On Tuesday, April 5, General Motors and Honda Motor Company made a joint announcement that they would be developing a new kind of electric car: an affordable one. The two companies have a plan for an EV that will be sold into the millions of units around the world beginning in 2027. The modular architecture of the planned sub-$30,000 EV will allow it to be sold in multiple variants, including the ever-popular compact crossover SUV.
Honda and GM, along with LG Chemical, have already developed a partnership on electric vehicles, working together to develop the next generation of battery technology, dubbed Ultium. This new project is an extension of that partnership. “GM and Honda will share our best technology, design and manufacturing strategies to deliver affordable and desirable EVs on a global scale, including our key markets in North America, South America and China,” General Motors CEO Mary Barra said in a statement.
Here’s what to know about the battery tech, the planned new vehicle, and how much EVs tend to cost today.
The battery technology
One of the major benefits to the Ultium platform, as it compares to other types of battery electric vehicle power cells, is its modularity. Ultium cells can be packaged vertically or horizontally, giving engineers flexibility in designing a battery pack to fit the available space in a vehicle.
Ultium makes use of a pouch-type battery, as opposed to a cylindrical cell. This method of making batteries is generally more space- and resource-efficient than a typical metal-cased battery cell, which is used in many other electric vehicles, including Tesla. An automaker can fit more batteries in a smaller footprint, which when combined with its modularity, means that General Motors has more design freedom to make an EV look truly unique. Pouch batteries are also typically thought of as being safer, as the battery will “bulge” in its pouch when it fails, rather than exploding from its metal casing as a standard battery cell failure might.
But by far, the biggest benefit to a pouch-style Ultium battery pack is that it simply costs less to manufacture. General Motors has been selling mainstream vehicles with electric battery packs for over a decade. When the first Chevrolet Volts left the assembly line in 2010, its series hybrid battery pack cost GM over $1,000 per kilowatt hour of storage capacity. According to the company today, Ultium can be produced over ten times more efficiently, with each kWh of battery storage capacity now under $100.
These vehicles will also be in the “compact class,” according to the companies. A smaller and lighter vehicle should not only be less expensive to buy at the beginning, but also more efficient to operate, allowing the car to travel more miles per kWh of onboard battery storage. General Motors and Honda will have the hard job of determining where the sweet spot of vehicle price, battery size, efficiency, and range are best for potential consumers.
The first vehicle to be delivered using Ultium technology is the mammoth GMC Hummer EV, followed closely by Cadillac’s Lyriq crossover and the BrightDrop Zevo 600 commercial delivery van. The plan for Ultium, since it was announced, has been to spread this technology far and wide across the GM and Honda lineup of vehicles. GM’s current electric compact Bolt predates Ultium, though it pioneered the use of pouch-style batteries for the company.
The cost of EVs today
As average transaction prices continue to climb at dealerships, it is somewhat surprising to hear any manufacturer working on a car with an under-$30,000 list price, let alone one powered by electricity. The average price paid for a non-luxury car at the end of 2021 was in excess of $43,000.
For EVs, one estimate pegs their average cost at more than $56,000. The least expensive Tesla Model 3 costs $46,990 without options, and Ford’s Mustang Mach-E SUV starts at $43,895. Making EVs more affordable is absolutely key to mass adoption of this technology.
By sharing resources, committing to large scale investment, and using non-standard construction practices to drive down the price, Honda and General Motors might have possibly found a way to make EVs more accessible to more people, if the joint venture project pans out.