For as long as your author can remember, General Motors (as well as Ford and Chrysler) always held at least two press conferences during the Detroit Auto Show. Sunday conferences were usually reserved for concept cars. Monday conferences normally featured production fare.
During these slimmer times, GM showed their concepts (only one of which was new) along with production vehicles on Sunday. This didn't leave much new to cover for Monday's event.
Regardless, Mr. Wagoner took center stage with a near-production version of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt (and the Volt's battery array, to Rick's right). The Chairman announced the following:
- That GM will begin manufacturing their own batteries for vehicles like the Volt. Negotiations aren't complete, but Wagoner hopes the plant will be in Michigan.
- That GM will incorporate lithium ion battery cells produced by LG Chem into these battery arrays. LG Chem is the South Korean battery giant.
- That GM will open a dedicated battery research facility and add 200 engineers to this program. The new 31,000 sq.ft. facility could be located in Michigan provided negotiations with state and local officials go favorably.
- That GM will partner with The University of Michigan School of Engineering to create an educational program dedicated toward schooling engineers in the development of battery development.
These announcements do little to change GM's current situation, but foretell the direction of the industry. Batteries stand to be as important as piston powertrains in the future, and from our vantage point, it seems wise that GM is taking control of its destiny regarding battery manufacturing.
Our thinking is that the information provided at this press conference could have easily been handled on Sunday, but this presentation was designed (in part) to show Washington legislators that GM is making strides as it attempts to shift its product strategy. Attaboy, GM. Do what you've got to do.--Rex Roy