Upon completion of what it said is the world’s highest capacity battery plant last Wednesday, and with two more in the works, LG Chem Ltd. announced intentions to capture 25 percent of the world’s advanced-tech auto battery market by 2015.

On hand at the South Korean firm's Ochong plant opening was General Motors, which had come to pledge financial support.

GM uses its batteries in the Chevrolet Volt, and has said it will switch to U.S.-made versions when its Holland, Mich. plant comes on line.

The Chevrolet Volt is shown charging its LG Chem batteries.

For now, LG Chem – which is part of the LG Group – said Ochang will have annual capacity to produce batteries for 100,000 electric and hybrid cars. For its Michigan and another Korean plant underway, LG Chem said it will spend an additional $1.84 billion (2 trillion won) by 2013.

According to Bloomberg, General Motors Vice Chairman Stephen Girsky said GM would itself invest $4.4 billion (4.8 trillion won) in South Korea over the next three years. Girsky offered no details as to what GM would spend the money on.

This report came as news to GM spokesman Rob Peterson, but he said GM is a global company, and speculated the money might be to supply batteries for “widgets,” or some other GM electronics needs.

Peterson said nothing has changed for the Holland plant to be up and running on schedule.

All 288 LG Chem cells, and high voltage features, are monitored for safety within the battery of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

The 650,000-square-foot Holland plant – whose groundbreaking was presided over by President Obama last year – is anticipated to produce enough cells per year for 200,000 electric cars and hybrids, including the Volt and upcoming Ford Focus Electric.

All told, as South Korea's biggest chemical maker, LG Chem said its annual global capacity by 2013 would be enough to supply 350,000 vehicles. The company said it intends to earn $1.84 billion (2 trillion won) in sales by 2013 and $3.68 billion (4 trillion won) by 2015.

Undoubtedly GM's vice chairman was welcome at Ochong, as the Voltec supply agreement, plus ongoing GM commitments, are being credited for tipping the scales of LG Chem’s rise to increased prominence.

“Its efforts are starting to bear fruit after General Motors Corp. and other carmakers agreed to use its battery technology,” said Hwang Kyu Won, an analyst at Tong Yang Investment Bank in Seoul, who told Bloomberg he maintains a buy recommendation on the stock. “Annual revenue from battery sales will increase, with LG Chem maintaining an edge in the global battery market.”

Other automotive supply deals that LG Chem has are with Ford Motor Co., Hyundai, China-based Chongqing Changan Automobile Co., Renault SA, plus three other automakers for a total of eight.

A battery assembly is readied for installation during pre-production of a Chevrolet Volt.

Upon the news about Ochong's opening last Wednesday, LG Chem shares rose 1.9 percent to 477,500 in Seoul trading, compared to a 0.2-percent decline on the benchmark Kospi Index. In the past year, the company has advanced 91 percent.

As for the picture closer to home, on April 4 the Holland Sentinel reported LG Chem intends to hire 200 positions in spring job fairs.

The $303 million plant – funded by 50-percent U.S. Department of Energy matching stimulus funds – needs to fill around 200 technical positions, 10 higher-level posts, and will hold its first job fair April 26.

“One reason why these positions have been slow in coming is because LG Chem is inventing these positions essentially and they’re inventing the training,” said Mike Stock to the Sentinel on behalf of Michigan Works, which is overseeing hiring of the tech jobs in two waves of 100 each, “The training will be very specific to LG Chem.”

Training and work will reportedly get underway this year, but the production Volt is not slated to receive Holland batteries until next year. LG Chem has said it will have hired more than 400 employees by 2013, as the first full year of Volt battery cell production begins.

Initially, our call to Peterson was to inquire whether GM's large Korean investment last week could mean a deviation from Chevrolet's plans to increase the Volt's U.S. content. He said not only will the batteries be U.S. made around mid-2012, but, as previously announced, the Volt's Austrian engine will be replaced with a U.S.-made version around then too.

While LG is growing, and GM is committing billions to it here and abroad, Peterson said Chevrolet's plans are still to increase the drivetrain's U.S. content.

For those not familiar, Peterson said each Volt battery utilizes 288 cells, is comprised of about 160 parts, and is already largely U.S.-made. Of its parts, 152 are engineered by GM, and final assembly is in Brownstown, Mich.

Chevrolet's plans dovetail most of the way with those of the Obama administration. Last July, when the president visited Holland , he said “in the next few years” the cost of EV batteries – the largest contributor to the Volt’s cost – would come down by as much as 70 percent.

“That means that by 2012, the batteries will be manufactured here in Holland, Mich.,” Obama said at the time, “So when you buy one of these vehicles, the battery could be stamped “Made in America” – just like the car.”

Peterson said while GM is always looking for ways to cut costs without diminishing quality, the president's "70 percent" looked a bit optimistic at this juncture, without making any estimate of his own.

President Obama continues to be an enthusiastic supporter of electric cars, and the Volt in particular.

Obama gave this quote after his administration started pledging to put one million EVs on American roads by 2015.

As for this forecast, Peterson did not say it was impossible, but also did not say he thought it was certain.

In any event, and whether or not the president's goal is achieved, it looks like GM and LG Chem are making sure they will have done their part.

Sources: AFP , Bloomberg , Holland Sentinel