Electric vehicles are being manufactured around the globe, but automakers are making moves that will mean production is a bit more localized in the future. GM’s big battery plant announcement in Tennessee follows one from Volkswagen a few weeks ago about European plants. It’s not that everything used in tomorrow’s EVs will be locally sourced, as it were, but the transmission lines are being shortened in these cases.

GM will invest $2.3 billion, again, in a U.S. battery factory

Domestic production of next-generation automotive batteries got a big shot in the arm late last week with an announcement by General Motors and LG Energy Solution that their joint venture (Ultium Cells LLC) would build a new battery manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. The $2.3 billion investment will result in a 2.8 million-square-foot plant to produce the Ultium batteries that will power GM’s upcoming electric vehicles. A total of 1,300 jobs are expected to result from the plant once it opens in late 2023. The Spring Hill plant will be the second from Ultium Cells LLC, which is already building a similar $2.3 billion battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

As these investments prove, GM is betting big on Ultium batteries. The packs that will come from the new plant will have energy capacities between 50 and 200 kilowatt-hours, GM said, which will be large enough to offer driving ranges of up to an estimated 450 miles on a full charge. When used in passenger vehicles, these are likely to be 400-volt packs with up to 200-kW fast charging capability. Future GM electric trucks will have 800-volt packs with 350-kW fast charging capability.

GM is not the only automaker to invest in future-proof battery technologies — as future-proof as these things can be, anyway — with Volkswagen recently announcing it would build six large battery “gigafactories” in Europe. Tesla is building a plant in Austin, Texas, and Volvo is also planning to build a battery plant in South Carolina, to name just a few others. GM says that its batteries have an advantage over those from other automakers, though, because its “large-format, pouch-style cells” are “unique in the industry” and offer GM engineers maximum flexibility for placement within future EVs since they can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack.

GM is locating its battery production plants relatively near the factories where it will build its upcoming EVs. The Lordstown plant is about three hours away from the automaker’s $2 billion Factory Zero in Detroit-Hamtramck. Factory Zero will be dedicated to building electric vehicles, starting with the new GMC Hummer EV pickup later this year. GM also plans to build the Hummer EV SUV and the Chevrolet Silverado electric pickup truck at Factory Zero.

GM will use cells from the new facility in Tennessee at its Spring Hill assembly plant. GM hasn’t announced all of the EVs it will build in Spring Hill, but we do know it will make the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq EV there, starting in 2022. GM says Ultium batteries will allow it to “compete for nearly every EV customer in the marketplace, whether they are looking for affordable transportation, luxury vehicles, work trucks, commercial trucks or high-performance machines.”

The U.S. Department of Energy will fund $162 million for decarbonized vehicles, including third SuperTruck program

Speaking of electric commercial trucks, DOE announced last week that it will spend $162 million in funding opportunities intended to “decarbonize cars and trucks.” The mission is broad, but for our purposes what’s interesting is that some of this money will be used for the SuperTruck 3 program to electrify medium- and heavy-duty freight trucks.

“DOE’s first two SuperTruck initiatives led the biggest truck makers in the American semi market to take massive leaps in fuel efficiency,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm
in a statement. “This new funding triples down on that progress with a push towards electrifying trucks of all sizes, along with efforts to expand EV charging access and develop low-emission car engines.”

The funds will be distributed by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). EERE’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) and Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO) will offer up to $100 million over four years for projects that electrify medium- and heavy-duty trucks as well as “freight system concepts that achieve even higher efficiency and lower emissions.” As usual, DOE is not dictating what form the electrification takes, and says it is interested in “all-electric, plug-in hybrid systems using renewable biofuels, and hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, including hybridization strategies such as fuel cell range extenders.”

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