Issue: Mar 2013


GM Ventures mapping the road to new technology through strategic investments



GM Ventures mapping the road to new technology through strategic investments

by Jon Knox

General Motors is supporting entrepreneurial innovation and green transport through its venture capital arm General Motors Ventures, which – according to the company – “invests in growth-stage companies to enhance GM’s ability to innovate and ensure our customers have access to the best technology”.

In 2011, it contributed US$6 million in a second round of funding for Proterra – a leading manufacturer of zero-emission commercial transit buses. Its TerraVolt™ energy storage system consists of 54- 72 kWh lithium titanate battery packs that recharge in 10 minutes using the company’s roof-mounted Fast Fill™ recharging system. Other investors providing the US$23 million injection into Proterra were Hennessey Capital Management, NMT Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield, Mitsui & Co Global Investment, 88 Green Ventures and Vision Ridge Partners.

Proterra was founded in 2004 to make emission-free buses. “This equity investment further demonstrates GM’s commitment to electric propulsion and supports our commitment to identify and invest in technology solutions that help advance the global transportation industry,” said Jon Lauckner, president of GM Venture when the company initially invested in Proterra. “While this investment will help Proterra commercialize its electric bus and fast-charging technology, it also helps to address the future challenges of urban mobility,” added Lauckner. GM Ventures’ investment strategy includes growth-stage companies in areas such as automotive cleantech, infotainment, advanced materials and other automotive-related technologies.

As part of its focus on cleantech, GM Ventures invested US$7.5 million in Sunlogics, a vertically integrated global solar energy systems providers specializing in solar project development and installation. GM also signed commercial agreements with Sunlogics for the installation of solar charging canopies at Chevrolet dealerships and GM facilities, as well as a power purchase agreement to install large-scale solar arrays at GM facilities and purchase the energy they produce. In 2010, GM Ventures along with the venture capital arm of Itochu, invested US$4.2 million in Sakti3 which is developing next-gen lithium-ion batteries that are cheaper and extend electric vehicle driving range.

According to Sakti3, it is aiming to further enable electric drivetrain vehicles that are capable of getting over 100 miles per gallon. Technology-related investments include taking equity in NanoSteel®, a leader in nano-structured steel materials design together with shareholders EnerTech Capital and Fairhaven Capital Partners and five existing investors. NanoSteel® has created a new class of steel that allows automotive engineers and designers to reduce weight through the use of thinner, higher strength gauges while maintaining the structural integrity needed for safety. Lauckner was named Vice President and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for General Motors in April 2012 in addition to his existing position as President of GM Ventures. “Jon’s vast knowledge and experience in product development and engineering, combined with his ability to identify new and innovative external technology partners, make him a perfect fit for this critically important role,” said Stephen Girsky, Vice Chairman of General Motors. “With both GM Ventures and Research and Development aligned under him, we will be more nimble and can move faster to integrate the latest and most-advanced technologies into our vehicles for the benefit of customers.”

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