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SKorea's LG to build batteries for GM's electric car
SEOUL (AFP) ? South Korea's LG Chem has announced a 733 million dollar investment plan to make batteries for the first all-electric vehicle to be produced by US auto giant General Motors.
LG Chem, part of the LG group, said it signed a deal this week during an auto show in Detroit to build lithium-ion batteries for GM's heavily touted Chevy Volt car from 2010 until the end of 2015.
The company said in a statement it would spend one trillion won (733 million dollars) to build a new battery production line for GM at its factory in Ochang, 90 kilometres (54 miles) south of Seoul.
The Volt is designed to run 40 miles on a single battery charge. Beyond that range, it uses a petrol engine which drives a generator to produce electrical power.
LG said the deal would help it become a major supplier of batteries for a new generation of environmentally-friendly electric cars.
It also plans to provide lithium-ion batteries for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) to be produced by South Korean carmakers.
LG said the global HEV and electric vehicle market is expected to grow by an average of 47 percent annually, reaching 2.3 billion dollars in 2012 from 510 million dollars in 2008.
The US government has provided GM and Chrysler with 13.4 billion dollars in loans to help rejig their product lines and ride out a sales slump.
GM chief executive Rick Wagoner pledged Sunday during the Detroit show to build "smaller, smarter and more fuel-efficient" cars and trucks.
Design News, January 13, 2009
GM Selects LG Chem to
Build Volt Batteries
Decision ends two-year manufacturer selection process
Amidst the fanfare of a standing-room-only press conference in Detroit today, General Motors rolled out the T-shaped lithium-ion battery pack for the Chevy Volt and announced its cells will be built by Korean battery manufacturer LG Chem.
The press conference capped off a two-year wait in which the giant automaker auditioned two manufacturing teams for the role of battery supplier for the highly anticipated Chevy Volt, widely considered to be the biggest vehicle program in GM's history.
General Motors' embattled chairman, Rick Wagoner, told a media audience the decision to go with LG Chem instead of Massachusetts-based A123 Systems "was based on performance, production readiness, efficiency, durability and LG Chem's demonstrated track record of exceptional quality."
The competition for the GM battery development and manufacturing contract has been highly scrutinized in technical circles because one team (LG Chem and Compact Power, Inc.) is using a manganese-spinel chemistry for the battery's positive electrode, while the other (A123 and Continental Automotive) employs a nano-phosphate material. Many experts said the choice of the chemistry would be critical so that the battery wouldn't be plagued by so-called "thermal runaway," which had reportedly been a problem for some lithium-ion batteries used in laptops and cell phones.
GM, however, said safety was only one of many reasons for the choice of LG Chem's manganese-spinel. "Safety was definitely an important part, but ultimately it was no more of a factor than durability, cost, performance or manufacturability," GM spokesman Rob Peterson told Design News.
The plan announced yesterday calls for GM to use battery cells from LG Chem's plant in Korea, then build the entire battery assembly in a GM plant located in southeast Michigan. The assembly includes such items as electronic controls, heating, cooling and cabling. GM said Compact Power would initially do the integration and assembly for Volt prototypes, but added GM would take over the assembly process once its own plant is up and running.
"We'll start preparing the factory in early 2009 and we will start loading the (manufacturing) equipment into the factory at mid-year of 2009," Peterson said.
Engineers at Compact Power cited two technical advantages inherent in their team's battery design. The manganese-spinel chemistry combines with battery separator technology that enhances safety, they said. Known as a Proprietary Safety Reinforced Separator, the semi-permeable membrane is coated with a ceramic material, which is said to make it mechanically and thermally superior to other separators.
Also key to the company's technology was its use of a "stack-and-fold" configuration in a laminated package, which could provide GM with easier manufacturability. The stack-and-fold concept is used as an alternative to the well-known cylindrical design of conventional batteries.
"Stack-and-fold is easier for a large electrode manufacturer," said Mohamed Alamgir, director of research for Compact Power, Inc. "Winding them around a mandrel would be no trivial task."
GM representatives said yesterday its decision to go with LG Chem is part of a strategy that has been unfolding for months. "We're really confident that we have the right plan and the right balance of technology suppliers," Peterson said. "Right now, we don't see any hurdles in our way for having the battery ready by 2010."
LG Chem, Korea's biggest chemical company by sales,
Tuesday said it will provide the struggling General Motors (GM)
with lithium-ion batteries for its electric vehicle the Chevrolet
Under the exclusive deal, LG plans to supply the batteries over five years starting next year, a company spokeswoman said.
However, she declined to comment over the value of the deal.
Industry watchers and analysts said LG is forecast to get some two trillion won or $1.5 billion as it is expecting the U.S. carmaker to sell some 300,000 Volts during the period.
LG is planning to invest one trillion won in its battery businesses for eco-friendly electric and hybrid electric vehicles by 2013, according to company officials.
Shares of LG Chem, however, failed to significantly rise on the nation's main bourse, adding just 1.03 percent to close at 78,800 won on the Korea Stock Exchange.
The deal comes after GM Chairman Rick Wagoner said the biggest U.S. automaker will open battery production in southeast Michigan for its upcoming Chevrolet electric car.
It will be the first facility to be operated by a major U.S. automaker.
As part of an advanced battery development strategy to bring the Volt to market by 2010, GM is expected to use an existing company facility and hopes to disclose the site by June, this year, with the approval of U.S. and Canadian governments.
As part of the transformation efforts toward fuel-efficient vehicles, GM is raising its bet on electric cars as the company revamps its business with $17.4 billion in emergency loans promised by the Canadian and U.S. governments.
But industry watchers weren't wholly welcoming the deal and said GM needs more time to get the Volt onto the right track.
"Although lithium-ion batteries pack more energy than the traditional nickel-metal hybrid power sources now found in hybrids like Toyota's Prius, they would not satisfy most consumers due to prices," a high-ranking industry source told The Korea Times.
Lithium-ion batteries hold less than half of the energy of gasoline as measured by weight.
In a note to clients, Goldman Sachs & Co. said the deal won't significantly boost profits of LG Chem in the short-term as it expected the company to spend 200 billion won on facilities year-on-year.