WASHINGTON -- The federal government must help U.S. auto suppliers prepare to make high-tech batteries for future vehicles, two industry experts told a congressional panel today.
Such help "will be essential if these new battery chemistries are to be manufactured in the U.S." at reasonable cost and with necessary reliability, said Denise Gray, General Motors' director of hybrid energy storage systems.
GM is producing a variety of hybrid vehicles. The automaker is developing plug-in hybrids that it says could operate as far as 40 miles on electricity only, if more potent batteries are developed.
Also testifying was Mary Ann Wright, vice president and general manager of hybrid battery systems at Johnson Controls Inc. She said comprehensive legislation should include loan guarantees for capital investment and programs to help make the U.S. battery supply chain more competitive.
Wright also is CEO of a joint venture between Johnson Controls and Saft, a French battery company. She said she sees no insurmountable technical obstacles to eventual widespread use of lithium ion batteries for future hybrids and plug-in hybrids.
Other issues require cooperation among government, battery makers and lower-tier suppliers, Wright said. They include building a material and component supply base and developing manufacturing processes, recycling and equipment, said Wright, who formerly was lead engineer at Ford Motor Co. on the Ford Escape Hybrid crossover.
Today's hearing was held by a subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee on energy and environment, said committee leaders are drafting legislation on advanced battery development.
GM's Gray said any new program should build on work under way by the U.S. Department of Energy with industry groups, rather than creating parallel research efforts.