GM Is Making Progress On Its Ultium Battery Plant

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Perhaps Tesla was smart to get rid of its press people. When Tesla builds a new factory, people go out with their drones and post pictures on Twitter. Everyone spreads them around, and the EV writers (like me) all go on the EV news sites (like this one you’re looking at), and we speculate about everything while patting Tesla on the back for building so damned fast. Word gets around, and we may even know some aspects of the construction before Elon does.

GM doesn’t have an army of superfans, though. It has to put out press releases about its plant construction, and then bums like me don’t get around to writing them up for several days. Sorry, GM. I’ll try to get to these faster in the future. But please, keep sending them! They’re interesting.

(If you want to get these press releases hot off the press, we put them on our sister site verbatim so you can get them right away!)

Anyways, GM wants us to know that it, too, is good at building things (and is good at other stuff, too). Ultium Cells LLC is a joint venture between General Motors and LG Chem. They’re building their first battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio. In the image, you can see a US flag and a Korean flag, one for each of the companies involved in the joint venture.

“We are pleased construction at Ultium continues to progress safely and on schedule,” said Kee Eun, president of Ultium Cells LLC. “While we faced unprecedented challenges from the very beginning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been able to execute successfully according to plan thanks to the collaborative efforts between General Motors and LG Chem, as well as the support and commitment from our contract partners and the local community.”

In our featured image above, you can see their “topping out” ceremony. They placed the factory’s final beam, completing the frame of the factory. The local ironworkers’ union typically has a small ceremony every time the frames are completed to celebrate the completion of what turns out to be a lot more work than we think. This particular ceremony holds more significance, as the workers faced a lot more adversity than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GM says that over 500,000 hours of work have gone into the first factory. The factory is going to feature an open floor plan environment the size of 30 American football fields (Google says this is 22.4 metric soccer fields).

Whether you’re a fan of American football or the other kind of football that is more appropriately named, that’s some serious space. GM says the factory will have room to produce 30 gigawatt hours of batteries annually, and that there will be room to expand.

“This is a significant milestone for the Ultium Cells team and our construction trade partners as we continue to build our physical foundation through the construction of our site, and our cultural foundation as we stand up our workforce,” said Tom Gallagher, operations director of Ultium Cells LLC. “Ultium Cells is on track to achieve our vision of an inclusive and engaged workforce as we add 30 more launch team members in March. It is exciting to see the team coming together to support the launch of this important business.”

GM and LG Chem made it pretty clear that they want this factory to hit the ground running. The construction won’t be done until 2022, but Ultium is already hiring. Onboarding for an additional 30 employees is going to start on March 1st, and the company plus vendors plan to hire 1100 people in total, adding a lot of jobs to northeast Ohio.

“This is a significant milestone for the Ultium Cells team and our construction trade partners as we continue to build our physical foundation through the construction of our site, and our cultural foundation as we stand up our workforce,” said Tom Gallagher, operations director of Ultium Cells LLC. “Ultium Cells is on track to achieve our vision of an inclusive and engaged workforce as we add 30 more launch team members in March. It is exciting to see the team coming together to support the launch of this important business.”

If you’re in the area and you’re looking for a job, be sure to check out the Ultium Cells Website. You can tell them we sent you, but that probably doesn’t matter.

What Kind of Batteries Will Be Built There?

The Ultium batteries will be used in GM vehicles, and they designed a modular system to use similar batteries in a variety of vehicles. To do this, they set it up so that the pouch cells can be laid in vertically or horizontally to better fit different needs. They’re going to put these in everything from small cars to large trucks and crossovers.

For most vehicles, these will be wired together to form a 400 Volt pack that can charge at up to 200 kW at DC fast charging stations. The truck platform will have 800 Volt batteries capable of charging at up to 350 kW, so they’ll have reasonable charging times. I’m not sure why it chose to do 400 Volt packs for smaller vehicles, as that puts it behind Tesla in charging speeds, but it’s not that far behind today. It may be more behind by the time the vehicles come to market.

The plan is to drive battery prices below $100/kWh through mass production and continuous improvement. If they can accomplish this soon, the result will be vehicles that can be competitive in price to gas vehicles. When that happens, it will be a gamechanger because electric vehicles are also cheaper to operate and maintain. It would be a no-brainer whether to buy an EV at that time.

This progress shows us that GM is serious about building a lot of EVs in the future. Ford told us last year that there was no advantage to building a domestic battery plant, instead looking to work with suppliers to ship in batteries, but now it has changed its tune after having supply issues. GM seems to have made a smarter choice by committing to running its own joint US plant.

 



 


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