Building a new car takes a lot of time and money, as any auto industry insider will tell you. Traditionally, it can take years for a new car to make the transition from autoshow concept to full-blown production vehicle.
In today’s modern automotive world, things are changing. Cars are more connected to the digital world than ever before. Alternative fuels like electric cars are pushing automakers out of their 100-year long comfort zone of suck, squeeze, bang and blow. And fresh-faced companies like Tesla Motors are tearing down the very walls of established automotive development cycles, leaving any automaker wanting to keep up with its blistering pace of development scrabbling in the dust to churn out cars that offer all the features buyers want at the price they want it.
Yet when it launches its 200-mile 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV next October, General Motors will complete a development cycle which has taken just 20 months to progress from concept car to production vehicle, an astonishingly short time frame given traditional vehicle development practices. But as GM disclosed this week, its super-fast development cycle for the Chevrolet Bolt EV has been made possible by an unprecedented partnership with South Korean company LG Corp which saw the two firms work together on everything from the electric drive motor through to the infotainment system, battery pack and climate control system.
By taking the best of our in-house engineering prowess established with the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EV, and combining the experience of the LG Group, we’re able to transform the concept of the industry’s first long range, affordable EV into reality.GM's Mark Reuss
The two companies are no stranger to working together. Indeed, GM has used LG Corp’s electronics are — LG Electronics — as a tier one parts supplier for its OnStar communications and telematics system since 2007. LG Chem, LG Corp’s battery arm, has been supplying the Detroit automaker with batteries for its plug-in vehicles since the launch of the Chevrolet Volt in late 2010.
For the Chevrolet Bolt EV however, GM extended its partnership to encompass other LG Corp companies, including LG Innotek, LG Electric Vehicle Components, and LG Display in addition to LG Chem and LG Electronics. The result is a vehicle whose primary and secondary electronics systems are heavily developed in partnership between LG Corp and GM.
While GM engineers designed the drive motor that will provide motive power to the Chevrolet Bolt EV, GM won’t be building the motor itself. Instead, it’s outsourced construction of the motor — along with the battery cells and pack, on-board charger, power inverter module, power line communication module and high power distribution module to LG-owned subsidiaries.
These units together encompass the majority of the high-powered electronics systems on the Bolt EV, covering everything from Level 2 and rapid CCS charging capabilities through to ongoing battery management, energy storage and motive power.
The collaboration doesn’t stop there. In addition, LG-Corp companies will produce the Bolt EV’s battery heater, low-voltage power accessory module, infotainment system, instrument cluster and electrically-powered climate control system.
On paper, there’s nothing particularly new about collaboration between established automakers and parts suppliers on vehicle technology, especially when it comes to electric vehicles. Bosch, for example, has worked with several automakers to develop electric drivetrains for limited-production compliance cars, while Renault and other firms have even used LG Chem to help develop battery packs for their cars.
On a completely different level, we should also mention Mercedes-Benz and Toyota, both of whom actually farmed out complete development of their electric vehicle drivetrains for the Smart ForTwo ED, Mercedes-Benz B-Class ED and Toyota RAV4 EV to Californian automaker Tesla Motors.
But in the case of the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the collaboration between LG Corp and GM represents a completely new level of integrated design and engineering work, one which has yet to be seen on a mass-market, full-scale production vehicle destined to be sold in high volumes.
“Chevrolet needs to be disruptive in order to maintain our leadership position in electrification,” said Mark Reuss, GM executive Vice President of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain in an official GM statement earlier this week. “By taking the best of our in-house engineering prowess established with the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EV, and combining the experience of the LG Group, we’re able to transform the concept of the industry’s first long range, affordable EV into reality.”
The move is one which any decent manager will be familiar with: letting experts in their field focus on what they’re best at, while hiring in consultants — or in this case finding a partner — who can provide the things they’re not experts at.
As the development progress made on the Bolt EV also shows, the collaboration also makes it possible for vehicles to be developed far more quickly than it would using traditional ‘in-house’ methods.
The question however that still remains unanswered is this: will it — and the Chevy Bolt EV’s predicted first-to-market lead– be enough to ensure that GM has the edge over Tesla’s upcoming 2018 Model 3 EV and Nissan’s promised second-generation 2018 long-range LEAF?
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