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GM China shows local R&D prowess at Tech Day as ATC celebrates 10 years

SHANGHAI – General Motors China doesn’t do a whole lot of events, and its senior executives rarely give interviews, unlike its counterparts at other multinational automakers.

Those events are usually handled by its SAIC-GM and SAIC-GM-Wuling joint ventures or Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac and Baojun brands.

But when it does, it always comes with exciting announcements or new production-ready technologies with a lot of “wow” factor.

These usually come with the annual GM China Tech Day held during the summer at GM China’s Shanghai campus. It’s probably the most important and perhaps the only major event held by the U.S. automaker in China each year.

At last year’s event, GM China outlined its path to zero emissions by announcing that it would double the number of new energy vehicles available in the country from 10 by 2020 to 20 by 2023. The media got a chance to check out the battery lab and the entire development, validation, testing and production process of battery systems and learned battery fundamentals such as chemistry and cell design at the GM China Advanced Technical Center (ATC) as well as the Shanghai Battery Assembly Plant, the largest outside the U.S. and operated by SAIC-GM.

This year’s Tech Day, held on July 30, came on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the ATC. So it was all about show and tell of unique technologies that have come out of ATC and put into commercial use in China and worldwide.

GM China established the ATC in 2009 to build world-class technical capability in China, and the facility has brought advanced design, advanced engineering and advanced R&D, complementing engineering and design at PATAC, GM’s JV with SAIC Motor that was established in 1997.

Matt Tsien

“The ATC has an extraordinary team of designers, scientists and engineers. They work side by side to develop advanced mobility solutions and enabling technologies and ultimately deploy them in the real world to benefit our customers in society,” said Matt Tsien, president of GM China.

One of those interesting technologies is the so-called “HuCrAlloy,” which has been applied on the engine mount bracket for the recently unveiled 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and the 2019 model year Cadillac CT6 V-Sport in North America.

Developed by Dr. Hu Bin, senior researcher at the ATC’s Advanced Material and Manufacturing Lab, it has significantly improved material properties in terms of yield strength and elongation. The invention is based on a revolutionary alloy design with the addition of chromium (Cr), hence its trademark name of HuCrAlloy. In 2017, it was officially registered as A379 and A345 with the aluminum association in the U.S. It achieves a 40 percent weight reduction compared with using GM’s other die-cast aluminum materials. Two HuCrAlloy-based engine mount brackets weighing just 350g each provide support for Chevrolet’s next-generation 6.2L Small Block V-8 LT2 engine that powers the Stingray.

Dr. Hu Bin

Another key technology that came out of ATC is a special material developed for a high-power battery. The battery operates optimally at both low- and high-temperatures and after coordinating with engineering on what applications it could be used on, a production prototype was developed, tested and validated. This innovative new technology was recently licensed to two major international battery suppliers for quantity production. In the future, not only will this type of new battery be used on GM’s vehicles but it could also be used in other applications outside the industry.

“We have made outstanding achievements in the field of advanced materials research over the past decade,” said Dr. John Du, GM China Chief Technical Expert and the first director of the GM China Science Lab. “I’m proud that I have personally witnessed the development of the Science Lab over the past 10 years, which is also the same time that I have spent with GM China since coming over from the IT sector.”

As one of GM’s four global R&D organizations, the GM China Science Lab conducts basic scientific research for disruptive technologies that have future commercial applications about 5-15 years down the road.

Currently the Science Lab has a world-class team of researchers, 100 percent of which are local and more than half of those have Doctorate degrees.

Dr. Du says that the Science Lab follows a three-step innovation process: Aha moment; so what; and then what, which seek to bring ideas to fruition not only developing them but figuring out potential viability for commercialization, often in the process working with upstream suppliers.

The battery lab that went into operation in 2012, according to Dr. Du, will continue to strengthen development in the area of solid-state batteries, which he says is the Mt. Everest of electrochemistry and hope to reach the summit someday over the next 10 years.

Tsien announced at the even that GM China has recently teamed up with China Intelligent and Connected Vehicles (Beijing) Research Institute Co., Ltd. (CICV), which was jointly initiated by SAE China, China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) and China Industry Innovation Alliance for the Intelligent and Connected Vehicles (CAICV). GM China and CICV plan to build a dynamic ICV ecosystem.

“We are open to working with the industry’s leading partners that share our vision to accelerate the pace of transformation for our industry,” said Tsien. “Together with other global automakers and key suppliers and research institutions, we look forward to helping build a dynamic ICV ecosystem in China and ultimately making industry-wide impact.”

“China is really at the frontier of ICV technology development thanks to the culmination of government involvement, industry partners and acceptance of advance technologies,” said William Hotchkiss, director of GM China’s Engineering Center, which is part of the ATC and will in the future become the ICV Center. “We see there is an opportunity for our mission of ‘zero accidents, zero emissions and zero congestion.’ Along the way we need partners like CICV. They have unique opportunity to provide good insights into the ICV ecosystem and ultimately we feel confident that we can bring together ICV solutions with them and with our other partners.”

William Hochkiss

Tsien indicated that ATC and PATAC have different focus in China but are complementary to each other so there is a lot of room and ground for collaboration. PATAC is mostly an engineering center that is dedicated to the development, engineering and release of products that go into the market place for GM’s vehicle JVs, while ATC, whether its design, R&D, or engineering, is part of global engineering, research and design network.

“So our engineers and designers and researchers here in GM China are basically focused on global requirements with also an eye towards some of the unique trends and customer needs and technologies that customers need and desire in China,” said Tsien. “China is at the forefront of this transformation, it is driven by innovation, aided by the greater willingness of local consumers to embrace new technology and lifestyle solutions. At GM, the customer is at the center of everything that we do.”

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