Korean firm to supply GM Volt batteries

General Motors Corp. said Monday it has picked LG Chem of South Korea to supply the lithium-ion battery cells for its Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

DETROIT – General Motors Corp. said Monday it has picked LG Chem of South Korea to supply the lithium-ion battery cells for its Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle.

The cells will be made in Korea, but they’ll will be assembled into battery modules and packs at a factory in Michigan. GM chief executive Rick Wagoner said the lithium-ion battery pack assembly facility will be the first in the U.S. operated by a major automaker.

LG Chem CEO Peter Kim said the company may eventually build cells in Michigan and anticipates that the company’s U.S. subsidiary, Compact Power Inc., will add to its 100 person work force in Troy, Mich.

Volt vehicle line director Tony Posawatz said 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 U.S., Wagoner said.

Wagoner said the company is integrating battery research and assembly into its mainstream to develop powertrains of the future.

“We believe this will become a competitive advantage for GM and will be critical to GM’s success,” he said in announcing the news at the North American International Auto Show.

Detroit-based GM had planned to name a battery supplier early last year but decided to keep working with two developers simultaneously to test their batteries under a variety of conditions. The other company that was in the running for the contract was Germany-based Continental Automotive Systems, which is using cells developed jointly by GM and A123 Systems Inc.

Posawatz said GM chose LG Chem because of its flat-cell design that dissipates heat better and stores more energy than competitors’ cylinder-shaped cells.

The competition from A123 Systems Inc. was very capable, Posawatz said, but “one has to be the lead.”

The factory that will assemble GM’s batteries likely will be located near the Volt assembly plant, which straddles the border between Detroit and Hamtramck, Posawatz said.

He did not know how many workers the battery factory would employ but said he expects the battery manufacturing and development operations to bring more jobs to Michigan, where the shrinking auto-dependent economy has led to a nation-leading 9.6 per cent unemployment rate.

“We have enough critical mass that future growth will cluster,” Posawatz said.

GM also announced Monday that it has established a partnership with the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to train battery engineers.

The Volt is designed to plug into a standard wall outlet and travel 65 km on battery power alone. After that, a small internal combustion engine will kick in to generate power for the car.

The car is set to go on sale next year. GM hasn’t announced pricing, but it is expected to cost $30,000 to $40,000 initially.

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