U.S., GM sign battery licensing agreement

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - General Motors Co has signed an agreement with the U.S. government to license technology developed by the government to lower costs and improve efficiency of advanced batteries for future hybrid and electric vehicles.

GM hopes to benefit from technology developed by the Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory in time for production runs of the next generation mainly electric plug-in Volt sedan, which the company introduced in 2010.

But the full payoff depends on productive research and the commercial popularity of the most efficient cars on American roads, which currently are a fractional sales market dominated by Asian automakers.

"We need developments to get more capable batteries," said Jon Lauckner, vice president of GM's venture's unit. "That's why we need to get working on this material now and get it on the road."

The technology for more powerful and longer-lasting charges would also give GM new flexibility for dealing with suppliers and may also one day underpin homegrown development of batteries.

U.S. automakers are far behind Asian suppliers and auto companies in battery technology as they seek to move ahead with advanced designs to satisfy government and consumer demands for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

GM currently receives its lithium-ion technology for the Volt from Korea's LG Chem. LG signed a separate licensing agreement with Argonne. LG will produce battery cells at a Michigan facility now under construction.

Permission for GM and LG to use the Argonne-developed material in lithium-ion batteries is not exclusive to those companies.

The Energy Department under President Barack Obama's directive is supporting several approaches that seek to improve advanced batteries, and has sunk more than $2 billion into developing a U.S.-based battery development effort.

A battery race of sorts has developed between U.S. companies like Massachusetts-based A123 and those in Asia, like China's BYD, of which Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns 10 percent.

The Volt sedan is GM's early signature effort in the gasoline/electric market. GM expects to produce 10,000 Volts in 2011 and 45,000 in 2012, the company said.


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