Li-Ion Biz Attracting New Entrants

The race to make affordable, safe and durable Li-Ion batteries for autos is heating up. Reports in Japan today reckon Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which has a stake in Mitsubishi Motors, will be the next big next entrant into a field which already includes Sanyo, Toyota subsidiary Panasonic EV Energy, Hitachi, and GS Yuasa. Nissan and electronics maker NEC are also working together on Li-Ions.

The move will closely watched in Detroit given that GM, which unveiled its Li-Ion powered Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid concept at the North American International Auto Show this month, is pinning its hopes on the tech. Like Toyota, GM hopes the batteries, which are more powerful, lighter and faster-charging than existing Nickel Hydride technology, will eventually help make hybrids more attractive to mainstream car buyers. The unveiling of the Volt loosely coincided with GM asking Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions and Cobasys, both battery JVs, to develop Li-ions.

Battery experts reckon that, given the importance of Li-Ions to GM’s future plans, domestic battery partners are vital. Indeed, that’s partly why the Big Three have asked Washington to subsidize advanced battery research to the tune of $500 million spread over five years. According to the Battery Association of Japan, none of the Japanese companies mentioned above are receiving government subsidy for their Li-Ion research.