General Motors is getting serious about electric cars. The firm has awarded two contracts for advanced development of lithium-ion batteries, to be used in its electric drive“E-Flex System.” The E-Flex was first shown in the Chevy Volt concept car, shown at Detroit in January 2007and part of GM’s strategy to move away from petrol power. One contract is going to lithium-ion battery supplier Compact Power in Michigan, and the other to Frankfurt-based Continental Automotive Systems.“The signing of these battery development contracts is an important next step on the path to bring the Volt closer to reality,” said GM boss Rick Wagoner. "Given the huge potential that the Volt and its E-Flex system offers to lower oil consumption, lower oil imports, and reduced carbon emissions, this is a top priority program for GM."There are two versions of the E-Flex System – hence the two suppliers. One is a plug-in electric system, as shown in the Volt concept at Detroit. The other is a fuel-cell variant, as was shown at Shanghai in April. This would be able to supply some of its own power without stopping to recharge.“This technology is developing rapidly,” said Denise Gray, GM director of hybrid energy storage devices. “These contracts are an opportunity to deeply understand the differing battery technologies before making a production decision.” GM already sells some petrol-electric hybrid vehicles in the US – including a 2.4-litre petrol hybrid Saturn Vue, which is a US version of the Vauxhall Vectra.