Sony Cooperates With U.S. Antitrust Probe of Rechargeable Battery Business

Sony Corp. (6758) said it is cooperating with a probe by the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division as part of a wider investigation into competition in the rechargeable battery business.

The Tokyo-based company’s U.S. subsidiary, Sony Electronics, received the request for information on May 3, Keita Sanekata said in an e-mailed statement. Sanekata declined to comment further on the scope of the investigation disclosed in an annual report filed today.

Lithium batteries account for the largest portion of the global market for rechargeable batteries. They are used in smartphones, personal computers, tablets and plug-in electric vehicles. The largest battery makers cut prices in 2010 amid a supply glut, according to the Institute of Information Technology, a Tokyo-based market research firm.

Manufacturers have announced plans to expand capacity to meet demand for batteries in electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars. Sales will increase to 1.7 trillion yen ($21 billion) in 2020 from almost zero in 2009, Daiwa Securities Group Inc. estimated in March 2010.

President Barack Obama’s administration has provided more than $2.4 billion in grants and low-cost loans to battery makers and auto companies to support projects intended to spur the development and sale of rechargeable electric cars and plug-in hybrids, as part of a 2009 stimulus package.

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