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GM hopes to foster innovation with $8 million expansion at Warren lab

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GM hopes to foster innovation with $8 million expansion at Warren lab

Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News

General Motors Co. will spend $8 million to double its U.S. battery lab in Warren, to speed development of electric vehicles and expand its expertise in advanced batteries -- an area expected to continue to grow in importance.

The Global Battery Systems Lab is part of GM's Technical Center campus. It tests battery cells, modules and packs to power electric vehicles, including hybrids and extended-range electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt, which will go on sale in November.

GM plans to build a 33,000-square-foot addition to the 30,000-square-foot lab.

The investment includes renovating areas previously used for engine testing.

Construction is to begin this month and finish by late summer.

"GM took a big leap two years ago to move into this space," committing a lab to battery technology, said Micky Bly, GM executive director in charge of global electrical systems, hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries.

"We were unsure if we'd have payback quickly, but decided we had to do it for cost reasons," Bly said, referring to the "significant" cost of battery technology.

"A lot of patents for GM's portfolio will come out of that lab," said Joe Phillippi, analyst with AutoTrends Consulting Inc. in Short Hills, N.J.

"GM labs and technical center have been a literal hotbed of interesting development over the years," Phillippi said, and basic research in electric vehicles and batteries today will pay large dividends in the future.

GM created the lab in early 2009 and it was fully operational by May. It employs more than 1,000 engineers. The automaker plans to add 40 or 50 jobs as part of its continued growth plan. That hiring is unrelated to the expansion, which is creating no new jobs.

The commitment already is paying off in knowledge, Bly said.

GM has gone from a buyer of technology to a driver of technology, he said, describing the experience as a "real eye opener."

GM board all on board

The sharp learning curve was the impetus to seek an expansion of the lab, to do more testing, Bly said.

The request was unanimously approved by GM's board with instructions to proceed with speed to get cleaner, efficient and affordable vehicles on the road.

While GM is working with Korean battery supplier LG Chem on the Volt, the automaker is testing batteries from about 20 suppliers.

As for the Volt, six pre-production models have been built in Hamtramck in the past couple weeks, said Andrew Farah, chief engineer of the Volt and its European offshoot, the Opel Ampera. The Ampera will go into production next year as a 2012 model.

Road testing shows the Volt is meeting its targets, including achieving a 40-mile range on batteries alone and the goal of 50 miles per gallon when the range-extending gasoline engine kicks in, Farah said.

He hopes GM and government agencies agree soon on how to measure fuel economy, so labels are ready when the car goes on sale.

Otherwise, "there should be no issues between now and the end of the year to get the Volt up and running," Farah said.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100413/AUTO01/4130328/1148/auto01/GM-hopes-to-foster-innovation-with-$8-million-expansion-at-Warren-lab#ixzz0kz12eNHJ

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