Sanyo Electric, the world's biggest maker of rechargeable batteries, has won at least two customers for its lithium-ion batteries to fuel plug-in hybrid vehicles, an executive said. The company will start supplying the batteries to automakers, including a Japanese and a foreign carmaker, as early as in the latter half of 2011, Mitsuru Honma, head of Sanyo's rechargeable-battery unit, said in an interview yesterday at the company's headquarters in Osaka, western Japan. Honma didn't identify the customers, but Toyota's name has been mentioned. The electronics maker, which is being acquired by Panasonic, is accelerating development of lithium-ion batteries for plug-in hybrid cars in anticipation of growth in demand for low-emission cars. The company estimates that global sales of hybrid cars using lithium-ion cells, including plug-in models, will grow to 2.3 million units by 2015 and 10.2 million by 2020. "Lithium-ion batteries used in cars are likely to be the winners in a high-growth market and that's why Sanyo has made it the centerpiece of its business strategy," said Nobuo Kurahashi, an analyst at Mizuho Investors Securities in Tokyo. "Any agreement like this is a very positive development." Most hybrid cars currently use nickel-metal hydride batteries. Automakers are shifting to develop plug-in models and electric cars that use lithium-ion cells, which are lighter, more powerful, and more expensive. Toyota and GM plan plug-in modelsSanyo shares fell 1.3% to close at 157 yen on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, extending its decline this year to 5.4%. The benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average added 0.4% today. Toyota Motor, which makes the Prius, the world's most popular hybrid vehicle, plans to build a plug-in model for retail buyers in 2012. General Motors intends to build as many as 60,000 Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric cars annually, starting in November 2010. Sanyo will supply lithium-ion batteries for Toyota's plug-in hybrid vehicles, the Asahi newspaper reported on Oct. 21, without saying where it got the information. Toyota spokesman Hideaki Homma today declined to confirm or deny that Sanyo will be its supplier. Global lithium-ion battery sales will likely grow to 2 trillion yen ($23 billion) in 2020, from 840 billion yen in 2008, fueled by demand for batteries used in electric cars and hybrid vehicles, Daiwa Institute of Research estimated in January. Lithium-ion cells will likely overtake nickel-hydride batteries in the car market around 2014, the researcher said. "Lithium-ion batteries are big business" because their cost currently makes up about 2 million yen, or almost half the price of electric cars sold in Japan, according to Takeshi Miyao, a Tokyo-based supply-chain analyst for auto consultant Carnorama. While battery power and costs will be lower for hybrid cars, "securing a customer now may lead to future deals with affiliated brands," he said. Building a cell factory in JapanPlug-in hybrids will be among the models to drive growth in sales of low-emission cars in the coming years until new technologies for batteries, motors, and charging stations are developed for vehicles fully powered by electricity, Honma said. "About 80% to 90% of environment-friendly cars in 2020 will probably be either plug-in or hybrids." Sanyo will probably be able to make 300,000 to 400,000 of those cells per month when it starts production as early as 2011 at a new plant being built in Kasai, Hyogo prefecture, western Japan, Honma said in October. The company's factory in Tokushima prefecture, southwestern Japan, makes lithium-ion batteries exclusively for Volkswagen, Europe's largest automaker. Last month, Sanyo said it will supply nickel-metal hydride batteries for PSA Peugeot Citroen Group's hybrid cars from 2011. Sanyo already provides batteries to Honda Motor and Ford Motor for their hybrids. The batterymaker plans to build factories in Europe, China, and the U.S. as early as 2012 to start making car-battery modules, Honma said at a briefing in October. electric cars 10% of market by 2010?The average cost of lithium-ion cells used in electric and hybrid cars will likely drop 50% by 2014, research firm Fuji Keizai Group said on Nov. 6. Technical advances and mass production can lower the cost to boost the global lithium-ion car battery market to 2.25 trillion yen in 2014, from 25 billion yen this year, according to the researcher. Nissan Motor Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said in August that electric cars will comprise at least 10% of global demand by 2020, assuming oil costs more than $70 a barrel. Nissan plans to start selling its Leaf electric car next year. Sony is in talks to supply "several companies" with lithium-ion car batteries, Executive Deputy President Hiroshi Yoshioka told reporters last week, declining to identify the potential customers. Yoshioka said on Nov. 19 that Sony plans to spend 100 billion yen researching and developing rechargeable batteries, including those for electric cars. "It's only natural that Sony plans to enter this market, given its high growth potential," Honma said. "With or without Sony, the competition in this market will intensify, both in terms of technology and prices."
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