Boston-Power Adds Ex-GM Exec to Board, Prepares to Take On Automotive Battery Market

2/22/10Follow @wroush

Around the time Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple iPad, a funny Photoshopped picture began making the rounds on the Web, showing Jobs with four iPhones crudely lashed together with duct tape. The picture’s unspoken message, of course, was that the iPad is just a big iPhone.

Well, something like that is actually coming true in the automotive battery field. It turns out that you can make a pretty good battery for a hybrid electric vehicle by assembling lots of small lithium-ion laptop battery cells—up to 2,000 of them, in fact—into one big pack.

This is the approach being pursued by Boston-Power, the Westborough, MA, startup best known for making the environmentally friendly Sonata batteries used in many Hewlett-Packard notebook computers. And in a sign that Boston-Power is getting serious about marketing its so-called Swing cells to electric-vehicle makers, the company is expected to announce today the appointment of retired General Motors executive Robert Purcell to its board of directors.

As the leader of GM’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Group from 1994 to 2002, Purcell helped to launch the EV-1, GM’s first modern electric vehicle, as well as an electric pickup truck and early hybrid cars. He went on to lead global sales, planning, and strategic alliances for GM’s Powertrain Group, managing $2 billion a year in direct engine and transmission sales and $1 billion in licensing activity.

In other words, he’s been around the block a few times in the automotive industry. And while he says he’s “seen a lot of things” in his work with GM and its partners, he’s never seen a car powered by the equivalent of 2,000 laptop batteries.

“Of course, this isn’t just as simple as strapping together a bunch of laptop cells,” Purcell told Xconomy last week. “It’s about integrating from cell to module and then from module to pack. Boston-Power has some very clever ideas about how to do that in a cost-effective way. And this isn’t a science fair project—they are doing the hands-on work to move from cell to module to pack in a way that will work in a typical light-duty passenger vehicle.”

Boston-Power has been eyeing the transportation market since 2008, when it expanded the R&D facilities at its Westborough headquarters and began to build prototype battery packs for power-assisted bikes and scooters. So far, the company has tested Swing-based battery packs in just a few hundred cars—but Christina Lampe-Onnerud, the company’s founder and CEO, predicts that eventually the Swing and other lithium-ion batteries will completely … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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