Chinese Automaker SAIC, Taps US-based Battery Startup A123 for Coming Electric and Hybrid Vehicles

April 03 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 2

A123 battery carThe Wall Street Journal is reporting that Chinese car maker SAIC is planning to use lithium ion battery technology from promising startup A123 Systems of Watertown, MA.

This is not game-changing news, but certainly worth noting since expectations are that Asian energy storage manufacturers (not US-based) are likely to dominate the first generation battery-power vehicles.

This news arrived close to a NY Times front page article covering China's aspirations to lead the world in electric vehicles by 2011.

It is an obvious win for A123 Systems, which was passed up by General Motors for Korea's LG last Fall, for GM's Volt battery pack.  But it is still unclear how the battle over energy storage will play out in the long term.

EVs are Going Global and Batteries are Not the End Game!
We have written for months about the globalization of the electric vehicle age, and the role Asia is likely  to play in the decades-long transition to electric vehicles powered by a combination of batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors.

Today's lithium ion battery batteries are better thanks to nanostructured components and membranes, but I'm doubtful that they will be the only power system in next generation electric vehicles.  

Fuel cells and capacitors will eventually have their day as pieces to the complex engineering puzzle of powering cars. So let's not waste too much money extending 20th century wall socket cords to 21st century vehicles!  We should decouple transportation fueling from the grid, not add excess strain to an aging grid with no storage mechanism!

The real opportunity for Asian automakers might be becoming the first company who can crack the 'low end' disruptive potential of electric vehicles and their lower 'manufacturing footprint' in terms of capital costs.

How Should US Automakers Respond?
I am a big fan of A123 Systems, but would rather see their nano-enhanced products used in non-automotive applications.  Let's get Li-ion batteries right for laptops before we head into automotive applications! 

I've advocated for the US to 'go global' in its push for electric platforms and avoid competing in the battery market, and instead focusing on next generation fuel cells and solid hydrogen storage.  Beyond power systems the real money is likely to come from 'smart vehicle' software control systems, and electric wheel based motors.  

So congratulations to A123 Systems, but let's not race to the bottom of commoditizing batteries!  Focus on the next generation systems!

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