GM Switches Battery Type For 2013 Chevrolet Spark Electric Car

The battery packs in the electric car Volt are made by LG Chem and use lithium-ion technology. That battery tech is more prone to fire than some other battery technology.

David Walsh writing for Bloomberg News reported that General Motors Co. maker of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid that is the subject of a federal safety probe, is moving to a less volatile battery chemistry for its Chevy Spark electric car going on sale in 2013.

GM will be using phosphate-based lithium ion batteries from Waltham, Massachusetts-based A123 Systems Inc. (AONE) that are less likely to burn than other lithium chemistry, including that used in the Volt model introduced last year, said battery experts and suppliers.

The move by GM and other carmakers to different battery chemistry a year after the Volt and Nissan Motor Co.’s Leaf went on sale highlights how quickly the technology is changing for electric and gasoline electric vehicles.

GM and other companies are engineering future models with lithium phosphate technology partly because the batteries can be safer and last longer, said James Hall, principal of consulting company 2953 Analytics Inc. in Birmingham, Michigan. Battery makers weren’t ready to mass-produce them until recently.

“Lithium phosphate chemistry looks like it could be more friendly in terms of heat management,” Hall said. “But it stores less energy. There is a tremendous amount of new discovery. This is new territory for lithium batteries.”

The Volt, which uses different technology, is being investigated after three batteries caught fire since May following government crash tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s probe isn’t centered on battery cell chemistry, said Randy Fox, a spokesman for Detroit-based GM. The probe is focused on pack design and any fix would likely involve the pack, he said in a telephone interview.