Sakti3 Scores $4.2M From GM Ventures, Itochu

Lithium-ion battery developer Sakti3 and General Motors announced the latest step in their ongoing dance today, and it’s a big one for the 3-year-old startup: GM plans to invest $3.2 million in Sakti3 through its new venture capital arm, GM Ventures. Sakti3, a University of Michigan spin-off whose backers include Khosla Ventures, Beringea and the state of Michigan, also announced this morning that Japan’s Itochu Technology will join the list with a $1 million investment.

GM and Sakti3‘s partnership dates back more than a year. In January 2009, GM announced plans to invest $5 million in a new advanced battery research center at the University of Michigan (co-directed by the automaker and university), where Sakti3 CEO and U-M engineering professor Ann Marie Sastry would help train GM engineers. A few months later, in May 2009, the companies announced plans to share expertise developing batteries for plug-in vehicles.

The deepening relationship with GM represents an important vote of confidence in Sakti3’s solid state battery technology. The young company requested $15 million from the Department of Energy’s battery grant program last spring to help accelerate the often long slog toward commercial-scale manufacturing, but those funds haven’t come through so far.

GM and Itochu’s investments will provide Sakti3 with, “not only capital,” Sastry said in a statement today, “but partnerships that will speed our commercialization efforts.” Specifically, she said working with the two firms will accelerate Sakti3’s “product planning in the automotive and portables sectors.” Sastry emphasized GM’s work on electric vehicles as well as Itochu’s “strong focus on energy technologies, and on growth markets in Asia.”

GM Ventures’ investment in Sakti3 comes as just the second investment announced by the GM subsidiary. Led by Jon Lauckner, a top executive in the development of the plug-in Chevy Volt (and one of our Top 15 Connected Car Influencers), GM Ventures launched in June with $100 million and a mission to identify, develop and invest in innovative technologies in the transportation sector. In early August, GM Ventures announced its first official investment: $5 million for plug-in, hybrid van developer Bright Automotive, which focuses on lightweight materials and aerodynamic design to help boost efficiency.

Lauckner told us recently that GM Ventures plans to invest in a range of automotive-related technologies, and named six general categories where the group is looking for investments, including: car sharing, advanced cleantech (such as batteries, motors, and “even fuel cells”), infotainment, advanced materials (these could be lightweight or sustainable), systems and subsystems (such as sensors for semi-autonomous driving), and “value stream” (secondary uses for batteries, for example).

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