GM to Fire Up Battery Plant This Week, a First for U.S. Automakers

We’re just two days away from a major milestone in the U.S. electric vehicle industry. When General Motors fires up its battery pack assembly plant in Brownstown Township, Mich., on Jan. 7, the automaker says it will mark the first time a major U.S. automaker has operated a battery pack factory here in the States.

GM sent out a press advisory this morning saying it will start production Thursday morning, and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and GM Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre are scheduled to attend the launch.

As GM notes in its release, the event is scheduled to take place “exactly three years to the day” from when the automaker revealed the concept for the Chevy Volt. During that time — mostly in the year or so since federal stimulus funds started opening up for battery manufacturing — the race to secure financing and set up plants to manufacture plug-in vehicle batteries in the U.S. has heated up. (We’ve mapped the green car battery buildout here.)

More than 100 companies lined up for billions of dollars in federal grants and state incentive packages designed to help spur these domestic efforts. Firms based in China, Japan, and South Korea currently dominate the market for lithium-ion batteries, and the Obama administration has sought to help shift that balance. As demand grows beyond mobile devices and laptops for advanced battery technologies to increasing numbers of plug-in and hybrid vehicles, there’s an opportunity for players in the U.S. to either enter the game or expand their role.

For the Volt battery packs, GM will be using cells from Korean battery giant LG Chem’s Compact Power, but it has emphasized over the last year that developing battery pack technology and assembling the packs in-house will be a core competence that gives the automaker a competitive edge in the electric marketplace.

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