Feb 042011
2011 Chevrolet Volt exhibited at the 2010 Wash...

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Can the U.S. grow a domestic electric car industry?

Not long after the auto bailouts, the financial crash and the election of President Obama, General Motors Co. had a choice to make.

It had designed an electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, to prove it could build something besides gas guzzlers. To make this car even close to affordable, it would need a battery unlike any that had been made before.

This battery would have to overcome its own bulk to power the Volt for 40 miles. It would have to repeat this for something like the life of a regular car. It had to be flawlessly safe: One explosion, and the electric car renaissance could be over.

Somehow, given all these qualities, it had to put the Volt somewhere near the price of a gasoline car today.

To discover that battery, GM had been working with two companies, one Korean and one American. And the time had come to choose.

So it did: In January 2009, GM chose LG Chem, a division of Korea-based LG Corp., to supply cells for the first model of the Volt, launching in late 2010.

The runner-up was A123 Systems Inc. of Watertown, Mass., a racing startup with a world-leading technology and now, a fresh defeat.

The move to get the United States into making cutting-edge batteries to power the electric car isn’t over. But the starting gun has fired.

DOE is pursuing a double-edged strategy: striving to help existing U.S. companies stay in business until their costs become competitive, and funding possible game-changing technologies that could establish American leadership in these clean energy sectors.

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