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Published: Friday, 8/14/2009

GM plans $43M plant just north of Monroe County


BROWNSTOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. - General Motors Co. chief Fritz Henderson says a new $43 million plant in Michigan will assemble battery packs for the company's upcoming rechargeable electric car, as the automaker continues relying on suppliers for key elements of the batteries.

GM's president and chief executive held a news conference yesterday at the plant site in Brownstown Township, southwest of Detroit. Production will start in the fourth quarter of 2010, employing about 100 people, GM said. The site is 40 miles north of Toledo in Wayne County near the Monroe County border.

"Developing and producing advanced batteries is a key step in GM's journey to become the leader in advanced vehicles," Mr. Henderson said.

Most automakers are working on similar designs, but GM would offer the first mainstream plug-in with the Chevrolet Volt.

Unlike Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius and other traditional hybrids, the Volt can run on batteries alone within a 40-mile range. It has a small internal-combustion engine that kicks in after the battery runs out of juice.

The Volt's battery pack can be recharged from a standard home outlet.

South Korea's LG Chem Ltd. is making the lithium ion battery cells, and Mr. Henderson said he expects to keep looking outside GM for key elements of its battery-powered cars.

"We're not a chemical company, so the advanced chemistry of the cells, I don't see us being in that business," he said.

"As we put the nation on wheels, we are now going to help wean the nation off oil," Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) said at the announcement ceremony.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn), whose district includes Monroe County, said the U.S. auto industry is moving to retake the technological lead he said was "stolen" by its overseas rivals. "We need to tell these foreigners, 'Get out of the way, we're coming through,'•" he said.

A 12-year, 50 percent personal property tax abatement from Brownstown was only part of a government support package topping $100 million for GM's electric car program.

The Volt, due in showrooms by November, 2010, will be built at an existing GM factory between Detroit and Hamtramck.

GM expects the $40,000 Volt to get 230 mpg in the city, based on tests using guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for calculating mileage of extended-range electric vehicles.

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