If nothing else, the new, post-bankruptcy General Motors is quicker moving than the old one.
The latest proof? GM Ventures, its venture-investment arm, has quietly invested $3.2 million in Sakti3, Inc. Founded in 2007 and based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the company develops "next-generation" solid-state lithium-ion battery cells.
Thus far, Sakti3 has received funds from Khosla Ventures, the venture capital firm founded by noted Silicon Valley entrepreneur Vinod Khosla, who focuses much of his investing on green-tech but has historically been skeptical of the potential for electric vehicles.
Other previous investors include Michigan venture capital firm Beringea, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which granted it $3 million last year for development work.
As well as GM Ventures, Sakti3 also received roughly $1 million in this round from Itochu Technology Ventures. The latest round of funds is intended to let the firm advance its ability to manufacture prototype cells.
Perhaps the most significant sentence in the announcement was this: "The companies also plan to work together to speed commercialization of Sakti3 battery cells."
GM recently doubled the size of its battery lab, and it routinely tests cells from literally dozens of vendors. Putting those resources to work in service of Sakti3's development efforts might give that company's cells a leg up on competitors, including LG Chem, the Korean company whose cells are powering the 2011 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric vehicle.
The objective of GM Ventures is "to identify start-up companies that offer the best future technology for our vehicles, including next generation propulsion systems," says CEO Lauckner. He notes that the Sakti3 stake "gives us access to an innovative battery technology that has the potential to be a mainstream solution for electrically-driven cars and trucks of the future."
And if that's not a warning shot across the bows of other cell companies, what is?
Sakti3 is unusual in that it is a Michigan-based company whose core intellectual property stemmed from research done at the University of Michigan. Its CEO is Dr. Ann Marie Sastry, well known in the auto industry for her work in explaining and promoting battery storage to often resistant auto executives.
GM Ventures was founded with a $100 million stake to "help the company identify and devleop innovative technologies in the automotive/transportation sector," according to its mission statement. Its CEO Jon Lauckner, who previously oversaw GM's vehicle programs, reports directly to GM's vice chairman, Steve Girsky.
Sakti3 is the second investment in less than six weeks for GM Ventures. In July, it announced it would invest an unspecified amount to take a minority stake in Bright Automotive, which is developing the lightweight, aerodynamic, plug-in hybrid Bright Idea urban delivery van.
[General Motors, The New York Times]