General Motors is moving forward on their plans for a plug-in hybrid version of the Saturn Vue that chairman Rick Wagoner announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Today they are awarding development contracts to Cobasys and Johnson Controls-Saft to create and test lithium-ion batteries. The companies will supply battery packs that will be installed in prototype vehicles with testing to begin later in 2007. Both companies are working on different battery technologies that will be evaluated by GM for durability, reliability and cost. GM will also actively look at other battery makers, even while this testing continues. Once a battery has been found that can meet the requirements for production, the shift from NiMH batteries to lithium-ion will move forward. The full GM press release is after the jump.

[Source: General Motors]




GM Awards Lithium Ion Battery Development Contracts

2 Suppliers Chosen to Work on Batteries for Saturn Vue Green Line Plug-in Hybrid SUV

DETROIT – General Motors Corp. today announced it has awarded advanced battery development contracts to two suppliers to design and test lithium-ion batteries for use in the Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrid SUV.

One contract has been awarded to Johnson Controls – Saft Advanced Power Solutions, LLC, a joint venture between Tier 1 automotive supplier Johnson Controls and Saft. Another agreement was signed with Cobasys, based in Orion, Mich., a joint venture between Chevron Technology Ventures LLC, a subsidiary of Chevron Corp., and Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. Cobasys will work in partnership with A123Systems, a privately held company based in Watertown, Mass., to develop lithium-ion battery technology.

According to Denise Gray, GM's newly appointed director of hybrid energy storage systems, the companies will be challenged to prove the durability, reliability and potential cost at mass volumes of their technology.

"Thanks to critical relationships with the U.S. government, collaborative research with Ford and DaimlerChrysler under the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), significant progress has been made in battery research," said Gray. "But a lot of testing and development is still needed. Together, with our suppliers, we intend to address the issues relating to thermal management, storage capacity, recharge times, driving range and cost reduction."

The two test batteries, one from Cobasys – A123Systems and the other from Johnson Controls – Saft, will be evaluated in prototype Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrids beginning later this year. While both are lithium-ion batteries, the chemistry differs significantly. The suppliers also use unique methods in the design and assembling of the battery packs.

Johnson Controls, Inc., headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., had sales of $32 billion in fiscal year 2006 and employs approximately 136,000 people. Johnson Controls' power solutions business provides more than 110 million starter batteries globally each year. Saft, headquartered in Paris, employs 4,000 people and had annual sales of more than $700 million in 2005. Saft and Johnson Controls formed the battery joint venture last year. Now, more than 150 people work for the joint venture, based also in Milwaukee. Saft is a world leader in high performance batteries and has a decade of experience in lithium-ion development and manufacturing. Saft provided lithium-ion batteries for the Chevrolet Sequel fuel cell concept vehicle.

Cobasys has facilities in both Michigan and Ohio with approximately 400 employees dedicated to the design, manufacture and integration of advanced energy storage systems for both transportation and stationary power markets. Their headquarters features one of the world's largest Energy Storage System development and test facilities required for the validation of battery systems. Cobasys is presently supplying nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) systems for the Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid SUV and will be supplying NiMH systems for the 2007 Saturn Aura Green Line hybrid sedan.

A123Systems, which employs 250 people, was started in 2001 to commercialize technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A123Systems has quickly grown to be one of the world's largest suppliers of high power lithium-ion batteries. By the end of 2007, A123Systems will have the annual capacity to make 20 million lithium-ion batteries for use power tools. It also sells batteries for stationary backup power, jet engine auxiliary power units and hybrid trucks and buses.

GM will be actively looking for more partners to bring lithium-ion technology to production. "It's important to point out that these two agreements are by no means the only avenues we're pursuing," Gray said. "We are fully committed to forging the necessary partnerships to produce battery solutions that will meet our aggressive vehicle program targets."

GM announced Nov. 29 at the 2006 Greater Los Angeles Auto Show its intention to produce a Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrid that has the potential to achieve double the fuel efficiency of any current SUV. In addition to plug-in technology and a lithium-ion battery pack when ready, the Vue Green Line will use a modified version of GM's 2-mode hybrid system, powerful electric motors and highly efficient electronics to achieve significant increases in fuel economy.

GM is co-developing the 2-mode hybrid system with DaimlerChrysler and BMW Group for use in front-, rear- and four-wheel drive applications in an array of car and truck models. The 2-mode system debuts later this year in the Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon Hybrid SUVs.

General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world's largest automaker, has been the global industry sales leader for 75 years. Founded in 1908, GM today employs about 318,000 people around the world. With global headquarters in Detroit, GM manufactures its cars and trucks in 33 countries. In 2005, 9.17 million GM cars and trucks were sold globally under the following brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, GM Daewoo, Holden, HUMMER, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Vauxhall. GM's OnStar subsidiary is the industry leader in vehicle safety, security and information services. More information on GM can be found at www.gm.com.