GM, government backers show off first Volt battery

BROWNSTOWN TOWNSHIP, Michigan Thu Jan 7, 2010 12:56pm EST

BROWNSTOWN TOWNSHIP, Michigan (Reuters) - General Motors Co showed off the first battery pack for its electric Chevy Volt on Thursday with a ceremony that highlighted the automaker's dependence on U.S. government financing for its revival plans.

GM, which emerged from bankruptcy in July with some $50 billion in U.S. taxpayer funding, is counting on the Volt and other fuel-efficient vehicles to revive its lineup as it rushes to win back U.S. consumer trust and return to profitability after five consecutive years of losses.

"We will just see if the American public is ready for this," GM Chairman and Chief Executive Ed Whitacre said at a new Detroit-area facility that has started to build the massive lithium-ion battery packs for the Volt.

"We're taking a risk but we think it's the right thing to do," said Whitacre, who took the stage in front of a gleaming, T-shaped battery, the first produced for the Volt.

The battery for the Volt is the most expensive component of the highly anticipated electric car and will be assembled from lithium-ion cells manufactured by South Korea's LG Chem near Seoul.

GM's Brownstown Battery Pack Assembly Plant will build the cells into packs weighing more than 400 pounds (181 kilograms) and designed to power the Volt for 40 miles on electric power alone.

In August, the Department of Energy awarded $106 million in grants to help refurbish the factory in Brownstown, Michigan, as part of its $2.4 billion package to spur development of next-generation batteries and electric vehicles in the United States.

Including the $106 million grants, the Department of Energy has invested $266 million to support development of the Volt, said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who attended Thursday's event.

"We urgently need to change how we power cars and trucks," Chu said, adding that 99 percent of batteries for current hybrids are made in Japan.

GM has touted the rechargeable Volt as a challenge to Toyota Motor Co and the reputation for environmental leadership it established with its market-leading Prius hybrid.

Members of Michigan's congressional delegation said the Volt battery pack plant demonstrated that the Obama administration's bailout of GM had succeeded in putting the American auto industry back on a competitive footing.

"We're going to show these foreigners how you make cars and how you have success," said U.S. Rep. John Dingell, a Democrat who represents the Detroit area.

The Volt is set to launch in November although GM has said it could sell some vehicles earlier than that.

The car, which can be recharged at a standard outlet, is expected to lose money for the automaker, now 60 percent owned by the U.S. Treasury.

The biggest hurdle to the Volt's development has been the cost of the battery, estimated at near $15,000. GM has not announced pricing for the Volt but has indicated that it could cost up to $40,000.

President Barack Obama has set a goal of putting 1 million rechargeable or "plug-in" hybrids on U.S. roads by 2015, a target that many industry executives and analysts see as a stretch because of the high cost of the technology.

(Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Kevin Krolicki, editing by Matthew Lewis)

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.