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Cadillac boasts battery system

By: Rhoda Miel

January 22, 2013

DETROIT — General Motors Co. introduced its take on the electric car to the auto market with its Chevrolet Volt — and the Volt's award-winning lithium-ion battery system.

Now GM is taking the Volt's electric drive upstream in the 2014 Cadillac ELR, while still boasting of the system's ability to ease an electric-car driver's "range anxiety."

The ELR, introduced Jan. 15 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, combines the plug-in electric drive battery system with a backup gasoline-powered generator, allowing car drivers to get up to 300 miles out of their cars.

ELR will use the same electric vehicle architecture as the Chevy Volt, including its 135 individual, prismatic, lithium-ion battery cells, in which each cell is housed inside an injection molded frame. Each battery pack uses 37 pounds of plastics.

As part of a Cadillac product, the architecture also will become part of a key marketing element by getting electric power into a new class of vehicles — luxury cars.

"We're bringing it to a whole new audience," said Hampden Tener, product director with Cadillac.

The Volt — like its European counterpart, the Opel Ampera — and competitors like Nissan's Leaf have been marketed as being commuter cars for families. The all-electric Tesla, meanwhile, is a sports car, although Tesla will bring out a sedan later this year.

The ELR brings all the traditional luxury car styling and details with leather seats, navigation systems, wood and carbon- fiber interior trim and LED headlights; but, the ELR also allows environmentally minded premium-car buyers to drive 35 miles solely on electric power. The on-board generator kicks in after that to power the batteries, bringing total mileage up to 300 miles.

"Part of the selling feature for Cadillac is that there are no compromises, and with the [electric architecture], there are no compromises on driving range either," Tener said.

GM has added regenerative braking to the ELR to help it cover the usage demands of the additional electronics on board a Cadillac.

The Volt power system has had its detractors, but GM sold more than 23,000 of them in 2012, up from 7,600 in 2011. By comparison, Corvette — GM's other low-volume, high-visibility vehicle — sold about 14,000 vehicles in 2012.

"Technology like this always has to build itself up first," said James Peterson, market development manager for polyurethane systems at BASF Corp. Florham Park, N.J.-based BASF supplies the nylon used by Mann + Hummel GmbH to mold the lithium-ion battery frames. "The challenge right now is to combine the technology at a price that justifies it."

Although Detroit-based GM has not announced a price yet for the ELR, which will go on sale in early 2014, the higher price point for a Cadillac compared to a Chevrolet should help with the production costs on the electric drivetrain.

More exposure for GM's powertrain system, along with plug-in and hybrid electric vehicles throughout the auto industry, will continue to build comfort for alternatives to traditional internal combustion engines, added Mark Minnichelli, director of technology and development for engineering plastics at BASF.