General Motors announced this morning that it would jointly design and engineer "future electric vehicles" with Korea's LG Group, in a statement that raised more questions than it answered.

The announcement, the company said, will "help GM expand the number and types of electric vehicles it makes and sells" because it can use "LG’s proven expertise in batteries and other systems."

LG Group is the sprawling conglomerate that owns LG Chem, which supplies lithium-ion cells to the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car that GM starting selling last December.

Mock-up of LG Chem battery for Chevrolet Volt

Mock-up of LG Chem battery for Chevrolet Volt

GM vice-chairman Steve Girsky said in the statement that new products "may be available more quickly" if GM builds on a partnership strategy, which also lets GM "save time and money in the development process."

Teams of engineers from both GM and LG will work on "key components," including vehicle "structures and architectures," for vehicles that will be sold in many countries.

In addition to the LG Chem cells that go into the Volt (and its European sibling, the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera), the two companies collaborated on a fleet of electric Chevrolet Cruze compact sedans with 100-mile electric range.

The Cruze EVs were used as the official vehicles when the G20 summit was held in Seoul last November, and they're now being tested by civilian drivers in Korea to give the companies a better sense of their real-world capabilities.

Juno Cho, president and chief operating officer of LG Corp., called the partnership "a strategic development for LG" and said the company supported the GM goal of leading vehicle electrification for the auto industry.

LG is hardly going to be GM's only battery cell supplier, however. Just two weeks ago, GM awarded a contract to A123 Systems to supply lithium-ion cells for a "future GM electric vehicles."

What vehicles will the two companies work together on? Oh, it's far too early to discuss that.

In typical passive-voice PR-speak, the press release says only that, "Timing of the launch of the first vehicles resulting from the partnership will be announced closer to market readiness."

Chevrolet Cruze EV, test fleet in South Korea, October 2010

Chevrolet Cruze EV, test fleet in South Korea, October 2010

One interesting note: The release specifically says that GM and LG Group are not exchanging equity stakes. Given that the U.S. government still owns 27 percent of General Motors after it funded the automaker's 2009 restructuring, such an exchange would likely cause far more political headaches than it would be worth.

Nonetheless, the fact that the company felt compelled to discuss the issue may mean that this is a bigger deal than it appears.



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