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GM plans to invest millions at Orion for new battery pack line

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. plans to invest $160 million at its Orion Assembly plant for construction of a new battery pack assembly line, The Detroit News has learned, suggesting to experts the facility could be the next plant transitioned to build the automaker's new electric vehicles. 

The Detroit automaker filed a tax exemption request on Dec. 1 with Orion Township for a "proposed investment … primarily for the construction of an addition and land improvements for a new battery pack assembly facility."

The GM Orion Assembly sign in Orion Twp., Wednesday afternoon, November 3, 2021.

Battery packs are what hold the battery cells that power EVs. GM has sections dedicated to battery pack assembly at its plants building new Ultium-powered products, including the coming GMC Hummer EV pickup built at GM's Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center. Ultium is GM's new EV platform.

Construction on the Orion project is estimated to start in July 2022, according to the tax exemption documents.

GM spokesman Dan Flores would not "disclose or confirm the details of the project under consideration," but said GM "is in the early stages of developing a business case for a potential future investment that could be located at several locations, including the Orion Township area.

"As part of developing a competitive business case, we have had discussions with the appropriate Orion Township officials on potential incentive opportunities. Securing available incentives will play an important role in the development of any competitive business case, but there are other factors that will be key as well."

The automaker is requesting an industrial tax exemption for 12 years plus the estimated three years to complete construction. Construction is slated to be finalized by December 2025. GM estimates about 200 jobs will be created or retained as a result of the project, according to the documents filed. There will be a public hearing on the tax exemption request Dec. 20.  

Orion Assembly in Lake Orion is home to the recalled Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV, products which are are not based on GM's Ultium platform. LG Energy Solution supplies the cells for Chevy Bolts and affiliate company LG Electronics assembles the cells into modules and packs. LG Electronics is paying $1.9 billion of the projected $2 billion cost of the recall of all Bolts for battery fire risk. 

Production at the plant has been down for several weeks since the recall was announced in late August. It's now halted through Jan. 28 as GM works through the recall and prioritizes repairing recalled Bolts with new battery modules. 

GM plans to spend $35 billion on EV and autonomous investments through 2025. The automaker so far has listed four North American plants to build new Ultium-based products: Factory Zero in Detroit, Spring Hill Manufacturing in Tennessee, CAMI in Ontario, and Ramos Arizpe Assembly in Mexico. 

To meet its EV goals, including only selling emissions-free vehicles by 2035, GM will need to transition more plants. 

The automaker expects its North American EV assembly capacity will reach 20% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. GM President Mark Reuss said at an October Investor Day event the automaker would announce a dedicated battery-electric truck plant soon.

 AutoForecast Solutions' estimates show the Bolt products ending production in the 2024 timeframe, said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global forecasting for the company. 

Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst leading e-mobility research at Guidehouse Insights, predicts Orion "will probably be the next assembly plant producing Ultium-platform vehicles."

In addition to transitioning its auto plants for Ultium, the automaker and its battery supply partner LG Energy Solution plan to build four U.S. battery cell manufacturing plants. They've announced the locations for two: Spring Hill, Tennessee and Lordstown, Ohio. 

After Michigan lost out on a multi-billion investment from Ford Motor Co., GM President Reuss said the automaker's home state was on a list as a potential location for at least one of GM's battery cell manufacturing plants. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration and lawmakers are preparing a significant economic development package that could involve millions of dollars to land large projects, and a major target of the effort is GM, The Detroit News reported Tuesday. The Michigan House approved the package on Wednesday. 


Twitter: @bykaleahall