By on March 7, 2013

While other carmakers, including electric pioneer Nissan,  are downgrading their EV euphoria, GM’s CEO Dan Akerson suddenly sounds uncharacteristically gung-ho on the issue. At an industry conference, he says GM is working on developing an electric car that has a range of as much as 200 miles.

“There will be breakthroughs in battery technology, they’re on the horizon,” Akerson said at the IHS CERAWeek energy conference, while Bloomberg was taking notes. “We’re actually developing a car today which is really anathema to the way the auto industry works: We’re running a dual play on the technology to see which one will succeed. One will result in a 100-mile range, the other will be a 200-mile range.”

Even the true believers at GM-Volt are skeptical. Said one commenter:

“Musk talk from Akerson. Sounds like the battery experiments have not crashed and burned yet. Or just get a Model S today.”

I have talked to several large OEMs, and none of them sees a battery breakthrough on the horizon, at least not on an horizon that is visible with the naked eye. Toyota and BMW are collaborating on a lithium air battery, but they aren’t sure whether it will work at all.

Both a 100 mile and a 200 mile EV can be built today. Just load a lot of batteries in it, then, charge a lot. In all senses of the word.

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29 Comments on “Dan Akerson Sounds Like Musk...”


  • avatar
    doctor olds

    Vehicle electrification is inevitable. Resistance is futile!

  • avatar
    cwallace

    “We’re actually developing a car today which is really anathema to the way the auto industry works: We’re running a dual play on the technology to see which one will succeed. One will result in a 100-mile range, the other will be a 200-mile range.”

    So only half of the effort going into this is expected to be successful? And you can’t tell which half that will be, even though one target is twice as ambitious as the other? Talk about hedging your bets.

    This is anathema to the way the auto industry, or any industry, works because dividing your R&D team in half and pitting them against each other a waste of resources.

    • 0 avatar
      serothis

      It worked for apple in the 90′s, sort of. It tore apple’s development team apart but it worked in that it resulted in the macintosh.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      It is a very popular development technique – at least outside of the automotive industry.

      As noted, Apple did/does it. Microsoft use to do it (they stopped doing it about 8 years ago). It is very common in R&D to have multiple teams trying to solve the same complex question. The best idea wins.

      Rarely do all the products go to full prototype – typically you reach a point where one idea is more economical viable, elegant, better designed, works better, etc. etc. and the other idea is killed.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      @cwallace- If you know how to pick the leading technology as implied by your presumptuous criticism, please send me the winning lotto numbers.

      GM spends about $8B a year on research and development. Not every project will turn out. That is true for R & D. How many ways did Edison find how Not to make a lightbulb?

  • avatar

    Oh Dan. If gas is $2 in two years — and there is a decent chance that it will be — this is going to be… fun to watch.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      If gas is $2 a gallon in two years the US energy boom will completely collapse. Fracking ain’t cheap – and you need $3.50 to $4.50 a gallon gasoline to support the development.

      If the prices drop below the point to where extraction makes sense, the oil companies stop extracting.

      Happened many times before, most recently the oil crash of 1986 and the price collapse in 1998.

      Gas will never, EVER, be $2 a gallon again. *

      *In terms of real dollars, if you want to get pedantic and adjust for inflation on prices today for prices tomorrow…

      • 0 avatar
        dartman

        Never EVER is a long time. The estimated break even price for a bbl (42 gallon)of So. Tx Eagle Ford crude fracked is $45 to $50 per bbl and the cost of production is dropping steadily. the original wells took 30-45 days to complete. Some are now being done in 8-10 days.

        A bbl of crude pruces the following product:

        Gasoline 19.3 (gallons)
        Distillate Fuel Oil (Inc. Home Heating and Diesel Fuel)9.83
        Kerosene Type Jet Fuel 4.24
        Residual Fuel Oil 2.10
        Petroleum Coke 2.10
        Liquified Refinery Gases 1.89
        Still Gas 1.81
        Asphalt and Road Oil 1.13
        Petrochemical Feed Supplies 0.97
        Lubricants 0.46
        Kerosene 0.21
        Waxes 0.04
        Aviation Fuel 0.04
        Other Products 0.34
        Processing Gain 2.47

        Source: EIA March 2004 Data

        The first thee items alone if sold at a wholesale price of $2/gallon comes to $66.74; do the math.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          but we don’t set the price, as long as the US dollar is weak there is simply no way. It isn’t what the US market will bare, it is what the global market will. If US consumers won’t pay the price, export it. Refined fuels have become our biggest export in terms of dollars, other markets are willing to pay more. There is almost a billion barrels of refined product over-capacity in the United Stares, and we’re exporting out over 750 million barrels of refined fuels a year now. So much so that last year we became a net exporter of refined products.

          If the price crashes, big oil will go where production is cheaper. It just makes business sense.

          $2 a gallon gas? I would love to be wrong!

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            “I would love to be wrong!”

            Then I won’t stop you.

