CERAWEEK-UPDATE 1-GM targets lower car weight, long-range EVs

Wed Mar 6, 2013 5:22pm EST

By Braden Reddall and Ben Klayman

HOUSTON/DETROIT, March 6 (Reuters) - General Motors Co aims to save fuel by trimming the weight of its vehicles even as it develops electric cars with a driving range of up to 200 miles to eliminate the need for gasoline altogether, the U.S. automaker's chief executive said on Wednesday.

Dan Akerson also revealed at a conference of energy executives and investors in Houston that GM's new Spark EV would have a range of 75 miles to 80 miles (120-129 km) without a charge - double the electric-only range of its Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. The Spark is due to go on sale this summer.

The 64-year-old CEO saw the Spark as basically an urban car because of consumer concerns about what many in the industry call range anxiety - the fear of getting stuck without power on the side of the road.

GM has touted the Volt for its electric driving range of 40 miles that is then augmented by a gasoline engine.

But the company is working on new EVs, including one with a 100-mile range and another with 200-mile range. "If you had a 200-mile range car, that may radically change the calculus," he said at the IHS CERAWeek conference.

Akerson went on to describe a giant inductive pad under development, which could sit in a garage and charge the homeowner's vehicle every night.

Inductive charging technology has not been rolled into any products by GM, but the company did invest $5 million in wireless charging start-up Powermat in 2011.

Apart from making charging easier, improving battery life is another priority for the industry. LG Chem, maker of electric-car batteries, said in October that a new generation of power packs would debut in 2015 with GM.

A spokesman declined to comment further, saying GM would not discuss future vehicle devlopment or technologies.

Regarding the tough European car market, Akerson said the closure of a German plant had put its capacity more in line with demand, but it looked like the European market would decline by 8 percent to 10 percent this year.

LESS WEIGHTY

In the speech, he discussed reduction of vehicle mass by up to 15 percent through the 2016-model year - cars and trucks to be unveiled in late 2015. "A good rule of thumb is that a 10 percent reduction in curb weight will reduce fuel consumption by about 6.5 percent."

Akerson called on President Barack Obama to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to develop a 30-year U.S. energy policy framework with checkpoints every five years.

He said it should include energy producers, labor groups, and energy consumers such as GM, working together to negotiate targets. The U.S. auto industry is already pressing to meet a government requirement for corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon (23.2 km per liter) by 2025.

Last year, GM said it aimed to produce up to 500,000 vehicles a year with some form of electrification by 2017, including the Volt. On Wednesday, Akerson said that would save 12 billion gallons (45.4 billion liters) of fuel over the life of the vehicles GM builds between 2011 and 2017.

Natural gas as a motor fuel represents a "huge and largely untapped opportunity for commercial fleets and long-haul truckers," Akerson said, adding energy diversity was critical.

Nearly every president since Richard Nixon, he noted, has grappled with high oil costs and the solutions have largely consisted of curbing demand via regulation and incentives to speed the adoption of alternative energy. Policymakers have not established a long-term, cohesive energy policy.

In addition to lighter vehicles and more electrification, GM is investing in advanced materials such as nano steels and carbon fiber, deploying clean diesel engines, rolling out such technologies as turbocharging and direct injection, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions in manufacturing, Akerson said.