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6/1/2009
04:50 PM
Cora Nucci
Cora Nucci
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While GM Reinvents Itself, U.S. Battery Makers Are Just Getting Started

On Monday, the U.S. took a 60% ownership in General Motors and President Obama described the government as a "reluctant" owner of the new company. That's exactly how I felt about the family station wagon when I was in high school.

On Monday, the U.S. took a 60% ownership in General Motors and President Obama described the government as a "reluctant" owner of the new company. That's exactly how I felt about the family station wagon when I was in high school.I trawled the suburban streets in that rusting land barge, anyway -- what choice did I have? About the same as taxpayers had in the GM deal. Unfortunately, the "new" GM's product lineup for 2009 and 2010 leaves something to be desired. The paucity of clean-burning, fuel-efficient vehicles that made me groan before, as an observer, makes me howl now, as a part-owner.

Where are the hybrids and the all-electrics? Only one of the six cars on the list is a gas-electric hybrid -- the Chevy Volt. (Yes, I have heard about the Spark, GM's subcompact coming in 2011. While I like that it may be built at an idled UAW-GM facility, the Spark still runs on gas, and only on gas.)

GM has known for decades that its financial and product trajectory would run out of road eventually. As I noted last summer after the company announced a $15.5 billion loss: plenty of economists and analysts and other car companies saw the oil fiasco barreling down the pike.

The new GM is expected to launch in 60 to 90 days. In the meantime, lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles are in production and new, domestic manufacturing plants are being announced left and right.

On Monday Boston-Power said it would build a manufacturing facility of its own in central Massachusetts. The company makes lithium-ion batteries for HP's Enviro Series of notebooks and has developed a product it calls Swing, for powering plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles (PHEV/BEV).

Last month GE announced it will break ground soon on a battery manufacturing plant in upstate New York.

And in April, A123 Systems, a GE partner, secured $100million in refundable tax credits to site a production plant in Livonia, Michigan. It plans to make Michigan its battery manufacturing hub.

Now that we're all in this GM reincarnation deal together, it couldn't be any clearer. The new company's product plans will have to include more hybrids and all electric vehicles -- and fast. What choice do we have?

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