Electric Cars Spurring Investment in US Battery Production

US has fallen off the map as a volume lithium-ion cell producer.

Published: 19-Jan-2009

At last month’s Detroit Auto Show, General Motors made the long-awaited announcement that LG Chem, a Korean lithium-ion-battery-cell manufacturer, will be providing the cells for the Chevy Volt PHEV (plug-in-hybrid-electric vehicle). GM made much of the fact that it will assemble keep assembly of the battery pack in the United States. However, the guts of a battery pack, both in weight, cost, and intellectual property, are in the cells, of which the United States has apparently fallen off the map in being a volume producer.

Contrast these start-up ventures with BYD’s F3DM PHEV, which it unveiled a few weeks ago in China and planned to begin selling in the United States for around $20,000, in 2011, priced at around $20,000. BYD got its start making after-market lithium-ion batteries for cell phones, and got into the EV-battery market on the strength of its founder’s belief that the future of transportation lay in EVs. BYD has more than 20 years’ experience developing and manufacturing lithium-ion batteries.

Innovation over the long haul in a technology often goes hand in hand with volume production. The United States may be unable to retake and maintain a lead in battery development unless it also keeps the manufacturing here.

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