LG Chem and General Motors today announced plans to jointly build and operate a major new $2.3 billion battery factory in the city of Lordstown in Northeast Ohio. The new site, with a planned output capacity of more than 30 GWh, is expected to begin construction in the summer of 2020 and would become one of the world’s largest battery factories.
According to Reuters, the site is expected to be operated by members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union. The companies say it will create over 1,100 new jobs and could be flexibly expanded to increase output when needed in the future.
GM has recently stated plans to introduce an electric pickup and a Cadillac crossover SUV among other future EVs for production beginning as soon as the fall of 2021. The company has plans to have at least 20 electric vehicle models globally in production by 2023 although its isn’t clear yet how many are targeted for delivery in North America. Many of those models could be planned for China where aggressive government mandates are forcing major automakers to step up their EV plans.
“With this investment, Ohio and its highly capable workforce will play a key role in our journey toward a world with zero emissions,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “Combining our manufacturing expertise with LG Chem’s leading battery-cell technology will help accelerate our pursuit of an all-electric future. We look forward to collaborating with LG Chem on future cell technologies that will continue to improve the value we deliver to our customers.”
The companies reiterated a long-standing projection that cell production cost will be brought under $100 per kWh in the 2022 timeframe. GM has stated that projection since 2015. Its current cell costs are believed to be under their initial $145 per kWh cost announced for the initial Bolt EV production which began in late 2016.
To put the new plans in perspective, a factory making 30 GWh of cells per year would enable GM to make 500,000 Chevrolet Bolt EVs with 60 kWh battery packs. Until now, the company has made around 25,000 Bolt EVs per year.
The 2020 Bolt EV now comes with a slightly larger 66 kWh pack. Future GM all-electric pickups and SUVs would likely have larger packs with closer to 100 kWh like those used in the Tesla Model X, Audi e-tron, Jaguar I-PACE, and Ford’s recently announced Mustang Mach-E with its extended range pack.
The scale of the new factory’s planned output roughly matches Tesla’s existing Nevada “Gigafactory” site theoretical capacity of 35 GWh. As of April of this year, Tesla has said its joint factory with Panasonic was building cells and packs at an annual rate of about 23 GWh. Tesla has said its Nevada site could be scaled up to over 100 GWh of capacity but recently its joint relationship in the factory with Panasonic has been tense and future expansion plans are unclear.
The Nevada “gigafactory” makes cylindrical 21700-sized cells (Tesla calls them 2170 cells) that are used for the Model 3 sedan. Tesla’s other vehicles use 18650-size cylindrical cells coming from a Panasonic battery factory in Japan. The first 2 digits indicate width in millimeters and the last 3 digits indicate cell length. GM and most other carmakers use flat rectangular pouch cells.
SK Innovation, a closely competing battery maker also from South Korea, has plans to build a factory in Commerce, Georgia with a targeted production capacity of 9.8 GWh by 2022. That factory would presumably supply a nearby Volkswagen factory being expanded in Tennessee to build new models of electric vehicles for North America. LG and SK Innovation are engaged in a high-stakes legal battle in the U.S. over battery patents which could potentially disrupt those plans.
Battery startup Northvolt is building a battery factory in Sweden targeting a capacity of 32 GWh by 2024 and another factory in Germany planning 16 GWh of battery output by 2024. These factories would supply Volkswagen and possibly other European car assembly sites.
LG has an existing battery cell factory in Holland, Michigan which initially produced cells for the now-discontinued Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. It now makes cells for the Bolt EV and also for the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivan. Other LG battery cell plants are located in South Korea, China and Poland.
CATL, BYD, and others also have or are planning major new battery factories in China for local vehicle production there. Forbes quotes an analysis by BloombergNEF as saying as of 2019 that there is “316 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of global lithium cell manufacturing capacity. China is home to 73% of this capacity…”. That would work out to some 230 GWh but much of that goes towards cell phones and other electronics rather than EVs.
According to GM, the new Ohio plant “builds on GM’s $28 million investment in its Warren, Michigan battery lab announced late last year. It is also in addition to manufacturing investments in Ohio announced earlier this year totaling approximately $700 million that will create about 450 jobs in Toledo, Parma and Brookville, Ohio.”
GM recently shuttered and sold a nearby vehicle assembly plant in Lordstown which will now be used by the startup Lordstown Motors for producing electric pickup trucks.