Yesterday General Motors announced that it awarded a production contract to A123 Systems for its advanced Nanophosphate® lithium ion batteries.

In a phone interview, GM Spokesman Kevin M. Kelly said A123 got the nod over Volt/Ampera battery supplier LG Chem after characteristics proved superior in tests performed at GM’s Global Battery Systems lab in Warren, Mich.

“We tested both cell chemistries and for the application this was an ideal solution,” Kelly said.

A battery engineering team GM's Global Battery Systems lab in Warren, Mich.

Kelly said energy density compared to a battery sample submitted for the competitive bid by LG Chem was not superior, but GM’s engineering team went with A123 as it better met desired criteria including "packaging requirements and operating performance," while meeting cost targets.

GM has no intentions to offer A123 batteries in the Volt or Ampera, Kelly said, and he confirmed the long-term relationship with LG Chem is still strong.

So, what are the A123 batteries for?

Kelly would not disclose whether they would be used for eAssist or a battery electric vehicle or another extended-range electric vehicle.

He said GM is still validating and testing the cells for a number of applications but GM is “not commenting right now” about its ultimate plans, or the A123 battery’s architecture or configuration.

What ever applications the batteries are to be used in, Automotive News reported A123 will be supplying "thousands to tens of thousands" of battery packs to GM, according to Jason Forcier, vice president for A123's Automotive Solutions Group.

The company’s engineering will be completed at the end of 2012, Forcier said, and vehicles will go on sale sometime after.

As was the case with GM’s mum's-the-word policy, Forcier would not identify the vehicles in the GM development program that will take advantage of batteries the company will in time deliver.

All that is known is that although a contract was awarded, more work remains. GM said its engineering team will now collaborate with A123’s engineering team on co-developing calibrations and software controls for the battery system in preparation for production.

“GM is committed to offering a full line of electrified vehicles - each of which calls for different battery specifications,” said Micky Bly, GM’s executive director - Global Electrical Systems, Infotainment and Electrification. “We work with a variety of battery developers and A123’s advanced Nanophosphate lithium ion technology offers ideal performance capabilities for a future electrified vehicle application.”

As GM-Volt readers know, A123 Systems was the strongest competitor against LG Chem in a contract bid that initially saw around one hundred battery companies compete for the Volt/Ampera contract.

A123's lithium ion chemistry was first developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The company spun off in 2001, and now has about 3,000 employees. Its proprietary chemistry is known to combine high energy density and long life.

Although LG Chem is the Volt supplier, A123 has never really ceased working with GM. This latest agreement builds on existing development contracts between GM and A123 focused on next-generation lithium ion battery technology at both the cell and system level.

The A123 battery packs for the latest GM project(s) will be produced at A123's plant in Livonia, Mich. Although he was not specific, Forcier said he expects it will require hundreds of additional employees.

And like GM, he offered a broad statement of ostensibly grand, but vaguely described plans.

“Today’s announcement is the latest milestone in the partnership between GM and A123, and it showcases the type of collaboration between U.S. companies necessary to build a long-term domestic battery and electric vehicle industry,” Forcier said. “This is a testament to GM’s continued commitment to leading the adoption of vehicle electrification technologies, and we believe that our selection as GM’s supplier for this global vehicle program validates our system-level expertise in delivering fully integrated battery packs for electric vehicles.”

Kelly said the contract bidding process was obviously well underway prior to tentative new CAFE rules just handed down, but he confirmed A123 Systems batteries will only help in meeting the 54.5 mpg (40mpg on window sticker) mandates.

Automotive News