GM, eyeing Tesla, makes headway on battery factory

Source: By David Ferris, E&E News reporter  • Posted: Wednesday, May 20, 2020

 Rendering of General Motors and LG Chem battery cell plant. Photo credit; GM

A conceptual rendering of a General Motors and LG Chem lithium-ion cell factory near Lordstown, Ohio. The proposed facility is part of a $2.3 billion joint venture between the two companies. GM

General Motors Co. said yesterday that it’s preparing for construction of its large battery plant, a sign that the company intends to compete with Tesla Inc. in making electric vehicles in spite of the economic downturn.

Making an EV battery that could go a million miles — a huge increase over today’s models — is “in our sights,” Tim Grewe, GM’s director for global electrification and battery systems, said in a call with journalists.

The factory, being built as a joint venture between America’s largest automaker and Korean conglomerate LG Chem, also has a name: Ultium Cells LLC, named after the new battery technology that GM unveiled a few months ago (Energywire, March 5).

GM said it “has started with ground prep activities” at the plant site in Lordstown, Ohio. No completion date has been set.

GM released these details as Tesla, the dominant U.S. maker of electric vehicles, is moving at great speed to build its own new factories and unveil its own battery improvements. CEO Elon Musk has teased that revelations about its batteries will come this month, date unknown.

Reuters recently reported that Tesla plans to unveil a significantly cheaper battery that makes an EV cost-competitive with cars that use gasoline and that reaches the million-mile mark.

Grewe may have had Tesla in mind when he said yesterday that GM “will get there” in producing a battery costing less than $100 per kilowatt-hour — the threshold at which analysts say EVs will be cost-competitive with traditional cars.

Musk has said his company will cross that price line very soon, though industry watchers have expected it to take years for any automaker to reach it.

GM’s factory is meant to make batteries that are highly modular, able to be installed in a wide range of vehicles and easily repaired and upgraded.

Earlier this year, before the coronavirus crisis hit, GM said it would deliver three new EVs by 2021 or 2022: a Hummer sport utility vehicle, a Cadillac luxury SUV called the Lyriq and an autonomous shuttle called the Cruise Origin. Delivery dates for these were pushed back as coronavirus lockdowns froze GM’s manufacturing for two months.

GM’s battery factory is supposed to be the size of 30 football fields and could be expanded if battery needs rise, Grewe said.

Large as that is, its projected output — 30 gigawatt-hours of batteries per year — is less than the 35 GWh that Tesla expects to delivery from its Nevada battery factory this year.

GM is also building its EV-making infrastructure more slowly than Tesla.

Tesla is currently building a second EV factory in Shanghai after completing its first earlier this year, and just broke ground on another massive factory in Germany. The company wants to have both producing vehicles by next year.

And the company is soon to decide whether to build yet another factory — its sixth — in either Texas or Oklahoma (Energywire, May 18).