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GM has 4 new plants coming to 'have control over battery cell manufacture': Mary Barra

·Washington Correspondent
·4 min read
In this article:
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In the years ahead, GM (GM) says, it's aiming to be a leading manufacturer of batteries as well as cars.

“For electric vehicles, it's all about the battery,” CEO Mary Barra told Yahoo Finance in a wide-ranging interview this week.

The CEO outlined plans to open at least four new plants just to manufacture batteries that power the company's electric vehicles.

“We decided that we wanted to have control over battery cell manufacture so we formed a joint venture with LG, one of our partners, and we now have a plant coming online this year in Ohio, another one coming online next year, the following year, and one after that,” she says.

GM CEO Mary Barra announces an investment of more than $7 billion in four Michigan manufacturing sites in January, including a new Ultium Cells battery cell plant in Lansing. (JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)
GM CEO Mary Barra announces an investment of more than $7 billion in four Michigan manufacturing sites in January, including a new Ultium Cells battery cell plant in Lansing. (JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

The collaboration with LG Energy Solution, called Ultium Cells, will power more and more GM vehicles in the years ahead. They have three locations under construction. A Warren, Ohio plant will begin production this August; a Spring Hill, Tennessee location is set to follow in 2023 and one in Lansing, Michigan begins in 2024. The Michigan plant alone is a $2.6 billion investment. According to GM, a fourth plant whose location has yet to be announced will be up and running in 2025.

The ambitious plans come as the company tries to catch up with EV industry leaders like Tesla (TSLA). Elon Musk's company, the world's largest EV maker, has manufactured its own batteries for years and says its Nevada gigafactory became the highest-volume battery plant in the world back in 2018. Tesla also says it produces more batteries — measured by kWh — than all other carmakers combined.

‘Going all the way up to the supply chain’

GM's effort is part of a broader push across the U.S. economy to pivot to clean energy while not trading dependence on oil for another asset, specifically the precious minerals that fuel batteries and much of modern life but are often either mined or processed in places like Russia and Ukraine as well as China.

The White House got involved in the effort this week, announcing over $3 billion to help companies like GM and others with the battery shortage.

A Biden official behind the effort noted to Yahoo Finance Monday that automakers will be a key beneficiary. The efforts from Washington will “feed into those [GM] plants, making the advanced materials needed for those plants as inputs, and going all the way up to the supply chain of developing the advanced minerals that are needed for these plants,” says David Howell, acting director at the Department of Energy's Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains.

A GM spokesperson told Yahoo Finance that the company, which has close ties with the Biden White House, "is actively pursuing opportunities to localize as much of the EV and battery supply chain as possible and, as such, we are reviewing the battery-related Funding Opportunity Announcements authorized by the U.S. Department of Energy under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)."

Ultium, a company that will mass produce battery cells for electric vehicles, is under construction in Lordstown, Ohio, on October 16, 2020. - Workers at the General Motors factory in Lordstown, Ohio, listened when US President Donald Trump said companies would soon be booming. But two years after that 2017 speech, the plant closed. GM's shuttering of the factory was a blow to the Mahoning Valley region of the swing state crucial to the November 3 presidential election, which has dealt with a declining manufacturing industry for decades and, like all parts of the US, is now menaced by the coronavirus. (Photo by MEGAN JELINGER / AFP) (Photo by MEGAN JELINGER/AFP via Getty Images)
In a photo from 2020, the Ohio Ultium factory is shown under construction. It is scheduled to begin production this year. (MEGAN JELINGER/AFP via Getty Images)

‘We're not done yet’

President Joe Biden has set a goal of having half of the cars sold in the U.S. by 2030 be electric; GM has set a similar benchmark, saying it also wants 100% of its light-duty vehicles to be electric by 2035.

The batteries that will power these vehicles currently run on components like lithium and nickel. The White House recently invoked the Defense Production Act — allowing the president to force businesses to take actions — to build up domestic production capability. In effect, it’s likely to mean more mining of these metals in the U.S.

For her part, Barra also underlines the significant job creation GM's effort will entail. Speaking of the jobs set to be created, she said, “roughly every battery plant is around 1,100 to 1,200 people.”

She added, “We're not done yet.”

The higher cost of manufacturing in the U.S. would be outweighed by the supply chain security and the convenience factor, she said.

“When you think about the logistics piece of it, having it close to where we're actually building the vehicle or assembling the battery pack is an advantage,” she said.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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