the first of the electric vehicles that will define Cadillac’s future.

Smith said he told the design team that they were to develop a “Cadillac that happens to be an electric vehicle.”

He also suggested that they are taking a somewhat different approach to creating models for the brand than some of its competitors do.

“Cadillac is a fashion brand,” Smith says. “Fashion is about change.”

While he says that there are a set of core values and principles, Cadillac design is not about making variants of different sizes and architectures of the same basic thing.

From a functional point of view the LYRIQ has an Ultium 12-module, 100 kWh battery pack and a rear-drive Ultium Platform. Brewer says that the LYRIQ development team and the Ultium development team sat with one another such that they were essentially the same team. She says that by having this close collaboration they were better able to optimize the systems for the vehicle.

The LYRIQ will have an estimated 340 hp and a 300-mile range on a full charge.

It offers high-speed DC fast charging at 190 kW, which means that about 76 miles of range can be achieved in 10 minutes. There is a 19.2-kW home charging module that is capable of providing 52 miles of range per hour of charging.

The vehicle is to start production at the GM plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, in Q1 2022 and become available during the first half of the year. The starting MSRP is $59,990.

According to Rory Harvey, vice president of Global Cadillac, the brand intends that from now on when there are new vehicles developed they, like the LYRIQ, will be EVs, not powered with internal combustion engines.

Of course, that is probably predicated on the acceptance of EVs by the market.

Should the LYRIQ be prelude to what’s to come, they probably won’t have an issue.

The Polestar 2 Expands

New models mean the Polestar 2 is now 3–sort of

By Gary S. Vasilash

The Polestar 2—which comes from a company named “Polestar”—has now become three.

That is, there is the Polestar 2 Launch Edition, an EV with two electric motors. That’s one.

Now there will be two others: One that is the single motor Polestar 2.

The Polestar 2 (Image: Polestar)

Another that is a dual motor Polestar 2.

Which makes three.

Now the Launch Edition has motors on both the front and rear axles. It has a combined output of 408 hp. (Yes, it is an electric vehicle, but people are more familiar with horsepower than kilowatts. For now.)

Then there will be the Polestar 2 with one motor. The motor will be on the front axle. But rather than a motor with an output of 204 hp—as is the case for the Polestar 2 Launch Edition—the output of that motor will be 231 hp.

The third is the dual-motor Polestar 2, which, motor-wise, is like the Polestar 2 Launch Edition, but which can be ordered with different amenities, thereby permitting people to get into it for less than the price (although Polestar has yet to release pricing) of a Polestar Launch Edition.

Sometimes people complain about companies (think Audi or Cadillac) using alphanumerics instead of names.

This is one case where maybe that would be a better idea.

The Lexus LF-Z Electrified Concept Revealed

What took them so long?

By Gary S. Vasilash

It was called the “Lexus Concept Reveal Show,” and the purpose of the show, such as it was,* was to introduce the LF-Z Electrified.

The show was about the car—a design that has the now-familiar Lexus sheet metal angularity but type-wise something of a cross between a four-door sedan and an SUV, which arguably makes it a bona-fide “crossover”—that is to come out in some form (concepts don’t always turn into production vehicles) by 2025 as part of “20 new vehicle models including BEVs, PHEVs, HEVs, and other electric vehicles.”

Well, it sort of has a spindle grille: the Lexus LF-Z Electrified. (Image: Lexus)

Heretofore the focus at Toyota—of which, of course, Lexus is a part—has been on hybrids.

And it was ahead of the rest of its competitors back in 2005 when it launched the RX 400h, a hybrid.

An interesting thing about that: Lexus was ahead with the straight-up RX, which has become a phenomenal success for the brand, out performing not only anything else in its lineup, but vehicles from its competitors. And the hybrid version was something that others didn’t have because they, to a certain extent, thought that diesel engines were the future.

Yet Lexus was there with that hybrid, then made hybrid variants of everything from its performance cars to its compact utilities.

But its full-EV–especially in the blinding-light of Tesla–was nowhere.

