You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Oct 4, 2009 : 6:01 a.m.

Ann Arbor's electric vehicle intelligence is critical to development of battery industry

By Nathan Bomey

The gradual evolution of Michigan’s emerging battery industry is generating demand for electric vehicle intelligence.

That’s why the Ann Arbor region’s growing status as the intelligence center of Michigan’s electric vehicle battery industry is vital to the industry’s progress. Investors' $438 million welcome last week for A123Systems' initial public offering serves as a reminder that the battery firm's Ann Arbor research division will remain critical to its success.

The science of batteries demands Ann Arbor’s attention. It similarly illuminates the importance of University of Michigan’s battery partnership with General Motors.

The partnership lost a key player this week when Bob Kruse, who championed development of GM’s Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle, left the company. Kruse is starting his own consulting firm called E.V. Consulting LLC.

Kruse’s connections to U-M have helped to place the university’s battery expertise in a global spotlight.

U-M professor Ann Marie Sastry, CEO of Ann Arbor-based vehicle battery startup Sakti3, was working side by side with Kruse’s team to develop new technologies and retrain GM engineers to prepare them for alternative powertrain demands.

Sastry said U-M’s and Sakti3’s partnerships with GM would continue uninterrupted.

“General Motors has been clear in its commitments,” she said. “I’m delighted for Bob Kruse with his change in direction, and I’m sure he’ll be very successful. I’m sure that the work that he and many others have done to set the Volt and vehicle electrification on a good course will be rewarded with success in the marketplace.”

Kruse is likely to be the first of many electric vehicle experts to depart the major automakers to join private consulting firms.

"It could be more lucrative given the state of the auto industry," said Richard Wallace, senior project manager for the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research. "There could be economic incentives to leap out of that industry and start electric power type businesses."

Still, money is just one factor. A global lack of knowledge about lithium-ion battery technology for vehicles creates significant demand for independent expertise.

The Ann Arbor area, which is among the few regions with such expertise, is likely to reap benefits as auto companies contract with engineers and researchers to accelerate their electric vehicle programs.

“There’s enough companies making electric vehicles and electric vehicle components that there’s enough people for these kinds of opportunities,” Sastry said.

“Industries that haven’t worked together before are now in customer-supplier relationships, and neither side has the expertise needed to execute the customer agreements or run programs. There will be people who have to make sure the skids are greased in these interactions and that’s also really indicative of a maturing industry.”

Contact Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter.