At the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, GM's Mr. Rick Wagoner took center stage with a near-production version of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt (and the Volt's battery array, to Rick's right). The Chairman announced the following:
- That GM will begin manufacturing its own batteries for vehicles like the Volt and the Cadillac Converj Voltec-powered concept. Negotiations aren't complete, but Wagoner hopes the plant will be in Michigan.
- That GM will incorporate lithium ion battery cells produced by LG Chem into these battery arrays. LG Chem is the South Korean battery giant that has deep experience making lithium cells, and GM needs to buy into their expertise, hence "the deal."
- That GM will open a dedicated battery research facility and add 200 engineers to this program. The new 31,000 sq.ft. facility could be located in Michigan provided negotiations with state and local officials go favorably.
- That GM will partner with The University of Michigan School of Engineering to create an educational program dedicated toward schooling engineers in battery development.
What the above actions mean is that GM will "assemble" battery cells provided by other manufacturers into arrays for GM's own hybrid and electric vehicles. Battery types include lithium-ion used by vehicles like the Chevy Volt, and the nickel-metal hydride cells used in current and future hybrid models in GM's line.
Until GM gets its manufacturing plant up and running, LG Chem's American arm will provide battery arrays to power the prototype and early production models of the Chevy Volt, scheduled to appear in 2010 as a 2011 model.
These announcements do little to ameliorate GM's current troubles, but they foretell a thrust within the auto industry. Batteries stand to be as important as piston powertrains in the future, and from our vantage point, it seems wise that GM is taking some control of its destiny regarding battery manufacturing.
The information provided at this press conference could have easily been handled on the Detroit Auto Show's first press day (Sunday, January 11), but this presentation was designed (in part) to show Washington legislators that GM is making strides as it attempts to shift its product strategy.
Unfortunately, immediately after GM's press conference, the Chinese automaker BYD held their press conference that took the wind of out GM's sails. BYD-one of the world's largest battery makers-does not currently sell cars in the U.S. However, one portion of the conference did put what GM's chairman said into perspective. BYD already has a team of 11,000 working in a battery technology research facility. Apparently, GM has a lot of catching up to do.