The details of the LF-Z Electrified are sketchy. As in “DIRECT4,” a “four-wheel driving force control technology” that sounds as if it is an approach to torque vectoring (the various wheels are controlled such that the appropriate amount of torque is distributed to each depending on conditions). It rides on a specific battery-electric vehicle (BEV) platform.

The battery is placed longitudinally and helps provide a low center of gravity, but what kind of battery it is or how big aren’t revealed.

The interior is said to be minimalist, using a new design concept, “Tazuna,” which is the Japanese word for rein, as in a rider reining in a horse. (Mazda has long used Jinba Ittai in the development of its vehicles: the combination of a rider and horse as one.)

Lexus has to come big with electric vehicles. Audi is rolling out with models right now, Mercedes is ratcheting up its output, BMW has a suite of electrified vehicles and has announced its own BEVs, and even Cadillac is going all in.

Given that Lexus was already providing electrified vehicles back in 2005 makes me wonder what’s been taking it so long.

*While this was about a car, it should not be mistaken for an “auto show,” one of those events held in a municipal convention center or fairgrounds with miles of aisles of displays of new vehicles, an event that was in the process of diminishing in importance before the pandemic. It almost seems as if those shows, where things like concepts were routinely introduced, may be giving way to things of a tightly controlled and digital nature.

Inside the Volkswagen ID.4

A look at the vehicle and the strategy that Volkswagen has for this important electric vehicle

By Gary S. Vasilash

Even though the Volkswagen ID.4 is only now beginning to roll out on American roads (as well as on German autobahns, which one would have imagined would have happened sooner, as the vehicles are built in a plant in Zwickau), people at Volkswagen were evidently certain of the likely success of the electric vehicle as on November 19, 2019, there was a ground breaking for a $800-million, 564,000-sq. ft. facility at the company’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, complex that will be used, in large part, to build EVs, with the ID.4 being the first.

What’s more, they’re in the process of building a plant for assembling battery packs.

Volkswagen ID.4 (Image: Volkswagen)

So to say VW has a lot riding on EVs is not a hackneyed phrase.

What’s interesting about Volkswagen in America is that it has made a decided focus on crossovers.

While there were once the Touareg and Tiguan Limited, it wasn’t as though either of them made much of a dent in the ute market. The Touareg was described as being “the people’s premium SUV” and the Tiguan Limited was, well, limited in its appeal. MY 2017 was the final for both of the vehicles in the U.S.

But VW has subsequently come out with a new Tiguan, the Atlas, the Atlas Cross Sport and the soon-to-arrive Taos. And the ID.4 is also positioned in the utility space.

In 2020 VW sold 325,784 vehicles in the U.S. While it is down 10% from 2019, arguably because of the pandemic, even 2019’s 363,322 units was nothing to necessarily celebrate, especially when you consider, for example, that in 2020 Toyota delivered 430,387 RAV4s. In other words, one vehicle sold nearly 105,000 more units than the entire Volkswagen lineup.

Be that as it may, the SUV lineup is fundamental to the success of VW in the U.S. market as it accounted for 58% of all VW sales in the market. The Tiguan is the only model that had 100,000+ sales in the U.S. in 2020.

So on the one hand, VW wants to sell more SUVs. On the other hand, it wants to sell more EVs. And while the ID.4 is an EV SUV, it still presents a bit of an issue for VW in that it is close to the Tiguan in terms of passenger volume, which is a metric that people pay attention to more than, say, slight differences in wheelbase (the ID.4 has a 108.9-inch wheelbase, which is 0.9 inches shorter than the Tiguan).

A man who has to deal with all of these issues is Hein Schafer, Volkswagen of America senior vice president, Product Market and Strategy.

And he explains what the company is doing regarding the ID.4 in the context of the company’s other offerings on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Schafer also gives insights into features of the electric vehicle and why they are the way they are (e.g., when you climb into an ID.4 with the keyfob, you don’t need to push a button to start the vehicle: you engage the gear selector and just go; Schafer says they took that approach to make the vehicle simple to use, recognizing that people unfamiliar with EVs might have a preconceived notion that driving one is akin to an algebra class or science experiment).

