GM backs solar car port maker Sunlogics

Solar materials

After investing in batteries, wireless tech, and electric car innovation, the venture arm of GM is now turning to solar car ports. On Thursday GM Ventures announced that it has invested $7.5 million into Sunlogics, a company that makes canopies covered in solar panels, which can shade parked cars, provide electric car charging infrastructure and also tap into solar power for EV charging.

GM already had a deal with Sunlogics to install the solar canopies at its Chevy Volt dealers, as well as solar panels on the roofs of some of GM facilities. Along with the investment, GM says it will double the use of solar systems, from 30 MW to 60 MW, by the end of 2015.

Sunlogics says it will use the funds from GM to open factories in Detroit and Ontario, and those facilities will create 310 jobs says Sunlogics.

Beyond the funding, GM is a really important partner for an auto tech startup. GM Venture’s President John Lauckner explained some of these benefits at an event earlier this year. Like with the case for Sunlogics, GM Ventures is commonly investing as a customer, so a startup often times can get a commercial relationship with GM, which could be crucial for an early stage company.

GM also tends to start working on technology with a company at an early stage, so GM can likely help the startup “shave the lead time off of the product development process,” by months or more, explained Lauckner. GM is generally able to raise the profile of a company and can “de-risk the equity structure of the company. And as a bonus, automotive testing and R&D is also an expensive undertaking and GM can help startups use its facilities and expensive tools.

Lauckner explained GM Venture’s five key sectors of interest as: automotive cleantech (electric and low-carbon cars), infotainment, smart materials (light weight, phase change, forming tech), other automotive tech (like advanced sensors), and alternatives to traditional business models (like car sharing). The mission statement of GM Ventures is basically a spinoff of the mission statement of GM: Help GM build the best vehicles.