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Demand for electric vehicles drives job growth

LG Chem Michigan, which manufactured battery cells for more than 30,000 vehicles in 2016, expects to produce more in 2017.

January 6, 2017
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Chrysler Pacifica
LG Chem Michigan, which produced battery cells and packs for the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, said it manufactured more than 6 million battery cells in 2016. Courtesy LG Chem Michigan

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Growing demand in the electric vehicle market has led one West Michigan company to increase its workforce by 140 employees this past year.

LG Chem Michigan in Holland, which produces lithium ion batteries for the auto industry, said it isn’t done hiring, predicting it will likely add more positions in 2017 as additional contracts are completed.

LG Chem Michigan currently touts a workforce of approximately 450 employees. It has hired technical operators, journeymen electricians, engineers and others in the past year.

Nick Kassanos, president of LG Chem Michigan, said growth thus far is tied to the company’s contracts with Chevy and Chrysler.

“It’s (due to) increased demand from our customer base and the growth we’ve experienced between the next generation Chevy Volt product line, the recently announced Chrysler Pacifica hybrid program and some other export work we are doing,” Kassanos said.

In November, LG Chem added the production of battery cells and battery packs for the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, the first-ever hybrid minivan.

The Holland plant said it manufactured more than 6 million battery cells in 2016, enough to power in excess of 30,000 vehicles, and is expected to produce even more in 2017.

Kassanos said he can’t predict hiring numbers from 2017 at this point, but he said he’s bullish on “a great future and more growth ahead of us.”

“Frankly, it will be based on demand and business pace, and as our business expands, we will hire to meet that demand,” he said.  “We do have programs in the pipeline that I can’t discuss (at this point), but we are getting set to do additional hiring in 2017 and beyond.”

Kassanos said electric vehicles remain an area of growth for auto manufacturers, which is good for LG Chem.

“The auto industry is moving into that area of renewable energy and electrification of vehicles, whether it be 100 percent electric or a hybrid, where it is a combination of a battery and an engine, or what I call start-stop systems, where you come to a red light and the engine stops and the electronics continue to run,” he said.

He said as long as customer demand and requirements related to emissions and fuel economy remain, LG Chem will continue to crank out lithium ion batteries.

Kassanos couldn’t predict production levels for electric vehicles in 2017, which he says remains “cyclical in nature” and requires manufacturers to “adjust their product and production to demand,” but he did say he views LG Chem’s business as “long term.”

“I really think the electrification of passenger vehicles is on a path that is well established, and it’s in a growth mode,” he said. “At the plant level, I’m trying to build a team with the capabilities to support that growth.”

Finding employees to fill the growing openings remains a challenge, though.

Kassanos said West Michigan’s low unemployment rate makes finding qualified workers a challenge, and he isn’t just looking to hire someone who wants a job, but rather, he is looking for employees who want to “grow” and be “challenged.”

“We want people who want to grow and be part of emerging technology,” he said. “That is our brand and the kind of worker we are looking for.”

While he wasn’t interested in talking politics, Kassanos did say he thinks LG Chem is in a good position in relation to what he’s heard from President-elect Donald Trump thus far.

“We are all about building here in the United States, and we are doing that now,” he said. “I think we are a good role model for other companies. LG is a Korean company, and we are building product here in this plant.”

He said the majority of product produced at LG Chem’s Holland facility is used in the United States, but the company also does some exporting.

“I think we are in a strong position based on what I’ve heard the president-elect say, but again, I’m not here to do politics. We are here to do business and grow a business we think is the wave of the future.”

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