GM races after Tesla with battery pack tech and solar deal

Gah, for a few milliseconds there, we were willing a cold, faceless corporation to succeed

General Motors' newest endeavor is a business unit dedicated to producing energy storage systems – and the automaker left no doubts about who it sees as its top competitor in the space: Tesla. 

That new unit will be called GM Energy, which will oversee two new product lines – GM's Ultium Home and Ultium Commercial batteries – along with the car manufacturer's Ultium Charge 360 power storage system.

Its goal is to build a network of home and commercial batteries that can charge vehicles, use solar energy, and sell power to support the main grid in times of shortage, similar to Tesla's Powerwall-to-grid program in California.

GM also announced a partnership with solar-power biz SunPower Corp, who will be the preferred installer for this latest battery gear, presumably providing an ability to top up the storage using solar panels.

Similar power-to-the-grid systems are also available from Toyota, albeit only in Japan, while Ford's F150 Lightning is capable of delivering power to a home, and is being tested for its ability to provide power to the grid. 

As for who GM sees as the biggest competitor of the lot, it's all about Tesla, GM's chief EV officer Travis Hester told Reuters. 

"We're getting into the entire ecosystem of energy management … Our competition in this space on the (automaker) side is really only Tesla, which is a strong energy management company. There are a lot of analogies you can draw with Tesla," Hester told the news agency. 

GM CEO Mary Barra has separately said she intends to topple Tesla as the top EV maker, and GM executives say they could do so by 2025.

Show me the battery

The Ultium battery brand isn't totally new; GM produces devices under that label with South Korea's LG from their joint venture Ultium Cells. This past July, the JV was given $2.5 billion by the US Department of Energy to build three battery assembly plants in the American Midwest. Those plants appear to be designed to manufacture EV batteries. 

As for these new Ultium's Home and Commercial battery units, the details are lacking. GM said the batteries will go on sale the same time as the 2024 Silverado EV, which is due out in fall 2023.

A single infographic [PDF] on GM Energy's website does little to clarify what the system is capable of, only providing numbers that say the new Silverado EV will be capable of keeping a home's lights on for up to 21 days. Of course, "weather conditions, life of the battery, energy efficiency of appliances, and other external factors may impact the duration," GM said.  

That's far from satisfying to those who want to know how much competition Ultium will be for Tesla and other home energy systems. Unfortunately, a GM spokesperson told us the biz wasn't providing any hardware specs at this point, and that they would be "provided in future updates." ®

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