Schafer talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, freelance journalist Sebastian Blanco, and me on the show.

Additionally, McElroy, Blanco and I discuss a variety of other subjects, including the focus other OEMs have on luxury EVs rather than something that is more mainstream like the ID.4, whether sales practices are likely to change as a result of the massive increase in on-line shopping for seemingly everything during the past year, and a whole lot more.

You can watch the show by clicking here.

Developing the 2022 Bolt EUV

If you have any doubt that EVs have a future in an arena mainly populated by things with pistons, watch this show

Rob Mantinan was a self-described “gearhead” growing up in metro Detroit. He had a Camaro when he was in high school. His dad was a UAW worker at a GM facility in Warren. He went to Kettering University. And started right out of school at GM. He has a mechanical engineering degree from the school with a specialization in automotive powertrain. Which is arguably what a gearhead would get.

But then, while working at GM, he pursued a graduate degree and obtained a master’s in energy systems engineering. He was working on things like the Chevy Volt and his focus began to shift.

The Bolt is quick. But probably not faster than an X-Wing. (Image: Chevrolet)

Which makes a whole lot of sense for what he is doing now: Mantinan is the program engineering manager for the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the Bolt EUV.

On the subject of going from one propulsion system to another, he admits, “I got converted pretty quickly,” adding, “I’ve turned from a piston guy to an EV guy. And I can’t see going back—other than as a toy.”

It is certainly good to be a strong believer in what you are doing. It makes doing it all the better and satisfying. And arguably results in a better outcome.

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Mantinan talks about the development and characteristics of the Bolt EUV, which is based on the Bolt EV platform, but stretched in terms of overall length (it is 169.5 inches long vs. 163.2 inches) and wheelbase (105.3 inches vs. 102.4 inches), with most of the addition space being used for rear passenger legroom (39.1 inches vs. 36 inches).

From a styling point of view, Mantinan says that the Bolt EUV is moving the Bolt “to the mainstream”: it resembles more of a crossover than a five-door hatch.

And the Bolt EUV is being offered with tech that is only otherwise available on. . .Cadillacs.

That’s right. On a vehicle that starts under $40,000 Super Cruise Level 2+ tech can be obtained.

One of the topics—which seems to come up whenever EVs are discussed—is the range. The Bolt EUV range is an estimated 250 miles. When asked whether they considered providing enough battery to allow a greater range, Mantinan notes (1) for existing Bolt customers, the range has not been a problem and (2) they wanted to assure that the Bolt EUV was accessibly priced for the buyer who isn’t interested in making the hefty payments that are associated with some other brands: This is a Chevy. (In addition to which, GM will be bringing out an array of EVs—including some with the bowtie on the front—that will be using its Ultium battery technology, but that’s in the future and the Bolts are now.)

Mantinan talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Jeff Gilbert of WWJ-950, and me.

Then the three of us discuss a variety of subjects, including VW’s Power Day, Cruise Automation buying Voyage, Foxconn’s reported EV plant plans, and a whole lot more.

You can see it all here.

Volvo Focusing on What Matters

And it isn’t whether or not there’s free coffee at the dealership

“The future of Volvo Cars is defined by three pillars: electric, online and growth. We want to offer our customers peace of mind and a care-free way of having a Volvo, by taking away complexity while getting and driving the car. Simplification and convenience are key to everything we do.” That’s Lex Kerssemakers, head of global commercial operations, for Volvo Cars.

Volvo announced it will be all-electric by 2030. And that it is launching a line of electric vehicles that will be available online only.

This doesn’t mean that Volvo dealers are going to be looking for something else to do come 2030.

It does mean, however, that there will be some offerings tailored to the ever-increasing number of people who can’t figure why you need to go to a special place to buy something when they have a perfectly good digital device at hand.

“Online and off-line need to be fully and seamlessly integrated. Wherever the customer is in their journey – online, in a showroom, in a Volvo Studio, or driving the car – the customer experience needs to be top-notch,” Kerssemakers added.

That’s what matters.–gsv