GM Vehicle Technologies

GM Vehicle Technologies and the Path to Success

GM engineers are continuously reinventing the automobile, developing advanced technologies that lead to improved fuel economy, less emissions and a reduced dependence on petroleum. Whether you’re a student shopping for an economic subcompact or a farmer needing a powerful yet efficient pickup, you’ll find vehicle offerings as diverse as our customers. That’s why we don’t have bids on just one winning technology. You can choose from vehicles powered by gas, diesel, biofuels and electricity.

Our goal is to put our customers in a vehicle that not only satisfies their needs, but provides a fun driving experience. We look at what customers want and marry technologies that help them get it. And we’ve been doing it for over 100 years.

For example, GM’s electric vehicle production history dates back to 1912 when 682 electric trucks were produced with lead-acid and Edison nickel-iron batteries were offered. It wasn’t until the 1960’s when electric propulsion systems re-entered the product development world as a solution to growing concern about pollution and the environment. Additionally, state and federal government regulations caused automakers to revisit their alternate fuels strategies on an ongoing basis. It was an era where the industry saw an evolution of non-petroleum-based propulsion systems and battery technology. GM led the way with innovative solutions.

The Electrovair was developed in 1964 as a conversion of the popular Chevrolet Corvair. The engine and transmission were removed and replaced with electric system components. It had a pioneering 90 HP AC induction motor and a 450-volt silver-zinc battery. It tested the feasibility of electric power for passenger cars and whether the batteries would provide enough power.

The Electorvair II was announced in 1966. It was more powerful than the Electrovair I with 115-HP and 532 volts. Its silver-zinc batteries enabled a top speed 80 MPH and a range 40-80 miles.

In another example of GM technical leadership, the company partnered with Boeing in the late 60’s and early 70’s to build electric vehicles for NASA’s Apollo program. Three of these vehicles are still on the moon! The 1977 Electrovette was the next conversion of a production vehicle, the Chevy Chevette, into an electric vehicle. This car incorporated new nickel-zinc battery technology. The Electrovette is noteworthy as it convinced GM to launch a program to design and develop a production vehicle from this conversion concept.

The late 1970’s and 80’s were marked by GM’s focus on improved battery technology to increase electric vehicle performance and driving range.

And then on January 3rd 1990 at the Los Angeles Auto show everything changed. GM’s introduction of the all-electric Impact received a phenomenal response. It was immediately recognized as having a very high potential for success and catapulted GM into the electric car spotlight. The Impact’s electronic propulsion system was revolutionary and GM quickly extended this technology to other GM concept cars for testing and development during the 1990’s. The Impact’s systems were tested in converted Geo Storms and Lumina APVs, the HX-3 hybrid-electric show car, Opel Astra wagons (Impuls I and II) and the Chevrolet S-Series pickup truck prototype.

In 1997 the Impact became the EV1. The EV1 was the first mass-produced electric vehicle in modern times from a major automaker. It was designed from the ground up to be an electric vehicle, not a conversion of an existing vehicle. Over 1,000 units were produced and leased to customers in California and the southwest. EV1 lessees were officially participants in a "real-world engineering evaluation" and market study into the feasibility of producing and marketing a commuter electric vehicle. The test in select U.S. markets was undertaken by GM's Advanced Technology Vehicles group. After the market test, the EV1 program was discontinued.

After the EV1, GM continued to pursue its strategy of developing and testing a diverse range of technologies and brought them forward in distinctive concept vehicles. These included the 2000 Precept, 2001 HydroGen1, 2002 AUTOnomy, 2002 Hy-wire, 2004 HydroGen3.

Fuel cells continued to be part of GM's advanced vehicles strategy. The Sequel was an innovative fuel cell vehicle introduced in 2005 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was the first vehicle in the world to successfully integrate a hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system with a broad menu of advanced technologies such as steer-and brake-by-wire controls, wheel hub motors, lithium-ion batteries and a lightweight aluminum structure. It used clean, renewable hydrogen as a fuel and emitted only water vapor. Compared to other fuel cell vehicles of its day, Sequel had an unprecedented range of 300 miles between fill-ups and spirited acceleration, attaining 60 mph in just 10 seconds.

A precursor to the Sequel was actually the 1966 Electrovan, a converted GMC van which utilized a "hydrogen oxygen fuel cell," and had a maximum range of 100 to 150 miles. GM built the Electrovan with the same solid state engineering and drive motor as the Electrovair II.

Fuel cell technology was introduced in a number of prototype vehicles primarily in conjunction with municipal and corporate fleet customers. However, through the Project Driveway program GM provided 100 2007 Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell vehicles to real-world consumers. It was the world’s largest fuel cell vehicle fleet ever assembled. It was the first meaningful market test of fuel cell vehicles anywhere. A variety of drivers – in differing driving environments – operated these vehicles and refueled with hydrogen in three geographic areas: California, the New York metropolitan area and Washington D.C.

On the heels of the fuel cell market test GM announced its next new electric concept, the 2007 Chevrolet Volt. The Volt brought in a new era of electrification of the automobile by creating a new class of vehicle known as the Extended-Range Electric Vehicle, or E-REV.

The E-REV was significant because vehicle propulsion technology had not changed in more than 100 years. Vehicles operate in pretty much the same fashion as when Karl Benz introduced the horseless carriage in 1886. Today, while mechanical propulsion will be with us for many decades to come, GM sees a market for various forms of electric vehicles, including fuel cells and electric vehicles using gas and diesel engines to extend the range. With our new E-flex concept, we can produce electricity from gasoline, ethanol, bio-diesel or hydrogen.

The Chevrolet Volt is just the first variant of the E-flex System. The heart of the Volt is the Voltec electric propulsion system, which combines battery-only electric driving with an efficient, gas-powered engine giving the Volt up to 379 total miles of driving before having to recharge the battery or fill up the small gas tank. The Volt can be fully charged by plugging it into a 110-volt outlet for approximately six hours a day. Moving quickly from concept to reality, the Volt became the only mass produced U.S.-built electric vehicle.

Within the framework of GM's vehicle electrification strategy, and following the U.S. market introduction of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid vehicle in late 2010, the Chevrolet Spark EV was released in June 2013 as the first all-electric passenger car marketed by General Motors in the U.S. since the EV1 was discontinued in 1999.

In 2014 Cadillac launched its version of the Extended-Range Electric Vehicle, the Cadillac ELR. With similar technology as the Volt, the ELR combined electrification with Cadillac luxury and style. The vehicle was born from the 2009 Converj concept vehicle.

GM’s commitment to the Extended-Range Electric Vehicle approach continues with the launch of the 2016 Chevrolet Volt. The new Volt is 100 pounds lighter, offers 50 miles of EV range, offers greater efficiency and provides stronger acceleration. It delivers a driving range of more than 400 miles.