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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

GM's battery gambler

I'm an IEEE member, but have not been the most religious reader of the various pieces of glossy paper they send me every month, both the technical journals and the general interest magazines.

However, catching up over the weekend with the August IEEE Spectrum (the main magazine), I saw a couple of articles that provided an interesting insight on cleantech topics.

One was a long feature article on Denise Gray, a Detroit native and EE graduate of the GM-affiliated Kettering University. Gray has worked her way up through GM in a variety of electronics, embedded software and controller positions. The one that sounded most fun to me was managing the test suites (and testing) of the fuel-injection software for the small-block V8 of the 1997 Corvette.

From this, she was promoted in 1995 to a director-level position, the manager of software for all engine groups. She later became director of software engineering, director of controller integration, and overseeing all software for all automatic transmissions.

In October 2006, she was became the company’s first director for advance battery work, a high priority, highly visible job within the company.

Job one is to work with suppliers to design (and then select) the lithium-ion battery for the Chevy Volt, the long promised (but recently demonstrated) electric car due in November 2010. This car could be the most important vehicle for GM’s future in decades — particularly since the company’s survival has never been previously been more in doubt.

Gray worked with a wide range of potential suppliers to explain the company’s needs. The competition is down to two, Continental of Germany (using cells from US firm A123Systems), and CompactPower, using cells from parent LG Chem of Korea. It goes without saying that the performance (and durability) of the Volt will depend on Gray’s ultimate decision and its supplier’s ability to deliver on promises.

In addition to the human, technical and business interest story, there’s also the career lessons. Gray managed a 28-year fast-track career in which work came third after family and church, during a period when women engineers were uncommon. If my daughter eventually becomes a MechE or EE, these are the sort of role models I’d like her to have.

1 comment:

Tsoloane Moahloli said...

Nice. A south African company, Optimal Energy released an interesting electric car today. It is described as having a 200km range and overnight charging capability it makes a lot of sense too. U can read all about the launch @ News24. Must admit that I am a bit biased being South African, but I think that this is really cool.
BTW, I am avid reader of your Open Innovation blog, and am using some of your papers in my Masters Dissertation.