Forget range anxiety, one of the big concerns for EV owners is finding a place to plug in – but even as more public charging stations open up, the other question is how long you’ll have to wait until you’re charged back up.
- Early, 240-volt chargers can take the better part of a day, at least if you’ve plugged in a long-range battery-electric vehicle.
- New, high-power “fast chargers” speed things up but can still take an hour or more, depending upon the size of a vehicle’s battery-pack.
- General Motors’ third-generation BEVs could take things to the next level, eventually trimming charge times to as little as 10 minutes.
General Motors’ Chevrolet Bolt EV was one of the first long-range battery-electric vehicles, and the automaker now plans to have at least 20 BEVs in production by 2023. Next to roll out will be a Cadillac SUV set to debut this spring. It will be more than the first Cadillac EV. It also will introduce GM’s next-generation electric drive system, dubbed “BEV3.”
The system will have a number of advantages over Bolt’s platform. It will be flexible enough, GM President Mark Reuss said during a news conference this week, to work with vehicles large and small, while accommodating front, rear and all-wheel-drive, and a wide range of performance and range options.
Quick? Perhaps, but today’s Level 3 quick chargers aren’t quick enough for many potential buyers. (Photo: Getty Images)
But one of the most appealing features could be the system’s ability to slash charge times.
“We’ll be able to reach a 90-percent charge in just 10 minutes,” Reuss told Ride in an exclusive conversation, though such capabilities will be phased in in steps as GM confirms the real-world performance of the new electrical vehicle architecture.
That suggests GM is targeting two significant breakthroughs. While 120- and 240-volt Levels 1 and 2 chargers can completely “fill” a battery, delivering maximum range, today’s fast chargers taper off as they reach 80 percent of a pack’s capacity, power then cut to a trickle.
With the 2020 Bolt, for example, an 80-percent “state-of-charge” would mean having only about 224 miles of usable range available, rather than the EPA-rated 259 miles. The long-range version of the Tesla Model S is cut to barely 300 miles, instead of its EPA-rated 373 miles.
Getting up to 90% of battery capacity — an extra 10-percent SOC — when using a fast-charger would translate into almost 26 additional miles for a Bolt, for example, and 37 miles for the Model S.
Equally significant would be trimming charge times to as little as 10 minutes. That would depend, of course, upon the size of the pack. The more kilowatt-hours onboard, the longer it will take. To get things done so quickly almost certainly requires BEV3 to migrate from today’s 400-volt technology to 800 and possibly, even higher voltages, said Sam Abuelsamid, principal auto analyst with Navigant Research.
The Porsche Taycan will be the first BEV to go with an 800-volt electrical architecture. (Photo: Porsche)
GM won’t be the first at 800 volts. Porsche gets there with the Taycan sports car, Audi expected to follow a year later with its e-tron GT. But Porsche only claims it will get to 80-percent SOC on Taycan – and then only in about 20 minutes.
What secrets GM is working up remains uncertain. Reuss and other GM sources declined to discuss details. But one likelihood has to do with thermal management, said Abuelsamid. Heat is the enemy of lithium-ion batteries, and the better the job of controlling it the faster a pack can be recharged.
There are other ways to change the capabilities of the batteries themselves, Abuelsamid and other experts tell Ride. Different chemical formulations impact charging, as well as the amount of energy a given-sized battery can store. What’s known is that GM is partnering with South Korea’s LG Chem to put up a proprietary, $2.3 billion battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
Super-fast charging will be particularly important for GM’s Cruise Origin, minimizing downtime for the driverless ride-sharing vehicle. (Photo: General Motors)
The new BEV3 architecture will stretch the proverbial envelope in a variety of ways, and GM won’t push to the limits immediately. It’s expecting to reduce charging times and boost quick-charge range in a series of steps as it monitors real world performance of the first models using the new platform. If everything works on the road as well as it has in the lab — and extensive prototype testing — we’ll likely see it hit the 90%/10-minute target within several years.
It wouldn’t be the first time GM has taken this approach. It steadily increased range and performance with the original Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid and then the Bolt EV. And with BEV3 models it will have the ability to update vehicle capabilities using over-the-air updates, much as Tesla has done with its Model S, X and 3.
Industry-wide, manufacturers want to improve the quick-charge experience. Many plan to adopt faster 800 volt technology, though not all, as it’s significantly more expensive. That’s why Ford says it’s sticking with a 400-volt system for its Mustang Mach-E.
Of course, all this will depend on what public charging companies like ChargePoint and Electrify America do. Early Level 3 systems delivered just 50 kilowatts at 400 volts. Most newer systems run at 150 kilowatts or jump to 350 kilowatts at 800 volts. And these companies say their latest chargers are designed to be updated to deliver even more power if the need arises.
WHY THIS MATTERS:
Sure, you might use the extra time at a charger to grab a bite or run to the restroom. But the quicker BEVs can charge the more likely potential buyers will see them as real alternatives to gas-powered vehicles.