General Motors Start Work on Tesla-Like Battery Gigafactory
Think of it as the Gigafactory of the north—a whopping big one that compares with Tesla’s original battery plant in Nevada. General Motors and LG Chem have begun construction of a $2.3 billion battery cell plant in Lordstown, Ohio, to make the cells needed to power a raft of electric vehicles to come: From the 2022 GMC Hummer EV electric full-size pickup truck to a new variant of the Chevrolet Bolt.
The plant is a joint venture between GM and LG Chem of South Korea, which is a leading supplier of lithium-ion battery cells. The new company is called Ultium Cells LLC. Ultium is also the name of the proprietary batteries the two companies have developed. The plant will be done in time to support GM’s next-generation battery electric vehicle portfolio (the automaker plans to roll out 20 new EVs by 2023). With the exception of an updated 2021 Bolt and the addition of the 2022 Bolt EUV, future GM EVs will use the company’s new electrical architecture known as BEV3.
Comparable Capacity to Tesla in Nevada
The new factory will have the capacity to produce an annual battery cell output of at least 30 gigawatt-hours (GWh) initially, with the ability to expand further if needed. For context, Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada has an annual capacity of 35 GWh but has been producing closer to 20. Even still, Tesla and joint venture partner Panasonic are talking about further increasing the factory’s capacity. Tesla led the way for automakers with its Gigafactory. GM is not alone in going down that same path, and many other automakers are looking at future battery plants, as well.
GM claims the pouch-style Ultium cells are unique because each can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack and thus be tailored to a specific vehicle’s layout. In terms of energy, the overall battery packs range from 50 to 200 kilowatt-hours (kWh), the latter of which would provide a range of up to 400 miles for certain vehicles. The cells are designed for Level 2 and DC fast-charging. While most GM EVs will have 400-volt battery packs and up to 250-kilowatt (kW) fast-charging capability, the trucks will feature 800-volt packs and 350-kW fast-charging. To date, only Porsche’s Taycan is designed to use 800-volt packs. The goal is to reduce the cost of the cells to less than $100 per kWh early in the platform’s lifecycle, which ought to drastically reduce the overall cost of GM’s EVs.
In December 2019, GM announced plans for the joint venture to mass-produce batteries for its ambitious electric vehicle plans. Manufacturing will be done on vacant land GM owns near the Lordstown car assembly plant that it closed in March 2019. The new plant will be about the size of 30 football fields. GM will need to further expand it or increase existing capacity to meet its mid-decade goal of supplying 1 million electric vehicles a year in North America and China, which would require a quarter of a billion cells a year.
Beside it, the shuttered Lordstown assembly plant, which used to make the Chevrolet Cruze, was a flashpoint in negotiations with the United Auto Workers last fall, and ultimately resulted in a lengthy strike before a new labor agreement was reached. The abandoned plant was later sold to Lordstown Motors, an EV startup with plans to make the Endurance electric pickup truck later this year.
Electric Vehicle Development on Track
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive officer, said last week that product development of future electric and autonomous vehicles continues on at a rapid pace, adding that none of the company’s key programs are delayed. Executives have said work on future products is progressing so well that the launch of one of GM’s forthcoming EVs might even be pushed up.
Production timing remains on track for the Hummer EV, which is due to arrive in late 2021. The GMC-badged pickup will be followed by the Cadillac Lyriq electric midsize crossover SUV. Likewise, look for the next-generation 2021 Bolt to arrive in the coming months. It will then be followed by the 2022 Bolt EUV crossover SUV. GM introduced the original Bolt in 2016 and has not introduced another BEV model since.
On the autonomous vehicle front, the company revealed the Cruise Origin in San Francisco earlier this year. The battery-electric six-passenger robo-taxi is set to be built at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant, which is now dedicated to EV production.
At Ford, product development also continues at full pace and important key launches such as the next-generation Ford F-150 pickup truck will suffer a short delay of about two months. That’s about how long the Blue Oval’s plants were shut down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s head of product development and purchasing, said.