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Can a Battery Guru Proper the EV Ship at GM?


The Normal Motors EV program is in turmoil, with the corporate saying delays to beforehand introduced rollouts of vital new battery-powered automobiles whereas churning by govt management. GM’s most up-to-date chief technical officer, Gil Golan, resigned in October after a month on the job. Earlier than him was Kent Helfrich, who changed Matt Tsien in 2021.

The corporate’s first step to getting its Ultium battery and electrical drive program again on observe is the introduced hiring of Kurt Kelty from battery supplies firm Sila Nanotechnologies as GM’s vice chairman of battery. He has his work reduce out for him.

Who Is This Man?

Kelty constructed his credentials as Tesla’s director of battery know-how from 2006 till 2017, the place he oversaw battery cell choice, provider contracts, and high quality management. He additionally led the partnerships and supplies sourcing for Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory battery plant. That included planning, constructing, and managing what he says was the world’s largest battery cell take a look at lab, with the biggest variety of take a look at channels within the U.S., based on his LinkedIn bio.

Earlier than that, he spent 14 years at Tesla’s Gigafactory associate, Panasonic. Till he was employed by GM, Kelty was vice chairman for commercialization for Sila Nanotechnologies, the place he pushed the commercialization of that firm’s silicon anode know-how for lithium-ion batteries. He additionally served as a board member for Auto Motive Applied sciences for 3 years, till Ford purchased that firm in November 2023.

Associated:Normal Motors Slashes Battery Wiring by 90 %

“I am enthusiastic about this chance, primarily due to the huge impression it might have on rising EV gross sales,” Kelty posted on LinkedIn. His background builds a robust case for Kelty’s means to place GM’s battery program again on the proper path.

Robust Task

Kelty is charged with revising GM’s battery cell technique and creating a brand new end-to-end method, together with using uncooked supplies, analysis, creating and investing in new know-how, commercialization of cells and packs, and end-of-life alternatives for batteries. His project, based on GM’s announcement of his hiring is to “extra shortly ship worthwhile, lower-cost, larger performing electrical automobiles to prospects at scale.”

GM has introduced grand manufacturing plans for EVs and aggressive schedules for advancing battery know-how however has missed these targets and delayed schedules. Elon Musk nearly with out exception does the identical factor, however with out ever acknowledging the missed deadlines and usually conveying the impression that he has his fingers crossed each time he publicizes product timelines.

Associated:Chevrolet Bolt’s Time Was Up

Normal Motors, however, appears genuinely shocked to have failed to attain its bold targets. It remembers the previous PC business joke: “What’s the distinction between a automotive salesman and a pc salesman? A automotive salesman is aware of when he’s mendacity.” So whereas Musk seemingly lies on function, GM apparently didn’t know the way robust the challenges have been that it confronted when it made these statements.

Man Plans, and God Laughs

4 years in the past, Normal Motors held a splashy media briefing to point out off its grand plans for shifting to battery-electric automobiles utilizing its Ultium battery and electrical drive structure. Amongst different issues, GM executives defined their plan to drive down battery price from $145 per kilowatt-hour in 2020 to lower than $100/kWh “early within the lifecycle” of its Ultium batteries.

As a substitute, in the course of the intervening years, GM endured the stop-sale of its Chevrolet Bolt EV attributable to battery fires. These batteries weren’t the Ultium design however have been provided by Ultium associate LG Chem. Throughout October’s earnings name with analysts, GM CEO Mary Barra introduced the delay of its Chevrolet Equinox EV, Chevrolet Silverado EV, and GMC Sierra EV pickup vehicles, with a brand new plant devoted to mass manufacturing of these pickups pushed again till late 2025.

Associated:Cadillac Lyriq Reveals New Particulars of GM’s Ultium Battery Know-how

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She additionally walked again forecasts to promote 400,000 EVs in North America from 2022 by mid-2024 and admitted lacking the purpose of promoting 100,000 EVs by the top of 2023. She maintains that GM will nonetheless obtain its said goal of promoting 1,000,000 EVs by 2025.

The firm bought 19,469 EVs in 2023, together with the Brightdrop business supply vans. This quantity has been constrained by GM’s incapacity to fabricate Ultium cells at scale, and 12,551 automobiles in that quantity have been Chevrolet Bolts, which use older, non-Ultium LG Chem cells.

Pouch or Cylindrical Cells?

This factors to Kelty’s largest problem, based on Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for transportation and mobility at Guidehouse Insights. “It is attainable that Kelty will push GM to desert the present Ultium battery modular structure which might lead to lowered prices and particularly weight,” he noticed. “He could even push GM towards adopting cylindrical cells, though that’s hypothesis.”

Ultium batteries use pouch-style cells, although the corporate touted the power to pivot to prismatic battery cells if mandatory. Kelty’s expertise at Panasonic and Tesla is with cylindrical cells that resemble AA shopper batteries. Will Kelty push GM towards cylindrical cells or can he streamline Ultium pouch manufacturing sufficiently for the corporate to be aggressive?

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“His presence alone isn’t any assure that GM/Ultium will be capable of overcome the manufacturing points they’ve had that restrict manufacturing capability,” Abuelsamid stated. “I don’t know sufficient about him to evaluate if he’s received the abilities to push again in opposition to the GM system and resolve the entire points the corporate is having.”

GM’s stated in 2020 that it was investing $20 billion by 2025 to develop its EV know-how and it could be too dedicated to pouch cells to modify now. “I doubt it would occur anytime quickly,” he added. “They’ve invested an excessive amount of in pouch cell strains to desert that proper now and I’m unsure it would present that a lot profit.”

Value Reducing

Within the earnings name, Barra stated that GM is making progress on its said purpose of lowering battery price, citing what she stated has been a 45-percent lower in the price of batteries within the final 12 months. “We additionally count on to attain important margin enchancment on our battery-electric vehicles by engineering effectivity and enhancements, provider prices, and lowering order complexity, buildable mixtures, and manufacturing complexity,” Barra said.

Because of these reductions, VisualCapitalist.com discovered that GM’s battery price for the 2025 Cadillac Escalade is $112.7/kWh, based mostly on knowledge gathered by Benchmark Minerals Intelligence. By comparability, the Tesla Mannequin S’s battery, which makes use of Panasonic cells from the Gigafactory, prices $120.3/kWh.

Industrywide EV battery prices common $139/kWh, based on Statistica, which represents a slight drop from $160/kWh in 2020, when GM introduced its battery roadmap to sub-$100/kWh batteries.

So maybe GM is making progress on the price of Ultium batteries, however weight and manufacturing effectivity stay as the important thing puzzles for Kelty to unravel.



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