General Motors Co. GM +1.43% is dropping a lithium-ion battery from a popular midsize sedan in favor of a less-costly lead-acid battery, a move that highlights the tension between high technology and high cost in the auto market.
The 2014 Chevrolet Malibu uses a "start-stop" system with a lead-acid battery to improve fuel economy and achieve the same fuel economy as the older model, which used a lithium-ion battery-based eAssist technology to boost mileage. The new technology is standard on all 2014 models; EAssist was a $1,500 option on 2013 Malibus.
The Malibu's new stop-start system uses a lead-acid battery in the trunk—no bigger than a half-gallon box of ice cream—and a larger lead-acid battery under the hood to turn off the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine when the vehicle is stopped or idling. The engine restarts when a driver pulls their foot off the brake.
GM's move highlights the challenges auto makers and manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries are facing as they try to push electric vehicle technology into mainstream, high-volume cars. GM and its rivals originally viewed lithium-ion batteries as the foundation of hybrid power systems that could substantially improve the mileage of gasoline-fueled cars.
On Wednesday, Chevrolet marketing Vice President Chris Perry said, "We found we could get the same results from a less expensive technology and at the same time save the customer money." He added the fuel-saver "won't work in all cases, but we are looking at our other vehicles to see where we can use start-stop."
GM's move is a blow to the lithium-ion battery industry, which is already is suffering because of lack of demand for electric vehicles. Toyota Motor Corp. 7203.TO +0.94% on Wednesday said it is cutting the starting price of its 2014 Prius Plug-in hybrid to $29,990, more than $2,000 less than the 2013 model. Through the end of September, Toyota had sold just 7,974 Prius plug-ins, down 2.6% from the same period a year ago.
While luxury electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. TSLA +3.34% has reported strong demand for its $70,000 and up Model S sedans, mainstream car makers such asNissan Motor Co. 7201.TO +1.31% and General Motors Co.'s Chevy brand have been slashing prices on plug-in models in an effort to lift sales.
Hybrid battery factories in the U.S. are running at between 15% and 20% of capacity, one executive recently estimated. Several large makers, including A123 Systems LLC and Johnson Controls Inc. have shifted their businesses to supplying batteries for hybrid systems and start-stop systems. The fact that GM isn't planning to use lithium-ion in its system could further undercut demand.
Ford Motor Co. F +1.06% already uses a start-stop system on its new Fusion sedan. It is a $295 option that Ford says can improve fuel economy by up to 10% in city driving.
GM began touting eAssist technology as a fuel-saver in 2011, when it began offering the technology in a handful of vehicles. The company promoted eAssist as a mild hybrid system that uses a 115-volt lithium-ion battery and a 15-kilowatt electric motor.
GM last May recalled 38,197 Malibu, Buick LaCrosse and Buick Regal sedans equipped with eAssist systems to fix a defect the company said could lead to overheating or even fires in the circuitry that controls the system.
GM executives said one reason why they're now ditching the eAssist option in the Malibu is that the lithium-ion battery took up about 25% of the car's trunk space. High voltage electric cables that ran through the skeleton of the vehicle and additional hardware in the engine compartment raised the system's cost. Malibu chief engineer Todd Pawlik said among sedan buyers trunk space is a prime concern.
GM likely will continue using eAssist in larger, heavier vehicles such as the Chevrolet Impala and Buick Regal, company executives said.
GM is betting big that start-stop technology will be desirable for Malibu customers, opting to have the system work automatically without giving drivers buttons to turn it on or off.
"There is no doubt that we are going all in on this," he said.
GM needs the changes to gain quick traction with customers. U.S. Malibu sales in 2012 reached 210,951. This year through the end of September, Chevrolet has sold just 154,950 Malibus, trailing rivals such as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The 2014 Malibu comes with a revamped exterior and interior look, made over in response to sluggish sales during the 18 months since the current generation of the car was launched.
The 2014 model offers more legroom, a new front-end look and other technology features, such as a system that allows the driver to hear incoming texts read by an artificial voice over the audio system.
GM created new type of battrey system which name is start-stop. GM use this system in Malibu model. The Malibu's new stop-start system uses a lead-acid battery in the trunk—no bigger than a half-gallon box of ice cream—and a larger lead-acid battery under the hood to turn off the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine when the vehicle is stopped or idling. The engine restarts when a driver pulls their foot off the brake.
Electric car industry get more and more competition. There are full electric cars, hybrid cars, and luxury electric cars such as Tulsa. Moreover, the german car company have plan to start new produce line for electric cars. Now, GM has advantage of this system but not for long time, if the other companies make combine to produce a better car. GM should allow the other companies use its system and get percentage of their sales or at least buy the parts from them like what Samsung does with their screens. Througt this way GM stopping other company invest large amount in research and development in this field (cost barryier).