General Motors opened this week what’s being called the largest battery factory in the U.S. But before we start to analyze the numbers, let’s first get them all listed:
- The new Global Battery Systems Lab is located at the Warren Technical Center campus on the outskirts of Detroit. According to information coming from the company, it cost GM $25 million to construct, takes up 33,000 square feet, and employs over 1,000 engineers. The facility will operate 42 thermal chambers and 160 test channels that will expose batteries to real-world driving conditions and test the limits of their design and capacity. Included in the testing are 32 battery “cyclers” that will continuously charge and deplete battery cells for further efficiency studies. The battery headquarters will most likely be utilized by GM and its suppliers, LG Chem and Compact Power, to perfect the sort of lithium-ion batteries in the upcoming Volt and its successors.
While this new facility sounds like a definite step in the right direction to improve the technology and compete with Chinese battery heavyweights, some of the numbers don’t seem to add up. Firstly, $25 million is a very small number for a state-of-the art lab. To put it in perspective, Apple recently announced that it would be spending $1 billion on a server farm. Second, employing a thousand engineers would be very expensive – certainly exceeding the price tag that was given – and appears to be an excessive concentration in one facility. Additionally, the start date of construction was only last August and there is no word yet if more money is needed to operate and expand the center.
In the meantime, GM has plans to create a battery-focused engineering curriculum at the University of Michigan, around which they plan to construct another battery lab.
Amidst these developments, the speculation that the Volt program might be discontinued is probably going to quiet down, perhaps for good.