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General Motors' Future EVs Will Be Powered by a Family of 5 New Interchangeable ‘Ultium Drive' Units

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【Summary】U.S. automaker General Motors (GM) shared an update today on its new Ultium electric vehicle powertrains, which will power the automaker's future electric vehicle line up. The Ultium powertrain family includes five different units which are configurable for rear wheel, front wheel and all-wheel-drive electric models.

FutureCar Staff    Sep 16, 2020 10:30 AM PT
General Motors' Future EVs Will Be Powered by a Family of 5 New Interchangeable ‘Ultium Drive' Units
GM's five new Ultium powertrains will power a variety of new electric models.

U.S. automaker General Motors (GM) shared an update today on its new Ultium electric vehicle powertrains, which will power the automaker's future electric vehicle line up. The Ultium family of powertrains include five different units and three electric motors which are configurable for rear wheel, front wheel and all-wheel-drive electric models. 

The five new powertrains and three electric motors will collectively be called "Ultium Drive." 

The Ultium family also includes two powertrains designed for GM's future electric pickup trucks and SUVs, including a front or rear wheel drive powertrain and a dual motor version for all-wheel-drive electric trucks. 

The Ultium Drive units will be mated to one of the three new electric motors GM has developed for its EVs. The three motors are interchangeable depending on the vehicle setup. These motors within Ultium Drive are expected to offer industry-leading torque and power density across a wide spectrum of different vehicle types, GM said.

The interchangeable electric powertrains will allow GM to build many new electric vehicles more efficiently, as the Ultium powertrains, including the electric skateboard platform they will be installed in, will standardize many of the electronics and components and allow GM to build more cost efficient electric vehicles. 

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General Motors revealed its Ultium modular EV platform and battery system at its tech center in Warren, Michigan in March. (Photo: Steve Fecht, General Motors)

The Ultium Drive family will provide significant advantages over GM's previous EVs in performance, scale, speed to market and manufacturing efficiencies, the company said. 

Although many of GM's future EVs might look different on the outside, they will all share one of the five Ultium powertrains, which will allow GM to streamline and scale more cost efficient production.

The new Ultium Drive family combines electric motors and single-speed transmissions in a single unit which are powered by GM's new Ultium battery cells to apply power to wheels. GM will lead the design and development of Ultium Drive's modular architecture. 

GM says its Ultium Drive will be more responsive than its internal combustion equivalents with precision electronic torque control of each motor independently for smooth performance. 

GM has extensive experience in developing powertrains for internal combustion engine vehicles and has supplied its powertrains to other automakers in the past, including German automaker BMW. GM's expertise in powertrain development will carry over to its Ultium Drive.

"GM has built transmissions for many notable automakers," said Ken Morris, GM vice president, Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Programs. "Making motors, transmissions, driveline components and systems are among GM's best-known competencies, and our manufacturing expertise is proving not only transferable but advantageous as we make the transition to EVs."

GM unveiled its new Ultium batteries in March at the company's "EV Day.". The batteries for GM's new Ultium powertrains will be built in a new joint venture between GM and South Korean battery maker LG Chem, which supplies the batteries for the Chevy Bolt EV.

LG Chem is one of the world's biggest suppliers of EV batteries to the auto industry, along with South Korea-based Samsung, Panasonic and China's CATL.

GM and LG Chem are investing up to $2.3 billion in the equally owned joint venture company. The companies are building a battery cell assembly plant in Northeast Ohio where the Ultium battery cells will be produced.

Another goal of the GM and LG Chem partnership is to reduce the costs of batteries through economies of scale. Currently, the high cost of batteries is a major barrier to EV adoption, making electric vehicles more expensive than internal combustion engine models.

However with its new battery factory and GM's more cost efficient EV architecture powered by its new Ultium batteries, the automaker will be able to produce a lineup of more affordable electric vehicles, which might help the company gain some ground on segment leader Tesla.

GM's Ultium Drive family of powertrains is part of the automaker's $20 billion investment in electrification by 2025, including EV architecture development, battery cell development and investments in EV charging infrastructure. 

The automaker is aiming to transform itself into a zero-emissions company and Ultium Drive family of powertrains is a big step towards that goal.

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