General Motors and LG Chem have a long history together (long in terms of the EV revolution, anyway). The battery for the Chevy Volt was manufactured by LG Chem (now called LG Energy Solution), and LG also provided the battery and many ancillary systems for the Chevy Bolt. The companies are moving forward together on building a battery factory in Ohio near the former Lordstown assembly plant.
GM has made a lot of noise about its Ultium batteries, jointly developed with LG Energy. The batteries from the Lordstown plant will power the upcoming Hummer pickup truck and SUV, and electric Chevy Silverado pickup truck, so far as we know. Those vehicles will be manufactured at the upgraded Detroit Hamtramck factory.
GM is also pouring a lot of money into the former Saturn factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee, to make it ready to produce electric cars from its Cadillac division, starting with the Lyriq SUV. In a press release last week, GM formally announced the construction of a second battery factory adjacent to the Spring Hill facility. The new factory will cost $2.3 billion. That’s in addition to the $2 billion being spent to reconfigure the Spring Hill manufacturing plant to make electric cars. One could say GM is finally getting serious about its EV intentions.
“This partnership with General Motors will transform Tennessee into another key location for electric vehicle and battery production. It will allow us to build solid and stable U.S-based supply chains that enable everything from research, product development and production to the procurement of raw components,” LG Energy Solution CEO Jonghyun Kim said in a press release. “Importantly, I truly believe this coming together transcends a partnership as it marks a defining moment that will reduce emissions and help to accelerate the adoption of EVs.”
GM CEO Mary Barra said that upgrading the Spring Hill factory and building a new battery factory alongside “demonstrate we’re committed to changing the world right now. A fundamental shift in transportation is taking place and General Motors will lead the way. We’re seeing growing enthusiasm from all corners.” She added that the new Tennessee plant is expected to open in late 2023 and employ 1,300 workers.
Building Enough Batteries
For the EV revolution to succeed, of course, manufacturers will need an adequate supply of batteries. Brett Smith, director of technology for the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan, tells CNN Business that until recently he didn’t think there would be a battery shortage of EV batteries but he has since changed his mind. “My perspective has changed significantly in the last six months. These companies are truly putting their money where their mouths are. This change is happening. Building the plant isn’t a huge problem. But making sure the supply lines are available for that quantity of raw materials and chemicals is a much bigger challenge,” he says.
CNN reports that during an earnings call with investors in February, Mary Barra said, “We’re working to make sure we have adequate supply [of batteries] all the way from the mines. It’s one of the reasons why we’re investing in our own [battery] cell manufacturer. We want to be in control of our own destiny, making sure we have the ability to have the cells that we need.”
Three months ago, CAR estimated North America needed about 30 gigawatts of batteries each year to meet demand. Now it says demand could increase to 140 gigawatts in just 5 years. The policies and incentives from the Biden administration could push that number much higher. Even with Friday’s announcement about the new Tennessee plant, current plans for investment get the industry to only about 120 gigawatt-hours of annual capacity, including the new SK Innovation factory in Georgia that is now back on track.
Ultium System Is Flexible
GM says its Ultium battery technology “is at the heart of the company’s strategy to compete for nearly every EV customer in the marketplace, whether they are looking for affordable transportation, luxury vehicles, work trucks, commercial trucks or high-performance machines.
“Ultium batteries are unique in the industry because the large-format, pouch-style cells can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack. This allows engineers to optimize battery energy storage and layout for each vehicle design. Energy options range from 50 to 200 kilowatt hours, which could enable a GM-estimated range up to 450 miles or more on a full charge with 0-60 mph acceleration in 3 seconds.
“GM’s future Ultium-powered EVs are designed for Level 2 and DC fast charging. Most will have 400-volt battery packs and up to 200 kW fast charging capability, while GM’s truck platform will have 800-volt battery packs and 350 kW fast charging capability.” That’s good information that we were unaware of previously.
Will stodgy GM really become a leader in the manufacture and sale of electric vehicles? If money is any indicator, the answer is yes. The company has committed nearly $30 billion to making its pledge to build only electric vehicles by 2035 a reality. To achieve its goal, GM will have to offer compelling electric cars that ordinary people can afford. Hummers and Cadillacs are all well and good, but they aren’t going to move the EV sales needle very much. Will GM still be around in 2035 to see its plans come to fruition? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.