There hasn’t been much good news coming from the auto industry lately, so we were excited to see some progress being made: Yesterday, 14 companies announced they would form an alliance to promote America’s lithium-ion battery production. The alliance, called the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture, hopes that automakers will use the American-produced batteries in next-generation hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles.

Better American battery production can’t come soon enough: Right now, foreign countries dominate lithium-ion battery development, with most batteries coming from Asia and Europe. GM recently said it might even use foreign-produced batteries in its 2010 Chevy Volt, the automaker’s widely publicized plug-in electric sedan (though the flailing GM recently put the Volt’s factory plans on hold due to its current financial troubles).

Boosting American battery production would not only create much-needed jobs and bolster the economy, it would hopefully make American-made, greener cars like hybrids and all-electric vehicles more affordable.

From today’s Washington Post:

"James Greenberger, a Chicago lawyer who is leading the alliance effort, said the group would seek to develop one or more manufacturing and prototype development centers in the United States. The centers could carry a total price tag of between $1 billion and $2 billion over the next five years. The group hopes to get much of the money from the federal government.

'We think this is the most effective way that government can leverage public money to both establish lithium ion battery manufacture in the United States and revitalize the automotive industry in the long term,' Greenberger said."

Whether or not the next administration will be willing to throw federal dollars at better battery production remains to be seen. Bush gave GM and Chrysler a boatload of cash to pull themselves out of financial ruin—hopefully the automakers will realize that they can’t continue their business as usual. Creating more energy-efficient cars is an absolute must. Allocating federal dollars towards a green project like better battery development just might give major American automakers the shove they need to move in the right direction.

Alex Molinari, president of Johnson Controls, one of the bigger lithium ion battery producers in America, makes a valid point. “I don’t think it’s good enough that the American consumer is going to have a vehicle that’s electrified or have hybrid capabilities,” he said to the Washington Post. “It doesn’t help us if we have no capability in the US.”

This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in December 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008