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GM jump-starts battery plant

Battery power: GM's Richard Wagoner announces GM's plans to make lithium-ion batteries.

Good news at last as GM announces plans to make its own lithium-ion batteries

Chevrolet logo20 Jan 2009

GENERAL Motors finally announced some good news last week, with company boss Rick Wagoner revealing it would begin manufacturing its own electric-car battery packs at a new plant in the US from 2010.

With billions of bailout dollars from the federal government linked to the promise of greater environmental responsibility, GM says the new plant is part of a US$1 billion commitment to its Volt hybrid project.

GM’s new battery plant will be in Michigan and, while negotiations are still continuing with state and local authorities, the company is confident that facility preparation will begin in the next couple of months, with production tooling to be installed mid-year and output starting in 2010.

Volt prototypes will continue to be tested using lithium-ion battery cells supplied from South Korea by LG Chem (though GM conveniently refers only to an LG subsidiary based in Michigan).

And, although GM likes to call the Volt an electric car, it does have a petrol engine that acts as a “range-extender”. In other words, when the car’s batteries run down (after about 65km), the engine fires up and acts as an electric generator rather than driving the wheels directly.

Holden plans to introduce the Volt in Australia from 2012.

Mr Wagoner said the lithium-ion battery pack manufacturing facility would be the first for a major automaker in the US.

“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,” said Mr Wagoner.

“This is a further demonstration of our commitment to the electrification of the automobile and to the Chevrolet Volt – a commitment that now totals more than $1 billion.

“Our announcements are part of a comprehensive advanced battery strategy for GM that is expanding along two pathways.

“First, we’re identifying core competencies – such as battery research, development and assembly – and integrating these fundamentals into our product development and manufacturing operations. We believe this will become a competitive advantage for GM, and will be critical to GM’s long-term success.

“Secondly, we’re building a roster of battery suppliers and academic experts from around the globe, and leveraging their specialised abilities to develop battery chemistries and cell designs, as well as future automotive battery engineers.”

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