Electric vehicles get a boost with Barack Obama’s visit

President Barack Obama will use his trip to the site of a Michigan lithium ion batteries plant Thursday as a centerpiece of a larger campaign promoting the administration’s $2.4-billion efforts to boost U.S. electric-vehicle production.

By Justin Hyde, Detroit Free Press

Besides the appearance at the groundbreaking for the Holland factory set to open in 2012, several cabinet members and administration officials will visit other plants around the country this week, including a General Motors factory in Baltimore, according to White House officials.

The U.S. Department of Energy is to release a report this week saying the push for U.S. production of electric and hybrid-vehicle lithium ion batteries could sharply lower their costs, with four plants expected to be running by the end of the year.

A political benefit

Talking about electric car batteries gives Obama a 2-for-1 political benefit in an election year.

With growing worries that unemployment remains high in a lackluster economy, Obama can tout high-tech jobs created by government stimulus.

He also can highlight electric vehicles as clean-energy steps toward reducing U.S. oil demand after the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, Obama made a similar stop at an electric-vehicle company in Missouri, saying the administration’s spending on clean-energy technologies would create 700,000 jobs.

A million electric vehicles charging?

He has called on the auto industry to sell 1 million electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2015.

Part of the impetus for the splurge on battery plants has come from worries that the U.S. would be left behind in a global technology race.

Nearly all batteries in hybrids today come from Asia.

Asian governments have also pledged large investments to their lithium ion batteries makers.

South Korean officials announced Sunday that they would set aside $12 billion over the next 10 years for its local battery makers, including LG Chem, which plans to build the cells for the Chevrolet Volt in South Korea this year.

For the Holland plant, which is expected to employ about 400 people by 2013, $151 million of its $303-million cost was covered by government grants.

The plant will be operated by LG Chem and its Troy-based subsidiary, Compact Power.

The Holland plant will make batteries for the Chevy Volt and the Ford Focus Electric.

The report will say that thanks to the stimulus spending, the cost of a battery pack for a vehicle with a 100-mile range could fall by half to $16,000 by 2013, declining to $10,000 by 2015.

The act could also spur the installation of 20,000 electric-vehicle charging stations by 2012.