Advanced lithium-ion batteries for the Chevrolet Volt are assembled on SmartCarts at the Brownstown Battery Pack Assembly Plant. Photo courtesy General Motors.

On Jan. 11, 2010-exactly three years to the day that the Chevrolet Volt concept car debuted-General Motors manufactured the first advanced lithium-ion battery for the Volt at its Brownstown Battery Pack Assembly Plant in Brownstown Township, MI. By doing so, the plant, which is part of a wholly owned subsidiary of GM called GM Subsystems Manufacturing LLC, became the first U.S. high-volume manufacturing site for automotive lithium-ion batteries.

Five months before, in August 2009, GM announced a $43-million investment to prepare the 160,000-square-foot, landfill-free facility for producting lithium-ion battery packs for the Volt and other electric vehicles with extended-range capabilities. At that time, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded more than $2 billion to 45 companies, universities and organizations, including GM, in 28 states for electric drive and battery manufacturing and transportation electrification. Nearly half of that total is designated for cell, battery and materials manufacturing facilities in Michigan.

The Volt is designed to drive up to 40 miles on electricity without using gasoline or producing tailpipe emissions. When the Volt’s lithium-ion battery is depleted of energy, a flex-fuel engine-generator seamlessly operates to extend the total driving range to about 300 miles before refueling or stopping to recharge the battery. The Volt’s battery pack is made up of multiple linked battery modules and more than 200 battery cells.

The Brownstown plant features three primary assembly areas: battery module preassembly, final assembly and the battery pack main line. At the preassembly station, prismatic-shaped cells are processed and installed into modules by state-of-the-art flexible automated equipment. The modules are then delivered to the battery pack main line for assembly, final testing, verification and packaging for shipment.

The batteries are assembled on several SmartCarts made by Jervis B. Webb. SmartCarts are automatic guided vehicles that feature an induction sensor which reads magnetic tape on the assembly floor and guides the vehicle along a designated path. The tape can be installed or modified in just a few hours.

Operations performed on the carts include thermal and electrical assembly, along with quality and dimensional checks. The carts also are used to deliver parts and kits to subassembly areas. In all, the plant uses 28 SmartCarts, which came from an automotive supplier’s plant and another GM plant. The carts were then retrofitted with updated electronics.

Initial battery production at Brownstown was used to validate the plant’s equipment and processes. As of this spring, GM began shipping batteries to its Detroit-Hamtramck plant-the assembly location for the Volt-for use in production-validation vehicles.

For more information on automatic guided vehicles, call 248-553-1000 or visit