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GM to exit one of its venture capital unit's investments soon

A General Motors logo is seen on a vehicle for sale at the GM dealership in Carlsbad, California January 4, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A General Motors logo is seen on a vehicle for sale at the GM dealership in Carlsbad, California January 4, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Ben Klayman

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - General Motors Co will soon exit one of its venture capital unit's investments, either through an initial public offering or the acquisition of that company by another, the U.S. automaker's chief technology officer said.

GM started its venture capital unit more than two years ago with a $200 million budget to invest in start-up companies with promising auto-related technologies.

While GM Ventures no longer provides details on how many companies it has invested in or how much it has spent, Chief Technology Officer Jon Lauckner said the automaker could exit its stake in one of its investments when it is acquired or files for an IPO.

"Hopefully we'll get an exit in the not-too-distant future," he told reporters on Wednesday. "And hopefully it will basically pay for all the other investments that we've made."

One of GM Ventures' areas for investment focus is in technologies involving the greening and electrification of vehicles. Other areas include in-car information-entertainment technologies, sensors or processors, and "smart" or advanced materials that can improve vehicle performance or cut costs.

In January 2011, GM invested in battery maker Envia Systems, a California-based start-up that is working to develop more powerful and cheaper batteries for electric vehicles.

ELECTRIC VEHICLES

GM has made the development of electric vehicles like the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt a key part of its strategy. It plans to begin selling an all-electric version of its Chevy Spark minicar next summer and the Cadillac ELR luxury coupe plug-in toward the end of 2013.

GM invested $7 million in Newark, California-based Envia, which has developed cathode technology for lithium-ion batteries that it says will improve power storage for electric cars, addressing the problems of limited driving range and high costs.

"There's no doubt, they have some very interesting technology," Lauckner said. "Having said that, we do not have a commercial agreement with the company. Although, we continue to talk about how they fit into our future electric vehicle plans."

Lauckner declined to comment further, saying he was not involved in the discussions with Envia.

Of the companies in which GM Ventures has invested, the one that could see its product in GM vehicles first is Powermat, he said.

GM said in January 2011 that it had invested $5 million in Powermat with plans to incorporate the company's wireless charging technology for electronic devices like cell phones into future vehicles.

Lauckner also was asked about the impact of last month's bankruptcy filing by A123 Systems , which will make the batteries for the Spark EV.

He declined to comment other than to say he was "highly confident that we're going to do just fine."

(Reporting By Ben Klayman in San Francisco; Editing By Ryan Woo)

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