One of the things that makes automakers so important to the economies of many industrialized countries is the jobs that go along with those companies. The carmakers and their suppliers employ several million people worldwide. Over the past century the world's automakers have built up a base of suppliers for all of the thousands of components that go into a new car or truck.
When General Motors announced the Chevy Volt last January they indicated that they were designing it to be built economically in volumes of 100,000 or more annually. Although automotive lithium ion battery technology appears to be coming along rapidly, no manufacturer has yet tooled up to build the millions of high capacity lithium cells that would be necessary to support hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles per year.
So far Tesla is the highest volume automotive user of lithium batteries and when they start production later this year, they will only be building a few hundred cars per year propelled by pack filled with standard cells used in consumer electronics devices. They are assembling packs and using a special cooling system and control software for thermal management. Higher volume applications will require lower cost robust solutions and that's one of the areas that companies like GM are working with their suppliers to develop. Manufacturing capacity for these large cells and battery packs will have to be ramped up quickly over the next two to three years in order to make cars like the Volt a reality.
[Source: Automotive News - Sub. req'd]