          • 0 avatar
            dartman

            With all due respect…you are making my point…As a (greedy) royalty owner I dearly hope you are right, but I think the the whole energy dynamic has been turned on it’s head by technology (sound familiar?) and with the US quickly heading towarding becoming the #1 world producer of crude by 2020 I think you are wrong…which is good for everyone.

            What does that mean for the EV industry? If the US utility industry embraces cheap natural gas as a reliable fuel source for electricity generating powerplants, and they decide to invest in a true re-charge infrastructure for end users, then the EV future is bright; if the same powers that be decide to invest in an infrastructure of cheap NG re-fueling stations (think of the Eaton $500 home NG compressor) then the IC camp will continue to rule. In either case, US based manufacturers either domestic or foreign will be well positioned to be first mover and top dog in the industry going forward…

          • 0 avatar
            geozinger

            ” If US consumers won’t pay the price, export it. Refined fuels have become our biggest export in terms of dollars, other markets are willing to pay more. There is almost a billion barrels of refined product over-capacity in the United Stares, and we’re exporting out over 750 million barrels of refined fuels a year now. So much so that last year we became a net exporter of refined products.”

            Thanks for that tidbit of information. I will use this the next time I hear someone cry about how there have been no refineries built in the last 40 years. That and the fact that the US oil companies have been merged to only a few players and have no NEED for further refineries…

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Getting back to $2 a gallon gas would be easier if the crude, refining and final gas price weren’t taxed so much. In California, the state, Federal and excise tax on a retail gallon is 72.4 cents. Texas taxes crude production at 2.3% to 4.6% of market value, and refineries are so heavily regulated and taxed that there’s no profit in the business. There hasn’t been a major refinery built in America in decades. Technology is wonderful, but taxes and regulation are strong headwinds against $2/gallon gas.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        I wouldn’t say never ever, but the biggest factor preventing a gradual price reduction due to flat demand and improvement in development costs is the frightening pace of inflation. The dollar is just plain worth less than ever and is only getting worse with the continuing expansion of the money supply.

  • avatar

    The Battery problem is the really week spot, until its commercial available, it will not be built, no mater what the CEO Of GM says!

    • 0 avatar

      Tesla’s already building it. There’s no significant technical barrier that would stop GM from rolling out a big heavy $80k Cadillac EV sedan with a 250 mile range. The real question is, would anyone buy it?

      • 0 avatar
        ect

        Probably very few. It’s not just about range, but also recharge time. An ICE vehicle “recharges” in a couple of minutes, so it has flexibility for longer drives. An EV that takes even 1 hour to fully charge (which is far shorter than what is now on the market, IIRC) is only useful as a daily driver in an urban environment. It would certainly not be practical on a road trip.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Let him knock himself out, what does he have to lose? If GM is successful, his stock will rise and he’ll get to say, “See, I told you so!” And if they are not successful, people will pass it off as a typical, “There goes GM again, can’t find their butt with both hands and a flashlight, what were they thinking?”

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    This sounds like the kind of optimistic happy talk that CEOs regularly spout on outlets like CNBC, always intended to paint a rosy picture of some distant future that the CEO can’t/won’t be held accountable for when it fails to materialize. It feeds the stock price (and the CEO’s bonus) but portends next to nothing.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Wise professional move by a guy who knows his ultimate boss sits in the White House. If he is also working on ways to make the company work for the customers (the real ones, not the UAW) then it’s not really all that bad.

    Who am I kidding, how do you short a stock again?

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    If you invented a new battery technology TODAY, it would take a minimum of 10 years to prove it out under real world conditions and to develop a robust manufacturing process. Depending on how you do it, cycling a battery 1000 times could take a year. Change the formula? Cycle again, +one year. Change the manufacturing process? Cycle again; results one year later…

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Sure, but you don’t have to wait until you’ve cycled formula A 1000 times before you change it and start testing Formula B. And there are new, unproven battery technologies being worked on all the time, it’s certainly possible that GM has a couple promising prototypes in the R&D pipeline, although in this case I share Bertel’s skepticism.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    In your dreams!

    You do a couple of years of life-cycle testing along with field testing (cold, hot, city, highway) and so on, you throw it on the market, and see what happens.

    No different than any of today’s automakers – kind of like how us consumers are now testing gasoline direct injection, DEF/Adblue/Urea injection on diesels, Ecoboost, Skyactiv, etc.

    [edit - this comment meant as a reply to the comment above - why do I keep having this problem?]

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    A battery is quite different than urea injection. If you mess it up, they can flame out or explode; people can die. Or you can be sued into oblivion. Ask Fisker about the impact of a couple of battery incidents–and they were using an already proven chemistry.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    OT: Well, there goes six minutes of my life I will never get back (CNBC interview)… What did that have to do with the topic in the OP? Akerson never once mentioned the battery issue in that interview. Who at CNBC thinks all of the flying dissolves are a good idea when you’re actually trying to pay attention to the inteview itself?

    So, some guy on the Volt board compares Akerson to Musk and we get a whole post out of this?

    Really?

    Really?

    No wonder why this site is becoming less relevant…


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