Tuesday, January 13, 2009

GM Plans Michigan Factory To Supply Lithium-Ion Batteries.

GM Plans Michigan Factory To Supply Lithium-Ion Batteries.

The Wall Street Journal (1/13, Dorman) reports, "General Motors Corp., looking to supply its Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car, said it plans to build the first lithium-ion battery-pack factory operated by a major automaker in the US." The Journal notes, "Preparation for the plant, to be located in Michigan, is to begin early this year, with production tooling to be installed midyear. Output is expected to start in 2010." But, "until GM's battery facility is operational, Volt's battery cells will be supplied by LG Chem Ltd.'s Compact Power Inc. unit, based in Troy, Mich. A joint engineering contract with Compact Power and LG Chem is expected to speed up development of the Volt's lithium-ion battery technology."

        The AP (1/13) adds, "LG Chem will make the battery cells in [South] Korea and ship them to the US, where they will be assembled into packs at an unspecified GM factory in Michigan." According to LG Chem CEO Peter Kim, his "company may eventually build cells in Michigan, and it anticipates that its US subsidiary, Compact Power Inc., will add to its 100-person work force in Troy, Mich." Volt vehicle line director Tony Posawatz said that "GM also will open a new battery lab at its Warren technical center. The 31,000-square-foot battery lab will be the largest in the US."

        Bloomberg News (1/13, Green, Ortolani) notes, "Investing in a battery factory increases GM's bet on electric vehicles as the biggest US automaker moves toward starting sales of the Volt in November 2010. Detroit-based GM has committed more than $1 billion to the car, Wagoner said." Wes Brown, an analyst at market-research firm Iceology, thinks that the "announcement says that they're preparing to be able to supply whatever the market demands. ... By doing something like this they have more control over their supply," he said. According to Technology Review (1/12, Bullis), "GM's decision is part of a strategic shift by the company toward the electrification of its automobiles, which will range from cars that rely on electric motors and batteries for brief bursts of power to those that run on electricity alone." Wagoner said, "The design, development and production of advanced batteries must be a core competency for GM, and we've been rapidly building our capability and resources to support this direction."

        Lithium-Ion Batteries "Cost Competitive," Engineer Says. In the New York Times's (1/12) Wheels blog Lawrence Ulrich wrote, "As analysts peg the price of the upcoming battery-powered Chevrolet Volt at roughly $40,000, the high cost of its lithium-ion batteries is widely viewed as a key obstacle to mass adoption by consumers." But at a GM press conference offering details on its battery-powered future, Prabhakar Patil, a leader in electric propulsion, offered this surprising assessment: Lithium-ion batteries have become cost competitive with the more-primitive nickel-metal hydride batteries that power the Toyota Prius and other current hybrids." Patil said that "lithium-ion batteries are far less dependent on nickel, a precious metal, whose market prices are soaring."