For as long as automakers have been making cars, they’ve been sharing ideas, components and sometimes even entire vehicle platforms with one another. Sometimes, that sharing comes as the consequence of a joint agreement between two or more usually rivaled companies in order to reduce the financial risk of developing a new platform or technology. Sometimes that comes in the form of a straight-forward licensing agreement in which one automaker agrees to let a rival firm use a specific design, component or technology in exchange for a stakeholding in its rival, a comparably-priced item it needs for its own vehicles, or cold hard cash.
In the world of future car technology, we’ve already seen such relationships occur. Outside of the ongoing relationship between the Renault-Nissan alliance, in which both companies share a great deal of vehicle technology as part of a mutual share in the each other’s firms, we’ve seen BMW and Toyota share diesel, hydrogen and hybrid technology, Daimler and Renault-Nissan share vehicle platforms, and Honda and GM collaborate on hydrogen fuel cell tech. And that’s before we even mention the partnerships in which Tesla designed and built electric vehicle drivetrains for Mercedes-Benz and Toyota.
In short, when an automaker has a particular expertise or technology that others want, they’ll happily sell it on for the right price. So when we tell you that General Motors says it is ready to consider licensing the second-generation Voltec drivetrain that powers the 2016 Chevrolet Volt, we suspect you won’t be surprised.
According to Automotive News (subscription required), the Detroit automaker says it’s willing to consider licensing the Volt’s drivetrain and battery pack to other automakers, a move which could not only reduce the per-unit cost of each Volt it makes but also secure its technology as the go-to solution for automakers who have yet to bring a plug-in hybrid or range-extended electric car to market.
“We want to be the partner of choice in propulsion system development in this complex and turbulent era we are approaching,” GM global powertrain chief Dan Nicholson told the industry publication, admitting that doing so would help GM recoup some of the costs associated with developing the next-generation plug-in.
“We have a history of being a good partner,” he continued.
As Automotive News notes, the willingness of GM to sell its Voltec drivetrain to rivals could be great news for a whole host of mid- and low-volume automakers like Subaru, Mazda and Jaguar Land Rover, all of which have yet to bring any form of plug-in cars to market. With ever-tightening emissions and corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) requirements, these automakers will have to bring plug-in and electrified vehicles to their lineups for the first time, or face the monetary consequences of not doing so.
Automotive News also lists Fiat Chrysler and Mitsubishi as automakers which could benefit from GM’s experience in the range-extended electric vehicle marketplace, but we should point out that both Fiat Chrysler and Mitsubishi already have their own plans to bring plug-in hybrids with all-electric ranges of around 30 miles per charge to market in the next twelve months. That said, neither the plug-in hybrid drivetrain being planned for the next-generation Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivan nor the AWD-capable plug-in hybrid drivetrain of the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander can compete on the same level as GM’s new Voltec drivetrain.
There’s a difference worth noting too between the different drivetrains. Both the Fiat Chrysler and Mitsubishi drivetrains make use of smaller electric motors, offering limited all-electric range around town and relying on the internal combustion engine to provide additional power when absolutely necessary. When operating at higher speeds, both the Outlander PHEV and Pacifica plug-in minivan will prefer gasoline power over electricity.
GM’s Voltec drivetrain is the opposite, using the electric motor exclusively for all of the car’s power requirements in all but the most extreme of conditions. It also has a much longer range — 53 miles per charge — than either of Fiat Chrysler or Mitsubishi solutions, at least when paired with the LG-Chem battery pack GM is using in the Volt.
Which brings us to an interesting point. While GM is interested in selling the 1.5-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine, electric motors and power electronics that fit under the hood of the 2016 Chevrolet Volt, it isn’t clear if GM would assist rivals in finding a suitable battery pack for use with that setup. Even if a rival automaker purchased the drivetrain then, it would likely still have to find its own battery pack to match up with GM’s power plant.
And that could lead to some interesting developments. After all, the Voltec drivetrain has been built for a compact car. Use the same powerplant in a larger vehicle — there’s enough power present to do that — and a rival could end up with a car that outperforms the 2016 Volt.
We’ll be paying close attention to see just who approaches GM with a view to purchasing its technology — and as soon as we know, you will too.
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